Puppy 101: Recall

15 Feb


Puppies are clean slates of fluff. They don’t know what it is to be a good dog—ahem, an obedient dog—but they’re eager to learn and ugh, do they have to be so cute? One of the most important (perhaps the most important) commands you will teach your puppy will be recall, and it’s important to maintain a positive training regimen for your recall command throughout your dog’s life.

Archer’s new best friend, Sirius, just started puppy school a few weeks ago. Due to scheduling with the classes, and his vaccination schedule, this was the earliest he could enroll—at nearly six months old. In this time, his training has been done at home with focus given to various different commands—specifically, recall.

Being a vizsla (a Hungarian hunting dog), it was important that Sirius learned good behaviour on offleash trail walks, and Archer has made for a great teacher in this respect. As a hunting dog, we’re already seeing that he is prone to chase small game and get over-fixated on scent trails—because of this, it was crucial that he be familiar and responsive to recall.

So how do you teach a puppy good recall, and ensure they are always responsive to your cues? Well, puppy school is absolutely great for a focused training environment, but good recall should start early, with continuous training and reinforcement throughout the dog’s life.

Start Small

When first starting good recall, start your training in a quiet, distraction-less room. You want the bulk of your puppy’s attention on you. Starting brand new commands with puppies can be difficult, so it’s important to associate the exercise with nothing but positive experiences. In a quiet room, there are very few chances for your puppy to “fail” or become so distracted he doesn’t notice you. Be patient and be positive.

  1. Wait until your puppy is coming toward you on his own.
  2. When he is close (within a few feet), say the word “come” (or whatever you wish your recall word to be).
  3. Praise your puppy when he reaches you.

Regardless of how long it took for your puppy to come to you, the reward should always be the same. High praise and lots of affection. You can also up the ante with a treat, toy, getting excited, or even running away from your puppy (their instinct will be to chase after you) to help reinforce that coming back to you is a good, positive experience for them.

Reinforcing Your Recall Cue

A great way to reinforce your recall cue (the word “come,” for example) is to play a sort of game with your dog and another person. We did this in puppy school, which was always a little interesting. Some dogs became distracted by the other puppies in the class, while other dogs knew exactly what to do and charged to their owners with a full head of steam. Don’t be discouraged if your pup becomes distracted, just remember to always praise them when they eventually (even if it takes a really, really long time!) come to you.

This training exercise requires two people. Both people should be someone your puppy is familiar with and trusts.

  1. One person sits with the puppy at one end of a room (or yard, depending on how difficult/distracting you want to make this!) and the other stands or kneels a fair distance across from them.
  2. The person with the puppy holds them by the collar to prevent them from moving.
  3. The other person begins to get excited (can use toys, slap their legs to make sounds, etc.) and draws the puppy’s attention to them, without saying their name or recall cue.
  4. When the person holding the puppy is satisfied they are focused on the other person, it’s time to finally say their recall cue. For us, it would be “Archer, come.”
  5. The person with the puppy will release the puppy. With all the excitement, the puppy should run right to the other person.

This is how you reinforce your recall cue. Try 20 feet and grow the distance as your puppy gets better and better with the command. Remember: more distance means a greater risk of distraction! Start small, then gradually increase your distance. If your puppy falters and becomes distracted, close the distance and start over again.

Vocal Cue + Hand Signal

We always encourage building hand signals into your vocal commands. Dogs are visual creatures, they react to our body language more than we realize. It’s good to incorporate hand gestures in combination with vocal commands. Once your dog is familiar with their verbal recall command, you can start including a hand signal along with the verbal command in your training.

As with the verbal recall command, begin their training in a quiet, distraction-less environment and keep a short distance between you and your dog. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog to increase the difficulty and possibility for distraction.

When you start your training, remember to use their name + recall command + hand gesture. Make sure your hand signal cannot be confused with another hand signal you’ve already used with your dog for another command.

Give Them Foolproof Opportunities

When outside and offleash (whether it’s in the yard, an offleash trail, etc.) and there are limited distractions, give a recall command when your puppy is relatively close. These are situations where he is most likely to succeed, so it helps reinforce the command in a one-on-one environment, even if though there is some wiggle room to fail.

Be patient. If he take a little time to sniff a tree before returning to you, that’s okay! If your puppy does ten things before returning to you, or takes a few minutes, just remember that one key aspect: he came back. Praise him for coming back to you, always.

You Are Not More Interesting Than Other Dogs

One recurring theme with puppy training, is that it’s easy to get discouraged. Puppies are just bubbling with excitement, and are terribly curious—which can make training difficult. Instead, remember to have patience and to embrace the distractions as they come. Use them to enhance your puppy’s learning experience.

Don’t set your puppy up for failure by attempting a recall command when he is clearly distracted/overwhelmed by another situation. Typically, this means playing with other dogs (or people!). Odds are, your puppy will not respond to your recall command. Does that mean your training is slipping? No! It just means that you’ve put your puppy in an almost-impossible situation where he just can’t succeed (other dogs are way cooler than you are, and you know it).

