Thursday, April 23, 2009

Notes on Recall Proofing

[Someone on the PositiveGunDogs list wrote about her four-month-old Lab, who is teething. She wrote to ask whether she should just continue training obedience, or whether she it would be OK to work on various aspects of the retrieve, such as the hold, with soft articles. She said she didn't want to encourage chomping.

Here's what I wrote back:]

It's not just chomping. You also don't want to develop a negative association with the pick-up, carrying the article, or the hold.

If we had a way of knowing whether any of those things was causing the dog discomfort, we could say just do things that don't hurt. Maybe soft toys would fall in that category.

But we don't have a way of knowing. Dogs tend to be stoic when they're doing what they love. The teething dog might experience discomfort but not show it, yet that pain might have an undesirable conditioning effect on the dog's behavior at a later time.

So continuing "obedience", that is, useful behaviors that don't involve carrying an article, makes sense to me. Typically, that might include heel, stay, a remote sit (verbal and whistle), and recall.

IMO, of such worthy behaviors, recall is nonetheless a hundred times more important than any of the others. As I've written previously, recall is pervasive across many phases of the retrieve, and 2Q training is substantially more difficult than 2Q+ER, that is, when an ecollar is used to train recall. Since I take it you don't plan to use an ecollar for recall, you might want to place as much emphasis as possible on distraction-proofing your puppy's recall, and building the highest possible reinforcement history for responding correctly to "Here".

Examples of distraction-proofing you might want to work on would include coming to you thru cover changes such as strips of waist-high grass; coming to you diagonally across a dirt road or along the side of a hill; coming to you away from children and past children; coming to you away from other dogs and past other dogs, especially one or more dogs playing with one another or playing a game such as fetch or tug with some human; coming to you over a crest or into a depression, where you are out of sight momentarily; coming to you across standing water, running water, and swim-depth water; coming to you past anything that acts as suction, including food, shade trees on a hot day, and puddles. Proof all distractions for as much distance as you can train to, at the minimum 100 yards, and as much as three times that far if you can do it. Of course many variations are possible. For example, if the dog is coming from 100 yards, he might not find a puddle along the route too tempting if it's only 20 yards from you, while he might decide to play in it if its 70 yards from you.

You might also take this opportunity to get your dog comfortable with other handlers. That is, once he can heel or recall with you, get him responding equally well no matter who is walking with him or calling him. That extra step of generalization will pay dividends when new factor

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