This story with the accompanying article was written by the Grand Prize winner of our October writing contest! Other entries will be published soon. Grats to our winning piece by new pet blogger Devi S. Thanks, Devi!
I don't just use the words "for life" in this title to make a good title. A true hard recall can literally save the life of your dog. A recall is one of the first things we train a new dog although if we don’t show, many of us are probably good with it if the puppy comes wandering toward us when we call its name. I’ve seen an example of why it’s critical to follow up later with a real solid marker word like “come” or “front.”
In years working with dogs, there was one time I saw a sold recall save a life.
The dog, Bo, was a purebred shepherd with the classic GSD look. His quizzical looks and perky demeanor were adorable. Dee, the owner, had several mixed breeds and purebred dogs and she was at the even to compete in obedience and agility.
Bo completed a run and did well. Dee jogged back to her area with him and they were right next to me and my Poodle. Dee had crates for her dogs but she needed to change shirts and still make it back for another event. She looped the end of the lead under the leg of a folding chair and put Bo back on a stay while she left for just a few minutes.
Just as Dee came back toward us all, two other dogs got into a minor fight. `It scared Bo, and he jumped away which caused the folding chair to collapse and fold up tight on the leash. The frightened dog moved further and the sight of the chair “following” him sent him to panic. Bo took off trying to get away from the chair and he bolted right toward a street with heavy traffic.
We all realized how dangerous the situation was. Dee ran as fast as she could to position herself where Bo could see her and then she used her sternest voice to shout “Bo, come!”
o had a solid recall and even scared, the sound of his owner’s voice helped him shift and run in her direction instead of into the street.
Once he reached her, he trusted her enough to slow down and be released. He was bruised but mostly unhurt.
Training a dog to have a recall that will work in an emergency is critical and it can absolutely be done. It’s beyond the simple teaching we do with young dogs. Very young dogs may not be able to focus enough to divert attention to us at lightning speed though we still teach them to move to us when we call to them.
The process of teaching an emergency recall is like the puppy recall. Once a young pup will come to us when we call his name, we can begin to train with a clear marker word that means “Come here right NOW.” Dogs can differentiate between the casual recall and the rock-solid recall which will also be the foundation for an emergency recall. Over time, the dog should never fail to put its full attention on the trainer at the marker word. The dog should go straight to the trainer. No matter how tempting it is to ignore the recall word because of distractions, we must teach the dog that there are no options but to respond immediately.
Then make the recall more solid, we can start by putting an older puppy or adult dog on a long lead (20 foot is great) and having them roam where we can still hold the end. Some trainers use a remote collar for this. If a device of this type is used, it should be a high-quality remote collar with a technology that works by delivering low electric impulses, not electric shock. Dog trainers have taught emergency recalls for centuries without these aids, though, so they aren’t a necessity.
It is best to start slowly and gain the dog's confidence. We should call the dog with the solid recall word when only a small distraction is present. It may be helpful to use the dog’s name and the marker word. Later we move up to practicing the recall under more complex circumstances. If the dog begins to come quickly, even if activities are going on nearby, you can move on to deliberate and more extreme distractions.
To start working with the dog on planned distractions, you need a couple of helpers. Get another trainer or a friend to engage the dog in some simple play. Try your hard recall marker word on the dog. If the dog doesn’t instantly respond, use the remote collar or snap the long lead firmly to get the attention of the dog. Repeat the marker word and shower the dog with praise when it comes to you. As the dog gets more consistent, work with the dog repeatedly while making the distractions more difficult. Have someone else give the dog high-value treats and recall so that the dog learns to come even if it really prefers not to.
If at any time the dog resists strongly or stops responding, go back to basics.
Get the dog to come to you fast on a 6 food lead and use a very firm snap of the lead if they do not. Give high praise and treats when they do. Once they are solid, return to more complex training. It’s all right if the dog has to start back at the beginning a few times. Some dogs retain things better and some can control their impulses more easily than others. The key is to work it until it’s a guarantee. The biggest mistake people make with this is to train it and not keep practicing or to give up when the dog doesn’t get it in the early stages.
Keep upping the difficulty by calling the dog when it’s hungry and eating a meal or a delicious treat. If the dog ever fails to focus instantly, a snap of the lead or other correction should get things going. Once the dog will come to you every single time, you just need to keep practicing occasionally to keep that emergency recall sharp. Someday it could save your dog’s life!
by Devi S. (See me on Medium!)
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