Tuesday, June 18, 2013

THEY DO IT TO GET ATTENTION!




            
I had lunch with a colleague the other day and we got to talking about attending to behaviours, applied behaviour analysis and reinforcing with attention.  She works with children and I work with dogs.  How often do we hear parents, teachers and other adults talking about children misbehaving because it gets them attention?  We hear the same thing in the field of dog training.  “He is just doing it to get your attention” is a statement I often hear from my clients when their dog is doing something fairly benign that will result in a mild unpleasant consequence.  

Learners never work to get an unpleasant consequence, but if the unpleasant consequence is not a bad as being uncertain then the known unpleasant consequence may increase the likelihood of a bad behaviour happening.  Image credit: Cole123RF / 123RF Stock Photo

 
If you misconstrue the attention issue, you can completely miss what is happening when you are training.  To begin with, it is important to understand that no learner will work for the opportunity to have an unpleasant consequence.  It is also important to understand that just like reinforcers can be arranged on a hierarchy, so can punishers.  For D’fer, throwing a bumper into the water is better than throwing a Frisbee on dry land which is better than a piece of liver which is better than kibble.  There is a hierarchy of what is important to him.  Likewise, getting a dirty look is less annoying than being yelled at which is less annoying than losing a turn and being put in your crate which is less annoying than being shocked with a shock collar.  Perhaps the most annoying punishment for many learners, both children and dogs, is uncertainty.  In the hierarchy of punishers, uncertainty can be as unpleasant or more unpleasant than electric shock.

Reinforcers have a hierarchy; out of these five things, each dog will have a most favourite, a next most favourite, a third most favourite, a fourth most favourite and a least favourite option.  Punishers or aversive stimulus work the same way.  If the choice is between going to your room or being uncertain about the outcome, many children will choose going to their room, as evidenced by their behaviour.  Dogs faced with a squirt of water in the face or uncertainty will also often choose the least unpleasant option, and choose to have water sprayed in their faces by doing the behaivour that will result on the known outcome.  Image credit: kentoh / 123RF Stock Photo



Behaviour analysis is a tool that helps us to understand how we change behaviour, and it works when applied to any learner, human or non human.  Consider the scenario of a young child who is told “If you spit at your sister, I will send you to your room”.  This leaves a huge window of uncertainty.  The question in the child’s mind is “If I don’t spit at my sister, what will happen?”  In an anxious child, the uncertainty builds and builds and builds and builds until being sent to one’s room is a relief.  When there is an unpleasant consequence to a behaviour, the learner needs to know what the consequence is for the other or desired behaviour.  If instead of framing the contingencies for a child in terms of “if you do X, this bad thing, Y, will happen” you frame the contingency in terms of “if you don’t do X, this good thing, Z, will happen” you allow the learner to make a better choice.  Now you can say to the child “if you don’t spit on your sister, we will have ice cream.”  For children who are deeply affected by uncertainty, the second statement can be very helpful.


What about dogs?  Dogs are not able to understand complex language (if/then statements for instance) so we cannot outline outcomes and contingencies.  Dogs learn by experimentation and experience.  How often a client has come in and said “but he knows that I will spray water at him if he jumps on the counters!”  In this case you have several forces at play on the behaviour.  Jumping on the counters sometimes results in a treat; even the chance to smell the roast you put there the night before can be a potent reinforcement.  The spray bottle is contingent on your timing and ability to guard the counter, so the dog is gambling that you won’t be able to get the spray bottle in time to prevent him from jumping on the counter.  Not only that, but let’s say that for this dog, being sprayed with water is annoying, but not VERY annoying.  And there is no clear picture of what will happen if he stays away from the counter.  So much uncertainty and the dog has a dilemma;  jumping on the counter may alleviate the uncertainty of what will happen if he doesn’t jump on the counter.  In this case, simply marking when the dog is close to the counter but not jumping up and then treating him away from the counter, you remove the uncertainty.


