If you never train your dog to do anything else, teach them to come when you call! This can save their lives someday, if they are chasing that terrific ball right out into the street…A formal recall has several parts to it; recognizing a cue, disengaging from what they’re doing, coming to you. You can add extra steps like sit in front of me, or take up a heel position.But a recall has to start with a willingness to come to you. In the first week or two I’ve been heavily rewarding attentiveness to me, so by 9 or 10 weeks, coming to me on their own is a happy experience. If this needs more work, Sue Ailsby’s training levels begin with this come without the word “come”.
For Sue’s exercise, and mine, I want to begin to introduce the idea that they come when I call them too. Volunteers are needed, standing in a circle and one at a time getting the pup’s attention without saying “come”. Clapping hands, whistles, most any sound you make can get a pup’s attention.
Once they look at you, a treat gets dropped at your feet. They will come for that treat, and get a click before they get the treat. Then another person gets their attention and does the same thing. With some repetition, a pup will begin to immediately look when you make a noise.
I will alter this slightly, by using their name the second they look at me. I’m passively reinforcing for them that their name means to “look at me”. I also play that “Name Game” seperately, to actively teach them, but I’ll combine it with this exercise.
This part I really practice alot before starting to add minor distractions, like practicing when the neighbor’s cutting the grass or the radio’s on.
Right now I’m talking about 8-16 week old pups, so I don’t expect their recall to be rock solid anywhere and all the time yet. There are a thousand distractions in a puppy’s world, so I really take my time.
Sue suggests turning it into a find me game, which is a great idea, as is her thought of playing it with hats or sunglasses etc that alter the people’s appearance. So is making an obstacle course they have to get through to reach you, like a little maze!
I slowly add all the sounds, sights, smells, and movements that a service dog might encounter in a familiar place first, like the living room or back yard. “Borrow” a shopping cart that someone pushes around while you practice, or have someone dropping things.
The idea is to gradually add difficulty, not going straight from come in the living room to come at the dog park! Build sucess upon success, and if you get a “failure”, go back down to easier stuff and rebuild confidence (and habit).
Many trainers have recall classes, and you could also take advantage of those to practice in a distracting environment (ooh I wanna play with that lab). You can take them just to watch, too. If you can get a fast learned recall, great! If not, you’ve laid the foundations to build on.