Practice Those Recalls

Undómiel sulks on her throne near my computer, since I won’t let her have any real fun in the spring sunshine.

It’s no secret that coming when called is important. It keeps me from chasing a fast creature with twice as many legs as I have, and it can save a dog’s life, if she gets out near traffic or other hazards.

Currently Undómiel is undergoing treatment for heartworms — yes, again — and her activity is highly restricted. During this phase of treatment, rapid heartrate and fast respiration can run into trouble with bits of dead worm being flushed from the body, leading to blocked passages and even death. This is a huge inconvenience for my extremely active Doberman, and she does not understand the reason at all, but it’s how we have to live for the next six weeks.

(CW: prey death) I don’t want to say she’s not good at quiet rest, but earlier this week Undómiel caught and killed a rabbit while on a line with my husband. I saw the whole thing, she never even got the line tight, just got close and boom. (It was Easter morning. I am so sorry if your colored eggs did not arrive.)

So it’s been frustrating for all of us.

But Then

My husband came home and was carrying some items through the door, leaving a gap for a desperate dog to see fun, and she ran outside. This ordinarily wouldn’t be wrong of her — she’s usually allowed to pass through the door as she likes — but not while she’s on heavy restriction! She was running at high speed around the yard, thrilled to be really moving for the first time in several weeks.

I went out on the porch to call her, already at a distance, and I could see her casting about for something she’d flushed. I could also see the rabbit. I was going to have to call my highly predatory dog, high on her first taste of freedom, away from actively hunting a rabbit.

Ordinarily I just wouldn’t. It was a mean thing to ask for a dog who has been cooped up. But it was also a serious health consideration, and I couldn’t allow her to continue chasing the rabbit and running about acres. So I called her.

And she spun and ran directly to me, no hesitation.

Build That Trust

Practice those recalls, friends. If she had paused to wonder whether it would be worthwhile, I would never have gotten her away from freedom and a live rabbit. If she had not come directly to me, she would have further endangered herself and I would have had to chase her about the yard, getting her heart rate even higher. But because we have such a strong positive reinforcement history, she naturally just assumed coming to me was the best option, and so she did.

I often tell clients that when we practice, we are depositing into a bank account against future need, and when we really, really need our dog to respond to a cue, we had better have enough to cover the check. If you had to call your dog in an emergency today, would you get a high speed response, or would the check bounce?

(And yes, oh yes, we made it worth her while. Leftover beef brisket is absolutely an acceptable reinforcer for a lifesaving recall.)

I will be making some major changes to the website in the near future and there may be some fun new announcements coming. If you aren’t on the mailing list, which goes out only a couple of times a year for news, please consider it. Thanks!

About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
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  1. I am on my second listen though of social civil and saavy through my library Hoopla subscription. I love it so much I’m probably going to buy it in print. Not getting my puppy until August but doing everything I can to be ready for it. I’m not sure which of the podcasts I’ve been listening to head you on as a guest. But anyhow thanks. Looking for where to sign up for your mailing list (pS also a Sci for fantasykind of person so going to check out your novels too!)

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