Extinction, the process of changing behaviour by waiting till the behaviour ends is a very sound practice when done well, but can completely backfire if you don’t understand the mechanics, or if you set up contingencies where there are uncertainties.  When a dog is howling in his crate for instance, and you want to wait him out, the fact is that you can only wait so long before you must let him out to toilet him.  If the first time you set up the dog to wait him out, you wait an hour, but you have to leave the house and you need to toilet the dog before you leave, so you let him out, then what you have done in effect is reinforced one hour’s worth of howling.  If the next time you try, you wait 90 minutes, and then your roommate lets him out because she just cannot stand it any longer, then you have taught the dog to try even harder, and that if he doesn’t try for long enough the door won’t open.  The next time you try you may be able to wait for two hours and in effect, you teach the dog to howl for longer instead of getting rid of the howling altogether.  The dog is left in an uncertain state of mind; what will happen if he barks?  He might get out.  What will happen if he doesn’t bark?  No one has explained that.  In order for extinction to work, you have to set up two contingencies; what will happen if the target behaviour happens, and what will happen if the target behaviour doesn’t happen.  If there is only one contingency, then there is uncertainty about the other contingency, and if there is uncertainty and then the first contingency doesn’t play out, then you have created a situation where the behaviour won’t change and the dog will remain uncertain.  

With a dog who has practiced barking for a very long time, you may need to look for a loophole in the behaviour in order to be able to change it.  Waiting this little fellow out may take longer than you can do.  Image credit: reddogs / 123RF Stock Photo


With behaviours such as the dog howling in the crate, few people have the where withal to sit out a dog who will howl for hours on end, and reward the lack of howling.  Luckily there is a loophole in this particular behaviour, and we can use that to our advantage.  In fact, most behaviours have loopholes if we look carefully.  The loophole that is relevant to crate barking is that a dog cannot bark without inhaling at some point.  When the dog inhales, we have a little tiny hole of silence, and we can mark that and reinforce.  There is another loophole too; if we reinforce barking very early in the sequence, we can teach the dog that it doesn’t take much barking to get the treat.  By interrupting the barking early and often with a reinforcer, we actually weaken the behaviour.  In effect, what we do is remove the uncertainty of the situation for the dog.  When people try and use extinction, and then they don’t follow all the way through, the uncertainty problem arises and then the dog doesn’t know where he sits and the behaviour gets worse instead of better.  


When you are working with learners who have undesired behaviours, looking for the loopholes can really help you out.  The child who spits at his sister has to turn his head in order to aim.  If you mark that head turn by calling the child’s name and reward him for controlling the spit.  Do that often enough and the uncertainty of what happens if he doesn’t spit goes away.  Over time, the need to mark and reinforce the desired behaviour also goes away.  You don’t actually need to reward good behaviour forever; it eventually falls into a bigger context of self reinforcing cycles where not spitting makes the learner’s sister more pleasant to him.  Looking for loopholes allows you to choose an alternative that doesn’t leave the learner in an uncertain state.


When we have behaviours happening that we don’t like, then we need to think about a number of things when we try and get ahead of those behaviours.  The first is to define what behaviour we do want.  Saying that we want the child to refrain from spitting or hitting leaves the door wide open for a child who is creative to find other ways of being socially unacceptable.  Maybe that child will try kicking, or biting instead.  Looking for the loophole like head turning, gives us a definable behaviour we can mark and reinforce.  The same is true of the dog who was want to refrain from jumping on guests or climbing on counters.  Defining what we don’t want can be a helpful starting point, but it won’t really move us forward in terms of developing a good training plan.  Stating the problem in terms of what we DO want is a really important starting point.

The next point in making a training plan to change behaviour is that if the behaviour must be stopped immediately, and you are going to choose to use an aversive, the aversive must be strong enough to work in the first three tries or you are not actually making a change.  In human learners, telling the learner the possible outcome without telling them what the outcome might be if they choose to do something other than the undesired target behaviour sets up uncertainty and uncertainty may be more punishing than the consequence that is offered.  If you are inconsistent about your contingencies in your canine learners the same is true.  The canine learner determines that some of the time a bad thing happens and some of the time nothing happens, but has no information about what will happen when they make a different choice. 


Finally if you are going to actually use extinction, you have to go all the way or not bother at all.  If you have taught your dog that barking opens doors, then you are likely going to get more barking before you get less.  If you change the rule the dog will need to learn this by experience and the first thing he is going to try is not going to be silence.  Let’s say that you have a determined barker.  If they bark for forty five minutes and then you get frustrated and open the door, you have just set the bar for the next time you try extinction.  In really determined cases, you might be waiting for hours.  If this is the case, it is easy to argue that it is more humane to either reinforce shorter spells of barking, or use a very significant aversive with a solid plan for when the dog isn’t barking so that he can identify the desired behaviour.