Wait for a lull in the action, then attempt a recall command when you know you can get your puppy’s attention.

This makes for a tricky but rewarding exercise for your puppy. It can be a difficult exercise to master, and in this situation, treats are a great reward.

Things to Avoid

I don’t mean to sound like a hippie with my peace, love, and happiness mentality, but it really is vital when dealing with recall. It needs to be a positive experience for your puppy, and patience is key.

  • DO NOT chase your puppy. Your dog will think it’s a game, and the inclination is to run further away from you.
  • DO NOT reprimand your puppy or be negative in any way. You want to reinforce the idea that coming back to you is always (always!) a good, positive experience. Is it annoying when your dog ignores you? Sure. But to reprimand him for being tardy in returning is sending the wrong message to your dog. Simply put: if he returns to you, no matter how long it took, he’s a good dog.

6 Reasons to Stick to Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

3 Feb


Before starting to work with a training company, I didn’t have any particular philosophy on training styles or a preference towards techniques for figuring out how to get Topher to behave. However, one thing I knew: we would not be using any kind of force collar like choke, prong, or shock collars. Later, we updated that “not under any circumstances” list to include things like dominance rolling and hitting. Instead, we’re sticking to positive reinforcement dog training.

Though you might not expect it given his size (and his bark), Topher is a dog who shuts down at the drop of a hat. Our big oaf is eager to please, but he’s also easily scared and came to us brimming with anxieties. To work with Topher is to constantly take baby steps, making progress by overcoming these fears a bit at a time. However, even without our large dog’s equally large anxieties, the decision to stick with positive reinforcement dog training is a no brainer.

What Is Positive Reinforcement Dog Training?

Positive reinforcement training, in a nutshell, is all about rewarding your dog for behaviors that you like, so there’s a better chance of that behavior being repeated. By praising good behavior and redirecting any unwanted behaviors, you change your dog’s habits without the use of force.

The more I seek out information on dog training, the more convinced I become: we’ll stick to positive reinforcement for the long haul. Here are a few reasons why.

It Strengthens Your Dog’s Bond with You

Here’s the tricky part of positive reinforcement training: before you can begin redirecting and solving your dog’s “bad” behaviors, you must first find out the causes of those behaviors. Only then can you work on how to change them, by giving your dog opportunities to learn and act differently. By connecting with your dog and working out these problems using humane methods, you strengthen your bond through mutual trust, affection, and encouragement.

The strongest bonds between dogs and their people are based on kindness, not dominance or fear. If your dog trusts you and feels good around you, they’ll be happier, more confident, more well behaved, and more responsive to your cues in the long term.

It Helps You Understand Your Dog

To change a dog’s actions using positive reinforcement requires an understanding of life from the view of your dog. First, you have to identify why they’re doing a certain behavior. Dealing effectively with those behaviors won’t work unless you know their root cause. When you know why, you can move onto the how: what can you do to treat of change this behavior? Answering “how,” will always lead to a greater understanding of your dog—which will help you learn how to communicate with them more effectively.

It Teaches Cooperation

By building the relationship with your dog positively, you’re teaching your dog to cooperate with you instead of teaching them to be submissive or suffer the consequences. A dog whose been constantly yanked around by their leash may eventually learn that yanking and pulling means they shouldn’t pull, but it won’t mean that dog has learned to cooperate or understand what you’re asking of them—to walk beside you, or to give you their attention—they’re simply avoiding certain behaviors out of fear.

Consider this: your dog doesn’t come into your home with all the knowledge of how you want them to behave. They make it up as they go. It’s up to you to teach them what you expect of them and how to cope with any situation that may come up by framing these lessons with positive experiences. Otherwise, you’ve got a dog walking on eggshells, never knowing what they’ll be yelled at for next.

It’s Less Stressful for Your Dog

Recently, positive training methods have proven to be more beneficial to our bond with our pets, in addition to having a positive effect on animal welfare in general. A 2014 study even showed that dogs trained using forceful or aversive methods show more signs of being stressed by these encounters than their positively trained counterparts. While its the first study to have been confirmed by a trained, observing researcher, it upholds several other studies that claim positive training strengthens our bonds with our pets and significantly lowers their stress.

It’s Safer for You and Your Dog

Many pet owners may not realize that punishing your dog in a dominant or aggressive way can actually increase the chances that your dog will respond aggressively. In 2009, a study conducted on the effects of confrontational training methods found that those owners who were the most aggressive or dominant towards their dogs experienced the most returns of aggression from their dogs.

Since then, there have been several other studies confirming similar findings: attempts to “assert dominance” using aggression or force results in even more aggression from our pets. If we can teach so many different undomesticated animals to respond to cues using only positive reinforcement, certainly we can teach our own pets without the use of aggression or force.

