Recalls; a worthwhile investment

Monday, April 20, 2009

Anytime I do a foundation workshop I mention the tremendous importance I put on a  good recall. Not only is it lifesaving, everything grows from it. Focus for work, focus for you, the ability to control your dog at a distance and even handling gets a head start with a great recall. A dog that responds to your cues with a knee-jerk quickness, even when in full stride, will make a better agility dog. This weekend at the end of Skills Camp my instructors joined me and my dogs on our walk around the field.  Everyone worked on something recall related. Jane worked on loose leash walking in the face of extreme excitement. Penny and Tracy worked on recalls while Lynda and I worked on control at a  distance.  All the while the dogs where just enjoying a walk around the field. All of this gets mixed together as you are always training. Regardless if you “feel like it” or not, you are training your dog to do something. Most behaviours erode during the other 23 hours of the day when you are not “formally” training. Dogs are always learning, you can’t turn that off.  Penny had trained a great recall when her dog Teagan was a puppy. However ignoring the reinforcement the dog earned from her environment allowed another response to be trained over the next couple of years. Lately Teagan has been checking out her options rather than coming right away. Her preference is to herd my dogs rather than to come to Penny each time she asks. You think this will effect her responding to body cues on an agility course? You betchya! You will also see how we test recalls with Tracy’s 6 month old puppy “Matrix.”  As the song suggests “we got two lives, one we’re given the other one we make.” Nothing of value comes easy and everything we’ve got, we’ve got the hard way, by constantly being aware of what reinforces the dog throughout his life. Training never stops, the dog is always learning something weather you want him to or not!  Once you have a great recall, you need to continue to grow it, as I demonstrate in the video. Rather than constantly calling my dogs back to me, I ask for other responses when they are at a distance.  For a great plan to improve your recall, check out the article on my website Deposits into Your Recall Account . The key is to not allow your dog off leash until you have the verbal control that is demonstrated here.  If you can’t control the dog’s access to reinforcement, the only thing you have left to try is harsh punishment. As the old saying goes “violence begins where knowledge ends”.  That just is not an option for me. My relationship with my dogs trumps everything and the truth is, not only will you not get the joy to follow up on cues that these dogs demonstrate, training with physical punishment will never give you the control that I have when the threat of your punishment is gone (such as when the dog is too far away or when the e-collar is not on).  Reinforcement is the only thing that can build behaviour. So until the time you have trained the squirrels and the cats to listen to you, your dog should not have access to chase them (as they give reinforcement to your dog as he chases them).You need to be able to control the distractions the same way in which we controlled the other dogs when the puppy was not listening. Tracy would not have had her 6 month old puppy off leash in a leash free park where inappropriate choices could have been made. The great great recall history Matrix does have will continue to grow as she learns there is no reinforcement to be earned when you don’t listen to da mama every time she asks you to do something. You don’t want to give your dog the freedom to learn he can ignore cues from you.   Once your dog knows he must always respond to you, there is no distraction that will deter him from doing what you ask.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADfbS3YN1aQ   Please don’t say “oh my recall would be so great too if I had access to private walking areas like that.”  There are excuses, and there are obstacles.  I have not always lived here, and yet every dog I have ever owned has had the same brilliant self control just like my current dogs (yes even when I lived in an apartment).  You may be tired of reading this, but a great recall starts with Crate Games, the beginning of all self control for my dogs.

I never tire of being grateful for the awesome place John and I call home. We are all so happy living here.



  1. Thanks for this blog post. It hit me spot on, since I’m sitting here working out a plan to get rid of some unwanted behaviour: my 14 month old up and coming agility star to be suddenly decided a couple of days ago that chasing birds is more fun than agility training. Self rewarding is hard to get rid of! So I need a plan, and your thoughts matched my plan pretty well 🙂

    Ingerid (Norway)

  2. Hi Everyone,

    I’m hijacking Susan’s blog briefly to post a link to a fundraiser we’re doing for our 2009 Canadian Agility Team. We’re so excited to help our team get to Austria and we can’t wait to cheer them on. We’re selling Canada Flag Dog Tags with personalized engraving for only $15 with all profits going directly to Team Canada. So for all the Canadians (or Canadian supporters) out there its time to show off our national pride and support our team – ALL dogs look good in red and white 🙂

    Please see the link below for details;

  3. I just love that you posted the video. Several times I’ve heard you talk about taking your dogs out for walks and being able to control the reinforcement for those that don’t come by making the others lie down, etc, but seeing it on video makes it so much more real. Thanks for all you do and the guidance you provide us all!

  4. Great advice regarding recall skills, I am really enjoying all the super information on your blogs.
    Thanks for all that you do.


  5. I’m wondering if you could talk more about the e-collar. Why are they still used if there are other training options, and why do the dogs continue to work if they are not on? (As in field trials.)

  6. I loved the video! I just started the Ruff Love program with my 9 month old yesterday. I’m kicking myself for not starting earlier. I’m also going to introduce Crate games to both my dogs this coming weekend. And I need to really work on my recalls.
    Thanks for giving me so much to work on!
    I LOVE your blog!

  7. the video was super cute! great music choice.

  8. LMAO at DeCaff at the end…running and snapping at Buzz and Encore. Toooo hilarious!!!!

    Thanks for posting….good stuff and good instruction and modeling!

  9. Another excellent post and excellent video … but I just have to say the footage and comments about Buzzy made my day. What a dude. Thanks for the smile!

  10. You are very blessed!

    Thank you for posting this video. I LOVE it!

  11. Thanks Susan,

    I have to agree that Buzzy’s so happy out there!!! He was really trying to steal the show 🙂

    I’ve always loved watching him! Thanks for putting a smile on my face today!

    Gail & the ‘boys’
    Duncan, Teddy, Muggy & Speedy

  12. I agree that a reliable recall is VITAL. It’s something I work on with my dogs from the time I bring them home (or from when they start walking, if I’ve bred them). It makes life with dogs so much more relaxed and free if you know you can trust them.

    Great video!

  13. “There are excuses, and there are obstacles.” It does not get much clearer than that!

  14. This is a great clip, and a good reminder. I am thankful to have the ability to be reminded of things I know and “forget” and to learn what I don’t know.

    Thank you Susan for this message board!

    I love to read your entries; you are reinforcing us as handlers to continue to do the correct work we owe our canine companions!

    Way to “shape” the handlers!!!! LOL

  15. Hmmm…Phoenix got a hair cut the other day and now I think she looks exactly like a female version of Buzzy…I wonder if they’re related 🙂

  16. Jonathan, I think people still use e-collars because they don’t believe the alternatives will work or haven’t figured out alternatives.

    As far as why do dogs continue to work without them in field trials, most of what dogs to in field trials is highly reinforcing to them. We don’t need the e-collar to get them to work (if you consider working to be the hunting part) – they love it and it should be in their genes. What some use the e-collar for, are the things that *aren’t* inherently highly reinforcing for the dog. For a few pointing breed examples, things like remaining steady to the flush and shot, not crunching down on the bird on the retrieve, or not stealing point. And these are the things that sometimes ‘go to pot’ when the e-collar comes off.

  17. love your blog and love your clips. You are making great use of the web.
    I did not see any music credits on this clip though.

  18. Great example of PLAY=WORK=PLAY=WORK…! Those dogs looked like they were having a blast. 🙂

  19. Awesome post…great dog training advice!

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