Uncertainty is perhaps the most aversive thing I see used in training, regardless of the species, and I see in the world of positive reinforcement from time to time.  I have seen it in dogs who are being offered as many choices as they could possibly think up to get a click and treat.  Without parameters, some dogs stop thinking about the next step and start to throw behaviours out like confetti.  This can be especially true of dogs who have been inconsistently trained in the past.  I am working with a dog right now who has been through a number of different training systems; we know he worked with a balanced trainer at one point, and he has been clicker trained for about a year now.  When we are shaping he is sometimes really anxious.  Recently, we use a mild aversive when he got too aroused and started throwing himself around and grabbing his leash.  He had a sudden lightbulb moment; don’t do THAT!  When he understood both what was going to get clicked and what was going to result in the aversive stimulus, he was able to settle down and think.  If a learner understands the outcome for both the target behaviour and the alternative, then he can make a choice.  But if one of his choices is uncertain, then he may choose the behaviour you don’t want in order to control what happens to him, because certainty is more reinforcing than uncertainty.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

OFF LEASH WITH REACTIVE DOGS




          
In my last blog about walking puppies off leash I had a few comments on the Dogs in the Park Facebook page about how this made owners of reactive dogs cringe.  One respondent said that my last blog was too nuanced for beginner trainers, and could lead to people letting their dogs off leash in places where they might encounter her large strong dog reactive dog.  Let me just excerpt a couple of sentences from that blog to make certain that if you are reading about going off leash with your puppy you are clear about my intent

First:

“The pinnacle of my relationship with my dogs is being able to take them off leash and walk with them anytime, anywhere.  Being ABLE to do so is different from choosing to do so when it would not be in their best interest, but being able to do so is magic.” 

In case people are not clear, being able to take my dogs off leash implies that I will take more into account than just removing the leash.  Choosing to do so when it is dangerous is not my intent.  There are a number of issues related to taking a puppy off leash, and the first of those issues is choosing to do so only when it is in your pup’s best interest. 

Second:

“The more new places I can go, the better in my opinion, but I have to keep a bunch of things in mind.  I don’t want to run into other dogs, especially dogs I don’t know.  That could expose my puppy to diseases I don’t want him to catch, or to behaviours I don’t want him to experience.  I also don’t want to run into the stools of unknown dogs because I want to protect my young pup from worms.”

Again, if you are unclear, I want you to steer clear of the dogs who might be reactive or who might carry diseases or who might be upset by your off leash puppy.  If I don’t know your dog, I don’t let my youngster off leash.  I am not as worried about what my pup might do to your dog in this case, but I am worried about what your dog might teach my puppy.  If you have a reactive dog, I don’t want my puppy to learn anything from him, and so it is the responsibility of the dog owner to act in their dog’s best interest, which means not bringing my pup into a place where your dog might get upset and my pup might be frightened.

Third:

“I don’t want to run into predators either.  Hawks and owls can easily take a young small puppy.  Coyotes, wolves and bears are also a concern in some parts of Canada.  Even foxes can be a problem and will take a small dog if they stumble across it.  Water can be another natural hazard to be aware of.  About four years ago in Guelph, a young pup was playing on the ice and fell in and drowned.  Fast water, deep water, ice and hidden water are all things I keep in mind when I am taking my puppies out for their first excursions into the natural world.” 

This advice could also include roads, cars, bikes, and anything else in the environment that could cause harm to my puppy.  In the last blog I was very specific about the owner’s responsibility to keep their dog safe.  Now I want to address that same issue with reactive dogs in mind.

When you live with a reactive dog, you have a huge responsibility to keep your dog below threshold.  By keeping your dog below threshold, you are taking active steps to avoid situations where your dog is not going to go off and become reactive.  If your dog is reactive to children, then please, don’t go to the local school yard or playground in the name of training your dog.  This is neither fair to your dog or to the children you are exposing him to.


