Real Life Recalls One
of the more critical exercises your dog should learn is to come when called. This is
usually an easy concept to get across to the dog. Provide an incentive and motivation and
the dog will race back to you - right? Well, not quite.
Mona Lindau-Webb, Alpha Dog Training, Los Angeles
Problems arise when there are conflicting
motivations: the reason the dog comes to you has to do with rewards and social motivation.
Sometimes when you call the dog, he is busy chasing another dog, or a bird, or an
interesting scent when you call, and thus in predatory mode, and that usually wins over
the social motivation.
Some dogs, like many Oriental breeds tend
to be more aloof and not as socially motivated as the average dog. Others, like the
bullmastiff, are independent free-thinkers and tend to question your every decision,
or debate whether to abandon their current activity or not. This tends to make
bullmastiffs come when called at their own time and pace. This independent personality
is going to need stronger motivation and consistency than a dog from the sporting
or herding breeds.
Problems will also ensue when the owner
teaches a nice recall to the puppy or young dog, and then uses it to call the dog for
everything, including actions that may serve as negative reinforcement in the dogs
mind. Obviously the dog will stop coming if the owner calls the dog to punish him.
But actions like calling the dog to put him away before leaving the house, or to
put the leash back on in the park before walking away from the dogs playmates, or to
shove pills down his throat, etc. will also be perceived as negative by the dog and
decrease his motivation to come when called.
The key in teaching a bullmastiff is to
set the dog up for success every time he is called and provide attractive enough rewards.
One yummy at the end is not enough. It takes motivation at each step of the
teaching process. In addition, I like recalls at superfast speed, so the dog needs to be
set up in the beginning to move fast.
Here is my way of teaching a fast Real
Life Recall that works 90% of the time. This can later be modified for the obedience ring
recall. For the remaining 10% I also teach an Emergency Recall. Teaching a Real Life
Recall is easy, but it does take hundreds of repetitions in practice to make it reliable.
Equipment: a buckle collar, leash, 20 foot
long line, boxes of Tic-Tacs, and super-out-of-this-world-yummies (e.g. Chicken
MacNuggets, KFC, liver, stinky cheese, meatballs, hot dogs) and two people.
Procedure: The first step is to condition
the dog that the sounds of Tic-Tacs shaking means a super-yummy. Shake the box of
Tic-Tacs, give the dog a treat. Repeat 4 times. Take a 30 second break. Repeat another 4
times. Test by shaking the box of Tic-Tacs. If the dog turns his head towards you,
you are ready for the next step, otherwise repeat until the dog clearly associate the
sound of the Tic-Tacs shaking with super-out-of this-world yummies.
Then have one person (P1) hold the dog by
the buckle collar. The dog should be standing, preferrably pulling in a forward direction.
The other person (P2) teases the dog in front of the nose with the super-yummy, and runs
as fast as possible away around 50 feet or so, kneels down, open arms like a chute and
shake the Tic-Tacs. As soon as the shaking sound starts, P1 lets go of the dog. Now
P2 can take hold of the collar, and P1 teases the dog waving super-yummies by the dogs
nose, runs away fast, kneels down, shakes the Tic-Tacs, and P2 lets the dog loose.
Repeat this over a week with increasing
distance, then run out of sight of the dog before shaking the Tic-Tacs, then have the dog
come from inside to outside, and vice versa, steadily increasing distance and difficulty.
This method works great. It is based on
what we know about how dogs are put together and what makes them tick.
By holding the dog back on a buckle collar
we are using an opposition reflex (thigmotaxis) that is present to a varying degree in
dogs. This reflex makes the dog react to pressure by applying counter pressure.
This means that when you pull back on a dog, the dog will react by opposing
your pressure and pull forward. The opposition reflex tends to be quite strong in
bullmastiffs. When we apply a steady pressure against the dogs body via the buckle
collar, the dog will response by countering this pressure and pull forward strongly. The
stronger the dog pulls forward, the faster he will then explode into forward motion when
the buckle collar is released. The result is high speed from the start.
In the beginning of teaching the recall, I
insist on not using a verbal command, particularly not Come!. The majority or
owners have already taught their dogs not to come to this command. Dogs are told to Come!
lots of times by all family members and friends and relatives and most of the time the dog
in fact does not return to the caller. Unfortunately, dogs learn exactly what we teach
them. Most dogs have been carefully taught that Come! is pretty meaningless by
the time they are 4 months old. Even if the owner could learn to be consistent and
only call Come! when he knows the dog will in fact return to him, there is no
way to control friends, family, and relatives. So the goal becomes to teach the dog
a new verbal command that is 100% meaningful to the dog at all times. This command
can be whatever you like, in any language you like. Personally I use Here! in
a somewhat highpitched and penetrating voice. The verbal command is however not
taught until much later in the process.
