Practicing Recalls

This entry is part 14 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, which has distracted me from the blog. But some of those travels are going to provide fun new blog posts, so in the long run it’s been worth it.

But now that I’m home, it’s more obvious that Mindy’s starting to mature, in that way when puppies are no longer quite so dependent on us for every little asset and therefore feel more comfortable to venture out on their own for more and longer periods of time. Or, as clients more typically phrase it when they call me, “she doesn’t want to come when I call.”

guinea fowlTo be perfectly fair to Mindy, my yard has gotten a lot more interesting. I’ve acquired a small flock of guinea fowl to combat the local ticks, and they were just turned loose this week. They’re still clinging near the house, and they are FASCINATING to a young retriever.

So since the competition for Mindy’s attention has escalated, I had to up my game as well. So Monday, the first day that guineas and Mindy were both free, I got a handful of shredded mozzarella before I called her.

It was a tough recall. She’d been chasing a running guinea and was still quite keen on finding it (it had lost her in some brush, and I’d seen it run away but she was still looking for it). I called, and Mindy looked at me but didn’t move. Seriously, Mom, can’t you see I’m in the middle of something? Important sniffing here! Bird!

I called again. Again, she looked at me but didn’t move. I moved a bit closer and called again. Finally she started toward me, rather less enthusiastically than she would have a month ago, and performed a lackluster recall. I gave her the mozzarella even for the slow performance, because it was away from the bird hunt.

Oh, said Mindy’s face. Oh. I didn’t realize you were calling me for something important!

I set up a practice session without the birds, taking Mindy around the front of the house where the birds weren’t likely to make an appearance. I scattered kibble in the tall grass (I haven’t been home to mow!) and sent her to go explore for it. I waited until she was thoroughly involved in her kibble hunt, and then I called from the front door.

Mindy lifted her head, but it took her a solid four seconds before she started toward me in an obviously difficult decision. She did finally run to me, however, and I had a handful of Bravo! freeze-dried treats for her. Ooh, tasty! Nearly all of Mindy’s training is done with her everyday kibble. These upgraded treats were certainly noticed and appreciated. But I tell my clients this is “combat pay” — higher risks (loss of free food in grass, loss of bird fun) bring higher rewards.

After a moment I sent her back to her kibble, and she remembered there was lots more free food in the grass. Again I waited until she was wholly involved and then called her. Again, surprisingly awesome treats. The third time I had the presence of mind to bring a camera.

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That was Monday. Yesterday we did some more recalls with squeeze cheese in a can. It was Mindy’s first-ever experience with the stuff, and let’s just say it made an impression.

Today I let Mindy out, and while I was working inside I heard alarm calls from the guineas. I went out (grabbing a can of cheese as I went, because Laev trained me well) and called Mindy to come. She came from behind the wire guinea coop where she’d been chasing birds, around the flock of running guineas and the open door, and straight to me. Immediately. At a run.

I reinforced heavily, because no way am I going to let her think that wasn’t the best choice she could have made. I treated with cheese all the way indoors. Some of you might recall that my life hasn’t always been this easy! and that’s exactly why I take this so seriously now. These recalls are a lot easier because Mindy isn’t the predatory machine that Laev was (very few things are), but that’s no reason to slack off. I don’t have a “snake kit,” but I’m going to do my best to convince Mindy that recalls are always worth it.

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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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