Allowing your dog to get triggered is not only unfair and unsafe to the public at large it is very unfair to your dog.  As the owner of a reactive dog it is your job to prevent this from happening by choosing your walk locations both on and off leash carefully.  The more often that your dog is triggered, the more he is going to behave this way.  Image credit: fouroaks / 123RF Stock Photo

If your dog is reactive to other dogs, then taking him through a park where other dogs run is irresponsible, even if it is against the law for those dogs to be running there.  If this sounds like I am condoning dog owners breaking the law let me assure you I am not.  I would really like everyone to follow their local leash laws, but the fact is that people ARE letting their dogs run illegally and if you walk your reactive dog into that situation, then he is going to react.  You are your dog’s advocate and he doesn’t know what the risks are when choosing your walking route. 

In my opinion, off leash activities in natural areas are important not only for dogs but also for children.  The child who has never set foot in a natural area is much poorer for the lack.  As a former outdoor educator, I am keenly tuned in to what happens when we isolate ourselves from nature, and the results of children being isolated from nature are huge.  This is also true for dogs.  So what do you do when you have a reactive dog who is unable to get out to walk off leash in the natural world?

The first thing is to get out a map, or open up Google Earth and take a close look at your neighbourhood.  What is the closest green area on the map?  In many suburban environments, you will now find causeways between housing developments that allow water to run off naturally.  These green spaces are often un-used and available to bring your reactive dog to for exercise and stimulation.  The areas under hydro allowances are also often available.  Then there areas of crown or state land that are open to the public but little used.  When you look at Google Earth, you will find green in very unexpected places.  One of the most common places that I find green in urban areas is abutting industrial basins. 

Once you have looked at the map, go visit without your dog.  Really.  This is the important preplanning that you must do to avoid the puppies I am sending out to do normal off leash walking.  When you go, spend time looking for evidence of other humans in the area.  Yes, there are stray dogs and that is a risk, but you can often find areas in very urban settings where there is green space available to walk along, where few people go.  You are looking for things like fresh litter (the semi decayed and crushed water bottle that is half covered in mud is not recent; the whole shiny chip bag that has been stepped upon is), footprints, bike tire prints, pawprints, and crushed vegetation.  If you are finding a lot of fresh evidence mark that location as a possible, but not likely place.  If you actually meet people there, then cross that location off the map.  Visit several places, and if you find one where there is no evidence of people, you have scored a walking area.  If you have found some places with some evidence of people walking there, visit a few times and see if you can determine when you can avoid people.

This is an excellent site for working with a reactive dog.  I can see if there are other people or dogs in the distance and take steps to avoid problems while allowing my dog the opportunity to walk in a very normal way.  If I am concerned about my dog biting, I will muzzle him even if I don't expect to meet anyone.  Muzzling is more preplanning you can do to help your dog have a successful off leash experience.  Preplanning is all about making sure that if it could go wrong, it doesn't.  I teach all dogs including non reactive dogs to wear a muzzle.  In this case, Eco was wearing a muzzle because he was on our reactive dog walk where all the dogs wear muzzles as a safety precaution.  I also teach a rock solid down at a distance so that I can put the brakes on if I need to do so.    Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander


This link leads to the map of where I hold my reactive dog walks.  http://tinyurl.com/jvpuy8e . Over the four years I have been walking their with dogs with behaviour problems I have never met a person or dog there, and yet it is right in a neighbourhood full of hundreds of people who could walk there if they wanted to do so.  If you look at the “A” marked on the map, that is where Dogs in the Park is, so this is a short three minute walk from the training hall.  I visited this location every Sunday for three weeks before moving my walk there; I wanted to be certain that I would not run into people with my crew of reactive dogs.  Preplanning pays off.

Not only must you preplan where you are going to take your dog, but you must preplan what you are going to do.  If you are the owner of a reactive dog, you have a responsibility to always attend to that dogs’ behaviour.  If you are not able to attend to him at all times, then you may not be able to work with your dog off leash.  While walking your reactive dog off leash, you need to be aware that on public property, anyone could show up at any time and you need to be aware of what is happening around you and be ready to call your dog back to you and leave if it is no longer in your dog’s best interest to have him off leash.  Keep in mind this isn’t about your right to do this activity; this is all about your responsibility to YOUR dog.  Being responsible to YOUR dog keeps my dog safe.  This is not an activity to do with your kids, or when you have a head ache; this is an activity to do when you can give your whole attention to what you are doing.