It Doesn’t Mean Total Anarchy

There is a common misconception that positive reinforcement creates an environment where owners indulge their pets in whatever behaviors they see fit, good, bad, or even ugly! Force free training doesn’t mean becoming a door mat for your dog; however, it does mean teaching your dog how to make good decisions without bullying, force, or domination. It takes patience and hard work, but in the end positive training sets your dog up for success that is long lasting and healthier than any dominance method we’ve seen.

10 More Indoor Activities for Dogs

27 Jan


If you live anywhere along the east coast, you might be continuing to deal with some of the fallout from winter storm Jonas. While we were nowhere near snowed in, the sudden drop in temperatures sent our little family into hibernation mode. Topher included! Considering how quickly a few days without walks can turn even our couch-potato of a dog into a whirling dervish, we’re quite lucky not to be trapped in our house or digging our yard out of a mountain of snow. For those of you who are stuck, or waiting for your dog to end their next poop strike, today we’re bringing you a bunch more indoor activities for dogs to ease your boredom.

1. Tug of War

While the game of tug of war is a hotly debated one, when played safely it can still act as a fun game for you and your dog. Playing safely means only you get to initiate tug of war: it should never begin because your dog is refusing to release a toy. The game should also be ended at your own discretion, by telling your dog to drop the toy. Use a toy designed for pulling: one that keeps your hand far away from your dog’s mouth.

A final note: don’t let your dog take over the game. If they start growling or become agitated, the game ends and they don’t get to play anymore. Dogs that already have issues with resource guarding are also not great candidates for playing tug.

2. Tag or “Go Touch”

Our most recent indoor pastime: playing games of tag! It’s a great way to encourage quick recall while tiring out your dog. To play, you’ll need a partner and a pocketful of treats for each of you. Start at opposite ends of a room or at opposite ends of a hallway. One person calls the dog then rewards them with a treat, then the other calls and rewards, rinse and repeat. Eventually, you and your partner can move farther apart, until your dog is traveling the entire length of the house to get to the other person. The more distance your dog covers, the better! The game of tag also works great outdoors for strengthening recall, so keep it in mind the next time you’re at a park where you can (legally) let your dog run free.

We use the game of tag to strengthen Topher’s greeting cue, “go touch.” His goal: to go and touch the other person’s open palm. This is a great command to teach any dog—it requires control on the dog’s part (they must only go to the person when told) and teaches calm greeting behavior.

3. Clean Up

Ever get jealous of the amazing dogs on YouTube that seem to know one hundred commands all geared towards making their humans’ lives easier? Us too. So, why not try teaching just one of those tricks at home? Teaching a dog to put their own toys away is a challenge both of you can sink your teeth into. Start by teaching your dog to “pick up” and “hold” toys. Once they have these two commands and the “drop it” command learned, you can start linking them together to teach your dog to “put it away.” Considering the number of dog toys we have, this little game could keep our dog occupied for hours!

4. Shell Game

Feeling lucky? Teach your dog to play a simple shell game, and within a few minutes you’ll either be heartily impressed at their powers of deduction, or perhaps wondering if they are just a simple dog. Place a treat under three cups, shuffle them around, and have your dog choose the correct one.

5. Dog Massage

Ahh, who doesn’t like a good massage? Even a short five minute rubdown will relax your pet, and even reduce their stress and anxiety. A daily massage can also help senior dogs or pets with arthritis by soothing those achy joints and sore legs. Here is a primer to get you started, along with a few specific massage techniques you can try at home.

6. Shape Training

Free shaping, or shape training, is a dog training technique geared towards promoting our dog’s innate problem-solving abilities. They get to make their own decisions, without direct verbal or physical input, to learn new tricks or investigate new things. Here’s a great video introduction to free shaping. Pick out a command you think you can shape with your dog, and get started!

7. Blow Bubbles

We learned very quickly that Topher is fascinated by bubbles. Your dog might be too! Don’t worry too much about going out and buying dog-safe bubbles—the bubbles currently on the market for children are also nontoxic and safe for your pet. Spend a few minutes blowing bubbles through your house and you’ll end up with one tired pup.

8. Rotate Toys

Like toddlers, dogs that have access to all their toys are less likely to pick them up and play with them. When you rotate their toys, you create a little more of a scarcity effect, and older toys feel new again after your dog hasn’t seen or interacted with them for a time. Rotating dog toys is also a great way to inspect toys, throwing away any that are too worn, and can help keep your toys cleaner, giving your more opportunities to wash them and put them away.

9. Change the View

Just like people, dogs can get stuck in routines, day in and day out. Maybe they’re used to looking out the same windows, or going out to do the same activities at the same times of day. Change up your dog’s routine or the locations of their favorite pillows, and see if that boosts your dog’s energy or mood. Or if you’re feeling really bold, change the view for the both of you by rearranging some furniture or changing up your decor!

10. Take A Nap

Topher can never resist a good snuggle and a nap on the couch. And sometimes when you’re snowed in, that’s the best kind of activity to pursue.