Reliable Recall Training Step 1: Touch my Hand!
Last month I posted a short introduction to training a Reliable Recall with the promise to give you step by step directions in June—this week I detail Training Step 1, but first a quick review for those who missed the previous article!
The Problem: Your dog hesitates or ignores you when you call her. Why? It’s probably due to one of three reasons:
- She doesn’t understand what you want her to do when she detects the cue.
- He is distracted by sights and smells in her environment that are much more interesting.
- The cue has become poisoned.
The Solution: If your dog appears to be "stubborn" or "hard-headed", try taking these first 5 steps towards developing a reliable recall indoors first, then outdoors:
- Train/re-train the recall indoors with a new cue – pick something unique.
- Use delicious high value treats such as bits of hotdog or cheese as rewards.
- Practice the recall indoors 30-50 times a day in sets of 10.
- Always reward success and just ignore any failures.
- When you have 100% reliability indoors, move outdoors to a quiet area and train on a 40’ training lead.
Training Step 1: Touch my Hand!
This week I’m going to ask you to pretend that you have never taught your dog to come and that your dog doesn’t understand your recall cue, OK? CAUTION: If you have an aggressive dog or a dog with a bite history, DO NOT try this without a professional trainer present—otherwise you may get bitten!
First, you will need a marker – a unique sound that is used for only one purpose: to mark the instant in time when your dog does exactly what you want him to do! I use a mechanical clicker called an i-Click from www.clickertraining.com. Any quick, sharp, unique sound that you can deliver with precise timing will work. If you do not have a clicker in your possession right now, you can use your voice until you can get one but the science of how animals learn tells us that dogs learn faster with a clicker than they do with a vocal marker—so contact me and I’ll get one to you! If you must use your voice, use a unique, sharp, high-pitched sound such as “YIP.”
Second, you will need high value reinforcers – something your dog rarely gets as a treat. I use chicken hotdogs and string cheese cut into pea-sized pieces. Take one hotdog or one string cheese and cut it length-wise into 4 pieces. Then cut it cross-wise about twenty times. This will yield 80 treats. At The Positive Quarter, I teach my clients to use a high rate of reinforcement. We use small tasty treats that our dogs can eat quickly but will not cause them to become sated too soon – pea-sized hotdog or string cheese pieces work well for almost all dogs.
Third, you will need to set up your training space – pick a quiet area of your house where you can work undisturbed for 5-10 minutes. Avoid windows, doors, and other areas where your dog might be distracted by sights and sounds from outside, such as people or dogs passing by the house. Silence your phone! If you have multiple dogs, work with one at a time for now – put all other pets behind a barrier. Work on carpet or put a throw rug down to keep your dog’s feet from sliding on the floor. Lay out your treats in 5-10 piles of 10 treats each on a counter top or table where your dog cannot see them. Pick a favorite dog toy to use between mini-sessions. Position your self where you want your dog to work and where you can easily reach the treats and toy.
Forth, prepare yourself mentally – you will want to be silent and still during each mini-session.
Finally, call your dog and give her one treat – if necessary. In most cases your dog has probably been watching you prepare all those yummy treats!
Now comes the fun part! Today, we are going to teach your dog to touch (target) your hand with his nose. If she already knows how to target touch, this will be a great reinforcement session. You can use an open-flat palm or your fist. Slowly place you hand directly in front of your dog’s nose – close enough for her to touch it with only a slight forward head movement. When your dog makes any movement towards your hand, mark that behavior (with a CLICK or a YIP) and give your dog one treat. After a few successes, delay your mark until his nose actually touches your hand. If your dog fails to reach for or touch your hand: remove the target (your hand) and wait five seconds, then try again. After 10 trials, take a short break. Keeping your treats in piles of 10 help you keep track of trials. During this short break you may praise your dog and throw the toy for him.
Repeat this mini-session no more than 10 times. Remember to stand still and be silent during each mini-session. You will know when it’s time to quick because your treat piles are gone!
You may increase the level of difficulty for your dog IF and ONLY IF she had an 80% success rate during the previous mini-session. For example, in mini-session 2, you may want to only mark and reinforce (aka Click and Treat or C/T) when your dog’s nose actually touches your hand. Then when his touch success is up to 80%, you may want to place your hand a little (2 inches) further away from his nose. Once she will reach as far as she can to touch your hand, you are ready to place it a foot away so that he has to take a step to touch. If you train for 5-10 minutes a day, you should be able to get your dog to walk a few feet to touch your hand by the end of Week 1!
Note that we have NOT used any verbal cues for this behavior! You should be totally silent during the mini-sessions. The cue is “presentation of your hand.” Next week I’ll discuss How and When to Add a Cue to the behavior “touch my hand,” which is Step Two in training a Reliable Recall.
About the Author: Caryn Self-Sullivan teaches people to train pets and people at the Positive Quarter LLC. She teaches puppy socialization classes, good manners/obedience classes, and specializes in private in-home training to resolve behavioral problems. Dr. Caryn is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and a member of APDT, Doggone Safe, and K9 to 5 Therapy Dogs. She holds a PhD in animal behavior from Texas A&M University. Contact her at 540.287.8207 or email@example.com.