Teaching the recall with a non-verbal
sounds makes the signal more consistent and does not expose the dog to any variation in
peoples voice qualities and ways of calling. The most efficient signal to make
animals approach is a sound that is sharp and repetitive, clapping hands or shaking a box
of Tic-Tacs, or a bottle of aspirin. There is some research showing that in many cultures
of the world people call their animals with a high-pitched repetitive sound like in
English pup-pup-pup-pup..., or kitty-kitty-kitty.... People also
tend to make their animals stop motion with a lowpitched longdrawn sound like in English
whoa! Whether people call their donkeys, llamas, goats, dogs, or whatever, the
type of signal used is the same, and animals seem to respond to this universally. It is
possible that there is some hard-wiring in animal brains to respond to these types of
sounds. The sound of shaking a box of Tic-Tacs works in synchrony with this universal
principle, and thus uses possible hard-wiring in the dogs brain.
Later on in the training process we can
use clapping hands, and associate this repetive sharp sound with a verbal command like
Here!!! as the dog comes running at you. Ultimately the dog will have a good
recall at either handclapping, or a verbal command, so this will work even when the owner
has laryngitis, or is in great emotional turmoil with concomitant changes in voice
By teasing the dog with a super-yummy
treat the dog knows with certainty that the owner has something that is definitely
valuable, and worth trying to get.
By running away as fast as possible, the
owner will release and use the dogs natural chase instinct. Most dogs, even
bullmastiffs, instinctively will chase a moving object. The faster the object moves, the
faster the dog will run in chase. Between the opposition reflex and the chase instinct the
recall speed will be maximized.
By kneeling and opening the arms in a
chute-like gesture the owner will provide the dog with a fun and friendly picture which he
is more likely to run towards than an owner standing up straight. The shaking
Tic-Tacs and all the super-yummies at the end of the run will further reinforce the dog in
his conviction to get to the owner as fast as his legs can move.
This recall game is the foundation for a
fast, reliable recall in real life. In order to get it firmly established in the dogs
brain it needs repeating, several dozen times every week, gradually increasing the
difficulties. It does not hurt to spend a month or two playing this game before
progressing to later stages of the recall process. This foundation is the most
important aspect in teaching a dog to come when called.
At the same time, make sure you do not use
a recall unless the dog is in a situation with the two people, one holding the dog, the
other one running with treats and Tic-Tacs. Also, when teaching a bullmastiff, the general
rule of not repeating anything more than 2-3 times also holds here. Do one or two
shaker-games - and then quit. This leaves the dog at the peak of his fun, and
he will start at a peak of arousal next time he hears the Tic-Tacs.
Once the foundation is established and the
dog responds 100% of the time, it is time to repeat the whole process, but add a Here!
or some other verbal command after a couple of shakes with the Tic-Tacs. The dog will hear
[Shake-shake] Here! and associate Here! with the fast recall he
knows by now.
The next step involves taking this game to
many different locations and play the recall shaker-game with different distractions. When
the dog is very good at this, it is finally time to try a [shake-shake] Here!
without somebody holding the dog back by the collar. Use the [shake-shake]
Here!with sometimes somebody holding the dog, sometimes not. This needs a couple of
weeks of repetition.
The final step is going to involve going
to a park or a place with lots of distractions, having the dog on a 30-40 foot long line.
Let him loose, let him get into his own thing, and call him by using handclapping and
Here!. If he does not come really fast, give a sharp jerk using the end of the
line, then drop the line and run away. The jerk has to be hard and fast, to get the dogs
attention, and so that he does not see it comes from you. When he gets to you, he gets
extra hugs and kisses and a handful of yummies. This stage needs repetition over
Be sure to give your dog high quality
treats EVERY time he comes to you for the rest of the dogs life. This is one
exercise where it is best never to let up on the training
This way of teaching the dog to come when
called, and come at maximum speed, does work. It uses the hard-wiring and behaviors that
dogs are equipped with before we start teaching. Then we teach in small steps, and repeat
more than enough at each step of the teaching process. It takes time, between 4-6 months,
but oh what joy, when your dog comes bounding to you to check in on one command at all
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