This is our off leash reactive dog walk called the Good Dog Walk.  All of the dogs have behaviour problems of one sort or another.  Everyone is paying attention to the dogs in order to assure that we can prevent any problems from happening.  If you are unable to attend to your dog, then don't take him out!  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander


If the area is not fenced and you think your dog might bolt, then dragging a long line is a great idea.  30 metres of long line dragging will allow you to catch your dog at any time, but allow the line to drag.  Don’t try and hold onto it.  Use a piece of bright tape to make off 10, 20 and 25 metres, so that you can see when your dog is getting far enough away that you should take action.  Call first and if he does not come, step on the line.  I like to call dogs when they are at about twenty metres and stop them by stepping on the line at 25 metres if they haven’t come.  This teaches the dog not to stray, but doesn’t interfere with his normal and natural behaviour.  

Long lines are great tools to help your dog to stay close to you while he is learning to work off leash.  Notice that this dog is calm and under control?  This is the behaviour you want before letting your dog go and explore.  If your dog is straining at the leash and staring at things, then wait till he is calm and relaxed before starting out.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander


Just what do I want the dog to do?  Pretty much whatever he wants.  If he wants to sniff around, let him.  If he wants to lie in a puddle, allow that too.  This may be the first time that your reactive dog can just choose to do what makes him happy.  Most of the time when we are working with reactive dogs we are micromanaging what they are doing to avoid them going over threshold.  You see another dog in the distance?  You ask the reactive dog to look at you and not engage in the other dog, and then ask him to sit or lie down.  Every action that your dog does may have been micromanaged, possibly for years.  This level of micromanagement may keep your dog from going over threshold, but it sure doesn’t help him to be relaxed and confident and that is part of what being off leash gives us.

Although you want to have control over the situation, off leash walks should be an opportunity for your reactive dog to do things he wants to do; picking things up, sniffing and looking where he wants to look are all things that he cannot do when you are micromanaging a walk on a leash.  Micromanagement makes reactivity worse, not better.  If your reactive dog has dog friends, taking them for walks together is even better because your dog will learn through social facilitation what is safe and what is dangerous.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander


The other thing that you must do is move.  Your dog should get ahead of you, engage in the environment and then lag behind.  You should encourage checking in, but you should also be checking what interests your dog.  There is a huge difference between the conversation that you have when you have a reactive dog and you are orchestrating every little motion, and the conversation you have when you go over to look at the raccoon fur that is snagged on a branch that your dog has found.  Developing a two way conversation with your reactive dog can go a long way to helping him to relax and enjoy himself.  In my opinion, this is an essential step in success with a reactive dog.

In truly urban environments it can be very difficult to find a truly natural safe environment to explore with your dog.  I have had good success with these dogs in taking them to places like blind alleys and allowing them to explore the local dumpster on a long line.  The opportunity to be in a place where they are not going to be startled and be able to just smell things and explore things and toilet when they want to do so is essential to good mental health for all of us, and when we cannot get to a rural place, sometimes we have to compromise.  Always we have to keep in mind our responsibility to keep our reactive dogs below threshold, not only because of the risk to others, but because every time that a reactive dog goes off, it is a penny in the bank account of anxiety and frustration, which only leads to more reactivity.

Dumpsters as a natural environment?  You bet!  When I am travelling with my service dog and I cannot let him off leash, I will often allow him to explore a dumpster on a long leash.  He can jump up on it, sniff it, mark it...whatever.  I can see that there are no other dogs in the area and no people either.  This unstructured activity is not as good as an off leash walk, but it is better than an on leash walk, especially if there is a risk that he will be charged by another dog (which happens a lot to service dogs who are working!).  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander


As a final word, I would like to mention that walking your reactive dog down the street on leash, through the triggers that will set him off is at best a fool’s errand that will never result in the relaxed companion you are aiming for.  So where do you walk?  If you have a vehicle, my best place for leash walking is a grocery store parking lot.  You will see few other dogs, it is a large area where you can see people approaching and there are loads of places you can duck into in order to avoid triggers.  Walking your reactive dog should be an exercise in developing confidence and relaxation for both you and your dog, and if you are constantly hyper vigilant to the things that might set your dog off, you are never going to teach him to accept his triggers; at best you are going to teach him to trust that you are his best early warning system.  At worst you are going to teach him that hyper vigilance is the normal state of being.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

