Archive for recall training

Puppy. First full day

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2016 by guy2932

Having awoken in the early hours and settled to sleep with me rather than in the crate, I felt the bond was developing well. The pup who has now been named Vader by his handler to be, was clearly drawing comfort from my presence in stark contrast to the journey home. If you want to read about the journey home and first night click HERE.

As is the case whenever he wakes our first stop was the garden for a wee.  Not after breakfast, or after I have sorted myself out. Immediately. My crocs are by the back door and my jacket on top of his crate. Shoes on, jacket on and out. Reassuringly he went straight to the area of the garden we have been using and started to wee. I took the opportunity to continue to make the association and repeated the phrase “be quick” AS he was weeing. Once finished I praised him and allowed him time to investigate.

05.03.16 exploring garden

To date we have had only one accident in the house and the moral of the story is when he is squeaking constantly, don’t ignore him and carry on reading Facebook, get up and let him out!! Having learned my lesson we have continued our success with toilet training. I give him the opportunity every time he wakes, after eating, after playing and around every 15 minutes from the time we arrived home. This has two benefits. Firstly it prevents unwanted habits like weeing in the house which in turn makes less cleaning and secondly it develops the correct habit and helps to familiarise him with the new environment and routines. The sooner he habituates to the new environment the sooner he will feel more relaxed.

As he gets older and I become more familiar with his habits, I can predict more accurately when he is likely to need to go and will have the advantage of being able to influence to some degree the process, by use of my classically conditioned “be quick”.

I generally like to take a week or two off work so that I can concentrate on getting things right from the start but I am back to work on Monday so have just three days to bond, habituate to the home, toilet train, habituate to my van and travel and teach isolation for around an hour. The ability to get a good nights sleep would be a welcome bonus.

To this end the crate training continues. In the crate, fuss, out the crate and repeat. If he falls asleep somewhere else I scoop him up and place him in the crate. I frequently return to smooth and provide reassurance. This is working well and he is frequently returning to the crate either to sleep or sometimes just to check in (safe haven from which exploration takes place much like the den in a wild animal).

05.03.16 sleeping in crate

He is given an opportunity to investigate the house and garden. At this stage EVERYTHING is new and cautious behaviour is inevitable. Don’t panic. This doesn’t mean your dog is weak or scared. It is perfectly normal, age and situation appropriate behaviour. I let him investigate at his own pace and he merely returns to me if he is unsure (safe attachment figure from where exploration takes place like the mother figure in a wild animal). Each time he ventures slightly further afield.

Now is also a good opportunity to work on recall. He generally follows me everywhere but when he does venture is aware of where I am. When he looks to check in I crouch down, clap and call “Vader come”. I am already adding the cue because I have done this enough to know that his response is pretty predictable. When he arrives I fuss him and then he ventures off. At the moment I don’t really worry about food or toys as a reward. He is responding to being called which at this age is a natural response. I’m not his mother and neither one of us thinks I am but I am his primary care giver and as such can take advantage of this inherent response to my advantage.

As his confidence increases and it is increasing by the hour, he will be less willing to return merely because I call. I will soon need to start thinking about food or when I have got his interest in one a ball or favourite tugger.

He is eating although not huge amounts and I am feeding either in the crate or in the van to make a good association. Remember the van is associated with the trauma of the journey home and so extra work is required to undo this bad association. We are making a trip to the van around every 2 hours and literally spending a few seconds in there or minutes if he is eating.

His first full day at home is about setting up routines, getting to know each other and habituating to the new environment. I have no guests over to see the new arrival. No parties, no day trips, no taking him down town to socialise, no DIY. Everything is about the puppy.  Every minute spent getting it right now will save months of training to rectify faults, ensures the dog recovers from the separation trauma as quickly as possible and prevents further damage when the time comes to leave for work on Monday. Future you will be thankful to the effort you put in now (that’s a Bill and Ted reference for you film spotters).

The first full day was busy but successful. He is actively going in the crate and out to the toilet area. He is bonding well and generally looks much more relaxed. During the morning he was actively investigating but occasionally whining. Even when sat with me he would whine. The afternoon was very different. He was noticeably less vocal, more playful and ventured further afield. Only one toilet training accident and lots of good experiences in both the crate and the van.

By the evening I was tired and got a little slack. Sat down watching a film with my wife I was aware that the pup was sleeping ALL evening. I just couldn’t motivate myself to play with him any more or to take him out other than for his regular wee trips. Whilst he clearly needed the sleep interrupting him occasionally would have set me up better for the night shift.

Sure enough bedtime came with whole new vigour for life and I ended up spending an extended period in the garden letting him explore (working at night is on the to do list so another tick in the box). I settled him into his crate and then listened to his vocalisation that seemed to say “I told you so”. A case of past me not looking after future me’s interests!

He did settle after a few minutes but woke at 0100 hrs wanting a wee. I again let him sleep on the sofa with me and we drifted into a peaceful sleep dreaming of catching baddies!



