We continue with the theme of working with the puppy. The next two skills which are based on the neutral signal and focusing attention (so part 1 of the post is undoubtedly a basic must-have) are recall and interrupting behaviour. They are important as they can be used to save your dog’s life or health when contact with an object or staying in a place that may be dangerous for him. It is also an opportunity to take care of your comfort during a walk – imagine you are walking like a king through the park and you are not worried that your dog will immediately run after another dog and you will have to chase him wildly or he will run after you attracted by the food left under a bench – it will probably happen, but you will have an ace up your sleeve – two commands that will prevent your dog from unwanted behaviour and will give you more control over him. Remember, by having more confidence and less fear, uncertainty and irritation when dealing with your dog you are also building their confidence and sending clearer messages when dealing with them.
Summoning can be divided into „as-usual” summoning and emergency summoning. I can honestly tell you that for me this division makes no sense – a dog, if it has well developed and generalized ability of recall, should react the same way every time, no matter if a truck is coming or not. An emergency recall is, by definition, such a recall which is 100% effective and is used in conditions of particular danger. However, I think that irrespective of the external conditions, recall is a command that should always be performed by a dog and there should be no deviations from it – every deviation increases the risk that the dog will learn to ignore the command and will see that it doesn’t make much difference whether it comes after eating pigeon bread or before.
Step by step:
(If the dog likes to play with toys, likes e.g. pulling with a rope and this rope or other tug is a motivation for him, i.e. he willingly follows it and is happy to see it, it is worth taking him with us for training).
As a standard, we start by explaining to the dog most simply what we want – to make it easier we can start working on a long leash or a rope. With a quick step or jog, we move back from the dog facing its direction and as soon as the dog moves toward us, we give a command to me or any other command we can think of. We move a few steps praising the dog and when it is close to us we reward it. If the dog has problems following us, we can help ourselves with a toy or treats or just gently lead it using the leash – we lure the dog with treats or a toy, and when it gets interesting, we hide the lure behind our back and we go back, similarly, as above we give a command when the dog continues to follow us we praise it and give food. BUT remember that if we work on a leash or a long line, it must not be tight! We repeat this step until the dog eagerly follows us, stops somewhere along the way and when we manage to eliminate the need to use the lure.
Then we modify the way we move away from the dog – we move faster and with our back to the dog and at the same time we give a command. As soon as the dog moves behind us, we praise it and are pleased and when it catches up with us (a few steps are enough) we give a treat. ATTENTION – we don’t go back for a dog when he doesn’t want to come – such a thing would teach him that if he doesn’t come, we will come for him and it would completely cut off his motivation to come.
Alternatively, if the dog has problems here, we can go back to step 1 or use a training rope, which one-time short tension would help to break the dog out of the trance of sniffing in the grass. It doesn’t have to be food – it can be a beloved toy if the dog responds well to it.
We practise recall in distractions and over longer distances. For example, we can put a closed dog paste (to make sure that the dog will not have access to it) and, using a command, move away briskly from the dog while calling him back from the distraction. We reward him with something equally attractive. The distractions are graded according to the level of difficulty. With time, we also increase the distance from the dog to which the command is given, so that the dog understands that no matter how far away we are, it is worthwhile for him to come to us because he will meet something nice (here we have to think what will be attractive).
It often happens that we are annoyed that our dog has done something despite us telling him not to do it – not to eat those bones in the bushes, not to chase the ducks in the park, not to take the ball away from the children playing etc. etc. All these behaviours can be stopped if the dog knows the command to interrupt the behaviour. The purpose of the command is to send a message to the dog that whatever it is doing now, it should stop the behaviour, focus on us and, what is more, give up on continuing the behaviour even if we have already rewarded it (so it is not a temporary stopping of the behaviour but a complete giving up of it). It works best when we issue it as soon as we notice the dog moving towards food or a ball, or as soon as he steps with his paw into a puddle in which he is in the habit of rolling.
Step by step:
(we prepare the favourite food and off we go!)
We start by working with the dog at floor level – I suggest we start in the house where we can sit or squat by the dog without any problems. This way it will be easier for us to control the dog’s behaviour and in case of emergency to react quickly, not letting the dog overtake us and eat the flavours even though we didn’t let him. We prepare two portions of treats, one from each hand. In the first step we put out the treats from one hand (preferably 2 or 3 pieces so that it is easy to cover them with the palm of our hand and immediately collect them from the floor) and when the dog is interested in them we say a command e.g. no and cover the treats with our hand. We wait until the dog gives up trying to get them and we reward the smallest signs of giving up e.g. when it stops scratching with its paw on our hand, backs away from our hand and of course best when it looks at us. We have to be fast and the best way is to mark with a clicker the moment when we notice that the dog gives up and immediately after that reward it solidly.
ATTENTION – we should reward on the other hand, with crisps equally attractive for the dog and, what is important, far from the place where there were the ones the dog had to give up. The point is that the dog, having no access to them, should walk away from them and not try to catch them again in a moment. In this way, he learns that if he moves away from them, it will be worth it. We do not repeat the command! We wait until the dog gives up eating after giving the command once. After a successful attempt, we collect the treats from the ground and put them in another place repeating the procedure. Repeat the procedure many times until the dog almost immediately gives up after issuing a command.
Step two is the same exercise as above but in a standing position. Then we put out a treat, say a command and when the dog still tries to eat it, we cover it with our leg, defending its access to it. We must be fast and not let it overtake us. Thanks to that, the dog learns that his attempts are pointless and the way to get the reward is to give up what lies on the ground. We reward, preferably by marking the behaviour with a clicker, at the moment of giving up and looking at us, as above away from where the threats lie.
In step three we practice the command on the move, so we leave the treatment for ourselves e.g. on the pavement remembering where we left it. We walk next to the food with the dog and earlier when the dog smells the food we give the command. We are prepared to block access to the food with our feet or simply block the dog with the leash. When the dog gives up, we rejoice and praise it by running away from the place where the food is lying and after a few steps, we reward it.
In step four we increase the distance between us and the dog when we give the command. The dog may then have the idea that since we are so far away it will manage to intercept the food before us. This is why the distance command is only the 4th step for a reason. We can act on a rope or a longer leash securing the dog’s access to the treat from a distance. When the dog gives up, let’s remember to run with it vigorously a few steps away from the place of food and only then reward it.
The fifth step is, as usual, a generalisation, so we combine types of food or place other objects that the dog was supposed to give up. We also work in a variety of environments, not only at home but especially in the park, on lawns, etc. etc.
How about you with these two skills? Do your dogs know them and do you manage to control their behaviour with them?