THE MILLION DOLLAR RECALL




 
When clients come in with a dog and tell me that they want their dogs to come when called I always tell them that they are off to a good start because they have their dog at the moment.  At some point, the dog came when called.  He may have come slowly or he may have come by a very long route, but he did come back to them at some point.  The recall or come to me behaviour is probably the single most desired behaviour in pets, and the after leash manners the one that gives people the most difficulty.  When asked, fewer than one in every ten of my students can tell me how they originally taught their dogs to come when called.  When they can tell me how they taught the behaviour, I can trouble shoot the problems.  When clients cannot tell me how they taught the behaviour to begin with, often they didn’t teach the behaviour at all; they just started calling the dog and hoping for the best.  Hope for the best is not a really good way to train; results are really dicey.

How we look at the recall can be very helpful in how we teach it.  I look at the recall as a puzzle for the dog to solve.  At first, I make the puzzle really easy.  I hold the dog and have the handler feed the dog and then run away.  I get them to stand up and call their dog.  This makes the puzzle really clear to the dog and he can get the right answer really easily.  I get my students to grab their dog’s collars and then feed to help the dog to understand what the right answer is.  The puzzle starts out as “how can I get away from the person holding me and to the person who wants to touch me and feed me.”  This simple puzzle lays the foundation for the more complex puzzle of “I am rolling in dead fish, and I hear my person calling me, and there is probably a really good reason to leave what I am doing and go find my person, who I cannot see and may only be able to hear faintly.”  The steps in between are important and what I find is that most people don’t put enough recalls in the come when called bank before they try and get this upper level of behaviour.

This behaviour is one that can be morphed into a recall fairly easily.  Coming back with a ball is a game for many dogs, and it helps to put pennies in the recall bank.


I also think about recalls as a bank account.  I am aiming to get a million recalls in the bank.  Every time that I call and the dog doesn’t come is a withdrawal.  In order to get a million recalls in the bank, I have to do hundreds of thousands of practice calls that WILL be successful before I do any recalls that might not work.  If I am overdrawn on my recall account, then I have undermined the work that I want to do.  Here is how I do the accounting.  If I call once, and the dog comes once, that is a penny in the recall account.  If I want a million dollar recall, then that means that I need to have 100 million successful repetitions of one call, one dog with me.  Every time I call and the dog doesn’t come, then that is a penny out of the account.  So if I call and the dog comes, five times, I have a 5 cent recall.  If I then call two times and the dog only comes once, I am down a penny, meaning I only have a 4 cent recall.  You may be thinking this is a drattedly long training process, but I have a few cards up my sleeve. 

The first card is the set up card.  I say “here” and grab my dog’s collar and feed him a treat.  One cent.  I say “here” and grab my dog’s collar and feed him a treat.  Another cent.  But wait, you may be thinking.  The dog didn’t go away.  How does that make up a one cent recall?  Remember what I said to begin with about not thinking about recalls only as a come when called?  Another way to think about a recall is as an opportunity for your dog to get a treat.  When I say “here” it means that a treat is coming.  I just happened to grab your collar in between the name and the treat.  I can get in a good dozen recalls in the amount of time it takes you to read this paragraph.  I am not thinking of recalls as getting to me from a distance, but rather as the number of times that a treat has been associated with my call.  In the amount of time it took to type the last sentence, I can get in another three.  Four.  Five.  And so on and so forth.

If you are calling your dog and he isn’t coming and you call and call and call and call, and then he comes, you are down four cents of a recall, so another important aspect to consider is that if your dog isn’t coming, don’t keep calling.  This afternoon on our weekly dog walk, a client was calling her dog and he would not come.  I went to where he was gleefully rolling in a dead raccoon and he started to play keep away.  He ran straight in to my vet student volunteer who corralled him and gave him a treat.  With a weak recall, his person spent four cents on her million dollar recall, so she will have to work on recalls at home to put money back in the account.  The lesson is simple.  Don’t spend money you don’t have.  If you don’t have a strong recall, don’t call your dog, just go and get him.  Going to get your dog gives you another successful recall or penny in the bank.