How to train the recall

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2011 by guy2932


The recall is such a simple exercise and if the groundwork is carried out correctly there is no reason why a dog with the highest of drives won’t come back as quickly as he went out on a single command. This level of control not only makes the dog safer to work on the street but may well save his life should he be heading for danger.

The exercise starts at home or in a field with as little distraction as possible. Wait until the dog is away from you and when he looks at you use your body to generate interest and encourage him back to you. When he gets there reward him. Repeat several times until you are confident that your actions will result in him coming back. Don’t say anything at this stage we are simply making coming back to us rewarding.

In the next session do the same as before but this time say your recall command as your dog is coming back to you and reward when he gets there. Repeat half a dozen times.

Next say the command slightly before you do the things you do to get the dog back and reward him. Repeat half a dozen times. As you progress, increase the delay between the command and the actions. When you can say your recall command when your dog is looking away from you and he turns and comes, you know he understands and can start to progress.

As we progress you will have to do less and less to attract the dog back to you. I keep flapping both arms like I’m trying to fly as this is a good visual signal if the dog is too far away or I want to recall him quietly.

The exercise now needs to be built up slowly by recalling in the face of greater distractions. The secret is to try to never recall if you don’t think he’ll come back. You always have the option of going to get him or relying on the technique you relied on before to encourage him back. You need to try to control the environment until you have the control.

You need to think of every scenario you are likely to want to recall your dog and then break that scenario into easy versions and progressively more difficult versions. For instance if you want to recall your dog from other dogs then start by recalling him when the other dog is a long way off. Build up so the other dog is closer before you recall. Then once they are playing, wait until the dog gets bored and you can see they were about to stop playing anyway and then recall. Let the dog approach old dogs that you know won’t play and recall him. Eventually your recall will become so reliable that you can recall your dog whilst he is mid play session.

A good exercise to practice recall is to place the dog in a sit and throw his ball out. Release him and recall him. The majority of the time, allow him to fetch the ball but you can recall him and reward with a tugger.

You can have a helper some distance out in front of the dog and they can be as distracting as you like to encourage the dog out. Practicing recalls in this way before the chase and detain has been taught is a great way of creating that habit before the pull of the helper becomes too great.

Buy a good recall

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , on June 27, 2011 by guy2932

A good recall is important and very achievable.

What is important to remember is that dogs don’t just do as they’re told because you’re the boss. See Dominance theory is outdated for more details.

Dogs, like most animals, only do what’s in their best interests. Things that they find rewarding. Because they don’t think like us they don’t understand long term gratification like we do. I work for a whole month before I get paid but I doubt my dog would keep working for very long at all (doing the things I want him to do) if I stopped paying him.

I pay him with ball throws, food, praise, freedom, water, opportunities to hunt, bite and all the other things he loves to do. If he likes it, it is a possible reward for doing something I want, when I want.

I am always looking for new analogies to help people understand why positive reinforcement training is so effective and should be top of your list of training tools.

If you give a command and your dog doesn’t carry it out then it either doesn’t understand the command or has a more rewarding alternative. Either way, you need to look at your training and adjust things accordingly.

If you know for a fact that you did your groundwork and made the correct associations between command and action ie said come AS your dog was in the act of coming, and later were able to get the dog to come by using your command then your problem lies in your rewards.

You need to ensure that you are rewarding sufficiently. If your dog is happily playing with another dog and you call it to you and put it on the lead and take it home, you have effectively punished the act of coming and made it less likely it will come back in the same situation. If however you gave it a big chunk of sausage and then let it go and play again, you will probably find the dog just as likely to return next time.

Easy recalls with little or no distraction need to be given high level rewards initially. This gets the dog into the habit of coming back and creates a mentality that coming when called is a good thing and more rewarding than what the dog would have been doing.

The rewards can then be mixed and matched as the distraction gets harder. Don’t just make the recalls harder and harder though as you will eventually reach failure. Instead adopt a two steps forward, one step back approach. Chuck in a really easy recall with a really high level reward every now and again to keep the dog sweet.

If you think of it in terms of payment, the big rewards for easy recalls are money in the bank. Each reward you give is a deposit and each recall a withdrawal. Difficult recalls are a big withdrawal and should be balanced by smaller deposits. Keep a rough mental tally of how much money you have in the bank.

The first signs of failure should indicate that you have gone overdrawn, either by making too big a withdrawal early on or by making too many withdrawals and not enough deposits.

With this mentality and approach to training, you accept responsibility for your dogs training and recognize failures as warnings that YOU have not done your job properly. This avoids frustration and blame towards the dog who at the end of the day is just doing what he finds rewarding.

If you want your dog to do something at a certain time and place in response to a given command then YOU and YOU alone are responsible for ensuring he has the skills and motivation to do so.

The (very) basics of a good recall

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2011 by guy2932

At last after all the theory I thought I should start writing articles that actually help people achieve real life goals. A good recall is mandatory if you are going to let your dog off the lead. A life on a lead is barely a life and so I will alter that comment to, a good recall is mandatory.

