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New Years Resolutions, scrubbing up that recall!

New Years Resolutions, scrubbing up that recall!

Guest blog, from animal trainer Jeanna at Put Your Paws Up 

Whether your dog is 8 weeks, or 8 years, a strong recall is one of the most important things we can teach our companion animals (this isn't restricted to just dogs!). So how do we do it?

The first step is easily overlooked - knowing their name. If I had a penny for the amount of times a pet has been oblivious that their name 'meant' anything, I would be a rich person indeed.

So let's start at the beginning. 

1. Teaching their name

Make sure your pet is hungry, so before breakfast or dinner, and do this at home so they're in a low distraction environment. We will need 10 super tasty treats as we're going to keep this session short.

Be near your pet, with the treat ready in your hand. You're going to say your pet's name once, in an exciting pitch, if they look at you, you say 'YES' and offer them the treat.

What if they don't look at you? Don't panic, just pause for a moment and try again. At the moment, their 'name' doesn't mean anything.

What if they didn't take the treat? With dogs, I find moist meaty treats work best, something that smells great and is quick to eat. Alternatively, they may not have been hungry.

Repeat this a few times a day, for example, when you're boiling the kettle until the dog responds to their name.

Top tip: avoid using their name in other situations while they're learning their name.

Once they are responsive to their name in the house, it is time to start switching things up, and adding the recall cue. Natural choices are 'come' or 'here'.

2: Figure out what your dog loves

There are many things we can use to reward our dogs, and we really need to find out what our dogs find most and least valuable. For each dog, this will vary, and can be influenced by their breed or type.

Suggestions of what your dog might find rewarding include:

* verbal reward such as 'good boy', or cheering

* physical praise such as jumping up, stroking

* food is a popular one - experiment with kibble, wet food in pouches (cut the corner off the top for an easy squeezy treat), peanut butter, meat, pate, packet treats, cheese.

* food presentation - some dogs love a scatter so they can activate their nose, for this I recommend smaller treats and always rewarding close to you, for others, they would love to catch the treat. In this case, you need to ensure the treat is a decent size so they can see it and also not choke.

* toys! Some dogs will ditch all their needs for a toy, especially herding dogs or terriers.

* access to the environment or swimming - this is a bit more difficult to use in the beginning stages of teaching recall but I use this as a 'jackpot' in real life.

3: Teaching the recall

There are heaps of games you can play with your puppy or dog to teach the recall action, some require a second person but not all!

I recommend building these games up, starting in an easy environment before making it harder, so:

* In one room in the house

* from room to room in the house

* in the garden, or from the garden to the house and vice versa

* at a friend's house / garden

* out the front of the house

* in a tennis court or other low distraction environment

* enclosed field

Game one: Restrained Recall. Person one needs to hold the dog by their collar or harness. You can have your dog on a long line if you're outside. Person two is going to show the dog they have treats. Hold them in your hand at the dog's nose level and start walking backwards.

Person one needs to release the dog when person two says 'Fido here'. Only say the cue once and keep moving backwards as they run towards you. Reward heavily when they make it to you.

Extra tips:

*Short distances when you start this game AND when you change the level of difficulty, ie moving outside.

* feed more than one treat so they don't learn to grab one treat and run off again.

* practice touching their harness or collar even if you aren't putting them back on the lead so they don't assume that will end their fun.

Game two: Boomerang Recall. Both people need a quantity of good treats, start close together. Person one calls the dog, while person two goes quiet and still (stop looking at the dog even), this should encourage the dog to recall to the more interesting Person one.

Once Person one has given a treat or three, the roles reverse, and Person two calls the dog while person one becomes quiet and still.

This is a great game to play when teaching your dog to really listen for their cue.

Extra tips:

* some dogs find it hard to move from person to person so don't make this game too hard too quickly. If the dog ignores the first call, the person doing the calling should refrain from using the recall cue again but instead call 'pup pup pup' and start moving backwards, as movement often catches attention. If this still doesn't work, the caller needs to move closer.

Game three: Food Chase. This doesn't need to be food, this can be a toy or ball, BUT if you aren't using food, you need to have multiple of the same toy.

