Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Doggie Recall Help

Q: How do I get my dog to come when called?

A:Recall skills are essential for any dog owner and are often the hardest skills to master due to many factors including the everyday use of the word “come.”

Recall starts before words are even used. The dog needs to know that paying attention to you pays, and pays big. Start with a high-reward system in a home environment for the simple behaviour of the dog looking at you. When you notice them looking at you, immediately mark the behaviour by saying “yes” or using a clicker and then give them a treat. Breaking treats into small pieces, purchasing ones that are already in small portions, or using their kibble will allow you to give multiple treats without overdoing the calories.

This first step will take about two weeks of 50 – 100 times per day, or as many times per day as you can manage. You can introduce their name into the mix so that when they look at you, say their name, mark the behaviour (“Yes!” or click) and treat. This process will lead to them looking to you whenever you say their name, which is important in a multi-dog environment such as a park.

Set your dog up for success and look for opportunities to reward them; if they are looking at you when you are about to feed them, say their name, say “yes!” and give them their food, or find other such instances where they are looking at you and reward. If they are following you around the kitchen, or down a hallway, you can start introducing the cue word for “come” and associate this with a reward.

We highly recommend choosing a word for recall that is not used in a common fashion, particularly one that has not already been in partial use for asking them to come to you. “Come” is often overused and associated with other less desirable behaviours. Other words can be “here,” “hurry,” “scramble,” or whatever you choose. This will help the dog much more quickly associate the cue word, and the behaviour with a positive consequence.

Once you’ve established the connection between their name, attention and recall in simple situations, take it to the next level by working on these skills in your backyard, front yard, then on leash walks. Repetition and quick reactions are key.

The next step is to expand to a long line and a quiet park. The long line will allow you to go to environments that have greater distractions, but allow you to control the outcome.

Another great tactic to work on in your backyard with a friend is restrained recalls. Have a friend hold your dog in one place in your backyard, show your dog the treat, run away from your dog (increasing the distance each time), turn around, call their name and your cue word for recall while having your friend release them. When they run over to you, make a big deal about it with lots of treats and praise. If they don’t immediately come to you, have your friend get the dog and repeat with a more valuable “treat.” The object of this game is to get as many fast, fun recalls into a short period of time. Again, repetition helps to solidify this skill.

The key to successful recall skills is for the dog to know that recall pays big every time and that you practice in situations where your dog will be successful, gradually working up to incorporating more complicated situations. Be aware of what your dog finds rewarding; for some it is food all the way, for others a squeaky toy or ball is a higher reward than a treat.

Reliable recall in complex situations and environments takes time and dedication to perfect. Have fun working with your dog and enjoy the fruits of your labor when that time comes where you need to be able to get your dog’s attention and direct them from a distance!

For more information, contact behaviour.help@calgaryhumane.ca or call the Calgary Humane Society free Behaviour Helpline at 403-723-6057.

Q: I’m new to owning a dog and wondered if there are general guidelines for off-leash park etiquette?

A: A successful, safe visit to the park depends on the answers to many questions. Is your dog comfortable with dogs of all sizes running up to them, chasing them, or wrestling with them? Are they okay with having their ball, or toy stolen? Will they come when you call them back to you? Is your small dog able to deal comfortably with larger dogs coming up to him? Is your dog okay with other dogs coming up to you for “their” treats? Do you have a puppy who hasn’t had its full set of vaccines?

If you’ve answered NO to any of these questions, we strongly suggest you and your pooch get some training before heading to the park, or even reconsider if the park is right for your dog. Off-leash parks are a privilege for many owners, but they are not right for all dogs.

For example, a dog’s recall skills are challenged in an environment as exciting as an off-leash park. Many dogs have become lost while at an off-leash park. Ensuring your dog will respond will help to keep him safe. (Check out next-week’s Minding Manners for tips on developing recall skills).

For a number of reasons, while at the park be aware of where your dog is and what they are doing at all times. For example, to keep the park cleaner, you need to be attentive of where your dog has done his business.

Also be aware of other dogs around you and your dog. If you have a small dog that is running, some other larger breeds may kick into a predatory drive and chase your little one who may get seriously injured if caught. Keep little dogs near you at all times so you can scoop them up if need be.

Before heading to the park, get together with some friends and their dogs and make sure your dog is okay with sharing toys and with you petting or feeding other dogs. That being said, when at an off-leash park, don’t offer treats to other dogs as they may have special dietary restrictions.

Prior to any visits to the dog park, it's important to make sure puppies have their full set of vaccines; check with your veterinarian for more information as to when you can safely take your puppy out in public. Also be conscious that adult dogs may react differently to your puppy than they would with another adult dog. It’s important for proper socialization skills that puppies have a positive experience in their interactions with other dogs – a bad experience can leave them frightened and even reactive to other dogs. Consider taking a puppy class, like Precocious Puppies at the Calgary Humane Society, where they can romp and roll with other puppies and learn the necessary skills of interaction in a controlled environment before venturing into the dog park.

With summer right around the corner, everyone and their dog will be itching to get out and enjoy the sun. Keeping these points in mind will help everyone enjoy the off-leash park experience in a positive and safe way.

For more information, contact behaviour.help@calgaryhumane.ca or call the Calgary Humane Society free Behaviour Helpline at 403-723-6057.

Q: How do I teach my dog not to jump up?

A: Jumping up is a behaviour problem many owners struggle with. Owners frequently focus on eliminating the problem or undesired behaviour by telling the animal what not to do. When a dog jumps up, the owner will yell “No! Get down!” as they push the dog off. In such an interaction, even if the correction is given in a stern tone, the dog actually learns that if he jumps on his owner, the owner will interact with him. For many dogs, interaction is a good consequence.

Scientific study of dog behaviour and training methods indicates that a more effective approach focuses instead on desired behaviour that the dog can do, and reinforcement of this behaviour with high-value rewards. This positive approach results in long-term increases in the desired behaviour, which also boosts the dog’s confidence and supports a strong, positive bond with his owner.

To use positive reinforcement; instead of reacting when your dog jumps up on you, wait until he has all four paws on the floor. Then say “yes!” in a very excited voice, or use a clicker to mark the behaviour, then reward with the dog’s favorite treat. Toss the treat on the floor so that he is focused down on the floor instead of upwards at you.

At the start of this re-training process, you will need to use a high rate of reinforcement to allow the dog to be successful and come to fully understand that “four on the floor” pays! A high rate of reinforcement means offering 20 to 30 clicks and small bits of treats per minute. If the dog is sitting, keep throwing down the treats.

Generally after you have repeated this process two or three times, dogs will actively keep “four on the floor.” Once you have done the initial training with a high rate of reward, slowly reduce the number of rewards and only intermittently reinforce the desired behaviour. Intermittent reinforcement can be more or less frequent, depending on your dog and his level of distraction. If he fails to offer the desired behaviour, go back to a higher rate of reinforcement. Eventually, you can taper off altogether and just ask for the behaviour through a word or signal.

Dogs innately respond to positive reinforcement, because they are “wired” to repeat behaviours that “work” – that is, behaviours that get them rewards. If you stay consistent and patiently put in the time required, you will have dogs who are well behaved and happy to be around people. People are also happy to be around the dogs, thus providing the dog with a much more varied and exciting life experience.

**Taken from the Calgary Herald

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