The most important thing to me to have in a dog is a reliable recall.
I describe the competency level as reliable or not, not “pretty reliable, good recall” or any other half measure.
Venom is progressing really well in his recall; I have made this exercise quite clear and the steps I have broken down into simple “bite sized” pieces for him to absorb and lock in.
Step one is to know how to motivate your dog, I am not interested in reinforcing him or rewarding him for the recall at this stage, I want to MOTIVATE him. I don’t want him wandering over but belting at me.
This is the beauty of this dog and the breed, they are ridiculously easy to motivate and trigger drive in. Venom will turn himself inside out for food or praise and explode on prey, so you aren’t limited. The other aspect that is incredible is that his drive duration is insane; he can work in drive longer than me. You don’t have to limit the training sessions so carefully and extend a second at a time; he is on fire as long as you need him to be, and more. Genetics – genetics – genetics.
When I want to motivate a dog, I want some pieces in place so that too can be part of my “motivation system”. This means I want the dog to understand that I can help with his predictions.
Predictions are the way I describe a dog carrying out a known behaviour, the dog knows the behaviours and predicts the process. I like to have control of that predictor and be able to use it whenever I like.
I have a number of these predictors or “drive triggers” that I use. Each one of these is used only with the same reward and same action, for example I say “ready” when he is going to be rewarded with food after the exercise. The process for him is that, I give him the ready cue, he gives me drive and I give him a release cue and make food available, he chases it and eats it. When this is totally understood through repetition, I start to add criteria to the sequence, like the recall.
Step 2 is to have Venom know what is expected, this is setting the criteria, meaning, when I give this cue, you need to do X, I will mark that action and your reward will come. So I teach Venom that I will mark him in the early training, when he arrives right at my feet. I want to set down the rules a recall isn’t “come near me”, it is “come all the way to me!”
Step 3 is to add speed, I want a dog that stretches itself, extends its reach so that it is running to me at its physical limit. I add speed a number of ways, this is based on a few factors I won’t explain here, but I will tell you the ones I used with Venom.
1. Opposition Reflex and the Restrained Recall
I used these tools to teach Venom to stride out, he of course was restrained and I moved away from him, in a direct line until I was about 30 metres away, this distance will vary but as Venom has a lot of drive, this was fine. I then got his attention and lifted his drive levels whilst he was held back by my training partner. When I was aware that his drive level had lifted (he was barking, vocalising and jumping around), I give the recall command. This is a signal for the helper to let him go.
This signal to Venom is rewarding, freedom comes and oppositional reflex provided by the helper is removed = rewarding. It is rewarding right at the time I give the recall command so I capture that reward and pair it to my recall cue.
When Venom comes running in I am moving backwards, as he runs toward me and I can see his “commitment”, I mark that and he finishes the recall with a prediction of reward. Repeated this becomes a drive command and you have a very motivated recall.
2. Producing behaviours in the handler
I want Venom to be able to produce certain behaviours in ME, he can make me play tug with him if he displays certain behaviours, such as a recall or similar. So when I have him recalling I start this system off next.
I will have a hidden tug on me and Venom close by, I give him a recall command, he steps just one step toward me and I mark yes and throw a tug toy or a ball in the opposite direction from him. Repeated this becomes more obvious that he thinks that running toward me will make me throw the ball or toy, this is what I want him to think because this thinking style is called engagement.
When I have this I lift drive by recalling him and when he gets to me, I do nothing, like I forgot. His drive peaks and he barks and jumps at me, I step away from him a couple of times and then throw the toy. This peaking of drive is marked and rewarded so it is additional motivation to just the value the toy has through conditioning.
The final step, Distraction.
Near anyone can teach a recall, but reliability is always talked about when distraction comes to visit. As mentioned before I want a reliable recall, so Venom gets trained under distraction a lot.
What distraction? Well at first I set them up and then I take advantage of what I see. The first few repetitions may be my older dog Kandy in our yard, Venom is released and runs toward her, she is given a signal to drop and he is given a recall cue.
If he gets to her she is lying down and won’t engage him at all, fail for him.
There are hundreds of ways to defeat distractions this is just one. Next I want to trigger a drive game and this game is moved and continues past a distraction, a distraction that will temp Venom. He is tempted the drive game ends.
In the end I want to be able to distract him first and when he is involved in said distraction, recall him from it, regardless of what it is.
This is what I call “A Reliable Recall”.
The skill is in recognising when to shift steps, what motivation you can get and your timing.
Check out Venom’s super recall here – Venom Recall Shopping Centre