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  • Writer's pictureConstellation Dog Academy

Welcome Spring with a Recall Refresh

Audrey Culp, CPDT-KA, ABCDT

I have seen really well trained recalls get “untrained” in no time at all, and it’s not for the reason you’re thinking.

Most people know how easy it is to poison a recall cue by tying it to unpleasant events like hopping in the car to go to the vet, or reprimanding your dog for behavior you didn’t appreciate. But did you know that if you do everything right (never associate your recall with punishment, always use treats, and practice regularly) your recall can still fall flat? Maybe you have seen this happen with your own dog. Let's take a look at why this might happen -

Did you know your recall has its own bank account?

Let’s imagine we are assigning a cash value to our recall work - every time we give our dogs a treat or two for coming back to us or responding to their name, that could be a $1-5 deposit to our behavior bank account. As a puppy (before your dog hit adolescence), this value is actually higher since there is a lot of social value in that interaction - it is rewarding for them to be close to you! So we put in the time and effort, and after many months of training, we have a recall bank account with close to $1,000 in it. That's a lot- well done! Your dog is responding well to their recall but then. . . suddenly your dog's response rate starts to decline.

Why is my dog’s recall getting WORSE?

Depending on how reinforcing your dog finds different events/items in the environment, recalling them away from a squirrel they wanted to chase might count as a $300 withdrawal. Recalling them away from a tempting mud pit might be a $400 withdrawal. Calling them away from some dog friends? That could be a $500 withdrawal. See where I’m going with this? After we put in all the trouble of building the mechanics of a solid recall, if we are ONLY using our recall to get our dogs from doing things we don't want them to instead of using it as an opportunity to celebrate, that bank account goes bankrupt pretty quickly. This is where I routinely see once-perfect recalls start to fail.

So what can we do to save our recall?

Continue charging your recall cue:

Just because you have a strong recall cue already does NOT mean that you can stop reinforcing it. It is important that we CONTINUE to reinforce our recall work and practice your dog’s skills on the regular. Don’t be stingy either - we want your dog to WANT to come hang out with you, so make it rain. 


Vary your reinforcers:

If you are only using food to reinforce your recall, it becomes a really easy calculation for your dog to ignore you when you are recalling them away from novel things. Your dog may be asking themselves “do I take this opportunity to chase this chipmunk, or do I run back to my person to get the same treat I’ve been chomping on for the last 20 minutes?” You can see how it might be easy for your dog to turn you down. Instead, try reinforcing some of your recalls with a favorite or novel toy, access to a new area, or even a game of chase! Get creative here - the more tricks you’ve got up your sleeve the better. 

Release your dog back to the very thing you called them away from:

The same thing that can cause a $300 withdrawal from your recall bank account can also be used to add a $300 value to your recall account. Practice recalling your dog to you and then (if it is safe to do so) release them to say hi to their friends, to jump in the stream, or to go ahead of you on your hike. 

Still not seeing the results you are looking for?

Figuring out what makes your individual dog tick can make a huge difference in building a solid recall you can rely on. This is where reaching out to a professional can really make your work shine - you can sign up here for a free 15 minute phone consultation to help steer you in the right direction.

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