A lot of my clients have emergency recall systems that they have accidentally developed just by living with their dogs.  One of my clients discovered that calling out “Good Bye Boson” her dog would come running as fast as he could.  Several of my clients have figured out that getting in the car will result in their dogs coming very quickly.  I am not entirely sure about how these tactics develop, but if it is utterly reliable, it can be very helpful in a pinch.  My advice is that as long as you don’t over use them, they can be very helpful in avoiding making excessive withdrawals.

I have worked with a number of clients who look at the million dollar price tag and ask “isn’t there a cheaper recipe?”  In the right hands, yes, there is.  In the wrong hands, on a dog who is not confident, or in the wrong environment, you will actually overdraw your account, and the risk is not really worth the result.  I have many clients who have read on the net, or even gone out and purchased a shock collar in the hopes of getting a fast and reliable result, and have made their recall problems worse.  In the interest of honesty, I will share that thousands of dogs are taught to come when called, happily, and reliably on a shock collar.  When the trainer knows what they are doing.  When the trainer doesn’t know what he is doing, the results are not only not reliable, but are often the opposite of what you may have wanted.  Properly executed a shock collar trained recall is a very fast and very reliable method.  Improperly trained you can end up teaching your dog to associate the shock with something other than his own behaviour of leaving you.  It is much easier and safer for pet dogs to be taught the long way round, and it can be every bit as reliable.  I see far too many dogs whose owners have tried this and who have regretted the choice, but in the interest of honesty, you should know that the people who train this way are not lying and they are not necessarily killing their relationship with their dogs-but you may not be able to replicate their methods and there is a huge risk involved of making your recall worse not better.

Once I have a dog who understands the two parts of the recall; that the cue “here” means that there is something he wants available as soon as he is close enough for you to grab his collar, and that it is a puzzle to figure out how to get to you so you can grab him, then it is a matter of setting up as many millions of scenarios that make this happen as possible.  One of my clients had a beagle and their dog was notorious for not coming when called.  When we turned the puzzle around and sent her out to find someone, suddenly, very suddenly, she became the worlds fastest recall beagle.  Every night for an hour, the family would go for a walk in two groups.  Half the family would head out in one direction in their local park and the other half of the family would set out in the other direction.  A few minutes into the walk, the first group would send their dog out to find the second group.  When she found them, they would catch her and feed her, and then send her out to find the first group.  Turning the game on it’s head and making it about finding, not coming and we had the most reliable recall I have ever seen on a hound.  After playing this for several months, the family stopped sending the dog and started calling her.  Familiar with the game of being sent, it was a small step for the dog to learn to come when called, reliably and quickly.

THIS is what a dog coming quickly to you looks like.  Your goal is to frame the game into a fun activity for your dog.


Many dogs avoid being caught at the end of walks because they know that the fun is coming to an end.  Like a child at a playground, they realize that if they don’t come close enough to be caught, they can keep playing.  The key to solving this recall issue is to put more pennies in the bank during the walk and release the dog to play again.  The more often that you do this, the more reliable your recall becomes, recognizing that you have to pay handsomely at the end with a treat or toy the dog really likes to make the final recall the most, not least valuable to the dog.  Calling your dog to you in mid walk just to prove you can, might also backfire though.  If you call you must have a reason for doing so.  Many dogs do significantly better if you call, leash up, do some training and then let them go and have more fun for a while.  They see the point in coming to you when you call if you are going to spend some energy attending to them, than if you simply give them a treat and send them along. 

There are significant breed differences in recalls.  I have always found my German Shepherds learn to come when called and maintain the behaviour more readily than my Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.  None the less the principle is still the same.  Don’t sabotage your training by spending recalls you don’t have in the bank.  If there is any doubt about your dog coming when called, then go get him.  The recall is so important to most of my clients that it pays to pay attention to how you teach it and make sure you don’t sabotage it.  The more recalls you have in the bank, the more reliable your recall is and the more pleasant it is to call your dog.  It is also more pleasant for your dog to be called to you, because he has enough recalls in his account to understand that coming when called pays off more often than not, and it is quite likely that you will pay well for his attention.