Restrain your dog by the collar or harness, and roll a visible treat a short distance from you.

Let them go and eat the treat, as soon as they have eaten the treat, move backwards with your treat at nose level like in game one. Reward heavily as the dog moves towards you. This is very similar to game one but without a second person.

Extra tips:

* make sure the treat isn't too crumbly, or small, as the dog will spend too long looking for the treat or hoovering up the crumbs.

* when playing with a puppy, make sure they're looking, and roll the treat along the floor as their eyesight isn't as good as an adult

* think about the surface you're training on, grass will be harder to find treats in than on carpet or wooden floors, for example

* be careful if the surface is slippy, we don't want dogs getting hurt

Game four: Hand Touch. It's good to have variety. I don't always 'recall' my dogs when I recall them, sometimes I'm asking for a disguised recall. It helps keep them thinking! So for this, we are going to teach a hand touch.

Open your hand flat and pop a treat in the centre of your palm, before placing your thumb over it.

Lower your hand to nose level, your dog should move towards it as they smell the treat. As soon as they touch, say 'yes' and release the treat from under your thumb.

Repeat this a few times until they're keen to approach your flat palm. At this point, I add the cue. Before presenting your hand, say 'touch' then lower your hand. Again, reward as soon as they reach the hand.

Move away from your dog, prepare the treat in your hand under your thumb before calling 'fido, touch'. If they don't move, you may have tried this too soon, you can try moving backwards to encourage the dog to move towards you.

After a few sessions, you should be able to take the treat away and just have an empty flat palm. There's never any harm of having a treat under your thumb when you're testing this behaviour in a new environment or you want to reward quickly.

Extra tips:

* Start asking for more than one hand touch before rewarding to encourage your dog to stay with you, or asking for repeats so the dog is being rewarded more than once.

Game five: This Way! We people love going in straight lines, quite often if my dogs are roaming ahead of me, or not paying enough attention, I start changing my direction. Whenever I do, I call 'this way' and move briskly in another direction. When starting this game, you could reward as they catch up with you. Dogs love a bit of action in their life and my guys always find it fun to have to overtake me again.

This direction change does not always have to be a 180 turn, sometimes I will make a zig zag pattern down a straight patch, encouraging the dog to stay closer.

Extra tips:

* you can use treats to encourage change of direction if needed but some dogs won't need rewarding for this game as the movement is rewarding

* verbal praise might be good to use in this situation.

Game six: Catch Me If You Can. For this game, we are intentionally encouraging them to chase us, and it works better for some dogs than others!

Create a little scatter for your dog, sprinkling some treats on the floor, as they start snuffling at the treats, run away from your dog. You do not need to call them unless they are genuinely not interested in you running away, but I find 99% love the chase aspect.

As they catch you up, reward heavily.

Extra tips:

* don't scatter too many treats, you don't want them stuck to their spot for too long.

Game seven: Dinner Time. We want value for a recall. If your dog loves their dinner (which they should do), then prepare their meal and play game one with their dinner bowl at home.

And yes, we can take this game out and about BUT be very careful as dogs should not be running around with full tummies. If they LOVE their food then we can always take a smaller bowl reward with a spoonful of their food.

Hopefully these games and tips will help you teach and proof a recall in your dog. Some breeds have strong traits that will make this journey harder, if you are struggling, it is best to seek a trainer in person to help you as soon as possible.

Prevention is better than cure, if you aren't willing to bet £50 that your dog will recall in an environment, use a long line so they cannot fail!

About Put Your Paws Up UK

Jeanna Gwilliam from Put Your Paws Up UK, is an Animal Trainer and Handler for Media with nearly ten years' experience sourcing, training and working animals on set. She is managed by her extensive canine family including Pyrenean Sheepdogs, English Springer Spaniels, Miniature American Shepherd, Jack Russell's and Mixed breeds, alongside rabbits, rats and cats! Training has been an interest for over 20 years, participating in displays and competitions all over the country, even competing and winning classes at Crufts in breed showing and Obedience. 

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