It certainly is for Police and other service dogs and should be top of the list for all dog owners. It is such a straight forward exercise to teach and yet one that seems to cause a lot of problems for many owners and handlers. The main reason is that once off the lead and away from you, it is very much up to the dog whether or not to return. No amount of threats, bribery or compulsion will work if the dog really isn’t of the mind to come back.

This is why knowing your theory and doing your basic foundation training are so important. Far too many people try to walk before they can run and this is what leads to errors that often result in frustration and then the all too common approach of trying to punish non compliance when the real issue is bad foundation training.

Like any exercise the first thing I would look to do is ‘get the behaviour to reward the behaviour.’ No commands just yet. Simply get the dog back to you and reward that behaviour. I would start at home or a secure compound and just wait until the dog looked towards me. I would then make myself look attractive (easier said than done) by moving, waving holding out treats or a ball and when the dog comes to me, lavish verbal praise, give the ball, treat etc.

I do this numerous times. All I am doing is rewarding the act of coming to me. I am making a habit.

When I can consistently get the dog to me, I would add in my given command AS he is in the act of doing it. Some competition trainers may wait until the exercise is perfect before naming it but I work in a world of impatient people where even this method seems too drawn out. Saying the command AS the dog approaches makes the connection between the act and the command. Rewarding him when he gets there increases the likelihood of that action happening again in future.

I would repeat this step around a dozen times just to ensure the association has been made. Most dogs will get it a lot sooner than that but I am generally training multiple exercises at one time and the risk of confusion is increased. There is generally no harm in going too slow but lots in going too fast.

The next stage is to put the command BEFORE the action. I would say my command and then immediately do what I had previously been doing to get the behaviour. Again, repeat this stage a few times. You can slowly increase the time delay between the command and your actions (your actions will eventually be phased out).

There we have our theory in action. Instrumental learning – do something and find it rewarding =more likely to do it again and Pavlovian conditioning between our command and the action.

So we are now happy that our dog understands our command because we have ensured the association has been made. We have also made sure that it is rewarding for him to do it therefore increasing the likelihood it will happen again.

What we now need to look at is the reward level and the reward ratio.

The level is the range in desirability of your rewards from least favorite (low level) to most favorite (high level). Your dog will dictate this not you. The ratio is how often you give a reward and will range from every time to never. For this exercise I reward everytime. Once the exercise is fully trained it will vary from a pat on the head (low level) to a chance to bite (high level) and will include everything in between on a purely random basis.

When the dog is learning the exercise though, the way the rewards are used is critical to the final outcome.

What we are looking to do is make it more rewarding for the dog to come back when called than do anything else. For this to happen we must ensure we adhere to the structure with no failures. The simplest way to avoid failure is to never call your dog in a situation where you aren’t 100% he’ll come back. This may mean avoiding situations for a while or ignoring behaviours until you have a good recall. Control your dogs environment or his movement by means of a lead.

Now we have the dog coming back on command in a certain location, it is time to start varying the locations. From now on, every time you change locations, go back to a simpler recall to avoid any potential confusion before progressing. Two steps forward, one step back.

We want to have really high rewards initially just to create the sense of amazing success in the dog and give high rewards for what is essentially an easy act for the dog. This creates that vital desire to return because responding to the recall is so much more rewarding than what the dog was doing. This mentality and the habit of coming back are what form the basis for the more demanding recalls.

The dog must now be exposed to gradually increasing distractions and recalled away. The odd failure is not a disaster but should serve as a warning to you that you have progressed too fast.

With every situation you should be looking to find an easy version and progressively more difficult versions.

For example, recalling from other dogs. Start by recalling your dog when it spots another dog from 100 yards away. Slowly build your success by getting closer and closer. Allow your dog to play with other dogs and wait until it gets bored before you call it away. Deliberately let it approach boring old dogs that wont play and recall it. As your success grows you will get a better idea of what is within your limitations until eventually any situation involving other dogs, even full playing sessions can be interrupted with a recall.

This may sound long winded but is a sure fire way to get a 100% reliable recall. It is surprising how quickly the dog starts to respond and like a lot of things, experience is the key. Practicing just becomes part of your every day routines.

Giving advice is simple and the proof of the pudding is in the tasting as they say and so I have included a very short video. It shows my Malinois who at the time was 18 months old. To say he enjoys biting is an understatement. His prey drive is through the roof and at the time I had been subjected to some unhelpful training using a schutzhund sleeve but with no control elements. The result was that he would bite one on sight. This fact combined with a bit of agitation produced a very determined run out. It’s fair to say the dog was fully committed to the chase at the point he was recalled and the video doesn’t do justice to how much ground he covered. Once recalled the return journey was just as determined as the chap stood behind me found out.

No electric collar. No punishment. Not even a cross word was used to train this recall which over time has become more reliable.

I hope this helps you to understand how to structure your dogs recall training. As you can see from the video the end result is a dog that wants to come back as much as it wanted to do what it was already doing. To not have to worry about whether your dog will come back is a reassuring feeling. To know that you haven’t had to resort to damaging punishers is also a bonus when your dogs overall confidence is as important as it is to Police and working dogs.