How Fluency Effects Your Dog's Recall
Teaching your dog to come when called is challenging. The reason for this is three fold.
The first reason has to do with your relationship. If a dog completely trusts that you are his leader, he respects your judgment and will want to stay close by. If he is a unclear about who is in charge he will probably not trust your judgment, and will go off to reward himself.
The second reason is the consequences that have resulted after your dog has either come when called or run away. Consequences are important to dogs and they can make behavior very strong. For instance if you call your dog in from the yard every morning, crate him, and then go to work for eight hours, that was a pretty yucky consequence for coming. If instead you checked on your dog frequently, sometimes calling him and giving a cookie or simply just let him go play again, when you actually did call him to bring him in for the day it wouldn't be the only consequence you provided for coming. Dogs are smart, they do what works, if it stinks to come to you they won't. If running away means getting more time to play and explore that is probably what he will choose unless you have given him lots of better reasons to come to you.
The third reason has to do with something called fluency. Fluency refers to being able to perform a behavior or a series of behaviors without having to think about each step. The steps we are talking about are the mechanics of come.
Step 1. The dog looks away from what he wants and back in your direction (click/treat)
Step 2. You run backwards when the dog looks at you.
Step 3. Delay the click until the dog is running back to you.
Step 4. You deliver the food right at your feet and take the dog by the collar.
If these steps are not fluent they will fall apart at the least distraction. If the foundation for come is weak (meaning the dog is not fluent in all the above steps), it is not likely he will come back in any environment with more than mild distractions. This means that you can practice around distractions and punish the dog all you want for not coming back , but if he isn't fluent in the basic steps he won't learn anything and the whole thing will be frustrating and unproductive.
Fluency in training means that the dog performs the behavior without hesitation or a second command.
If a behavior is fluent it is not only resistant to extinction, but it is not dependent on the presence (or absence) of distractions, food, or the perfect conditions. Being fluent is a lot like playing an instrument like the piano. It means that your level of skill is such that you no longer think about the individual steps. When you first learn to play an instrument you learn what each note looks like and learn to hit the appropriate key. After a while you process this information so quickly that you are no longer aware of identifying each note and your music begins to flow without interruption. Imagine how choppy and uninteresting your song would sound if you had to take the time to identify each note before you played it. Anyone who has every sat thorough a child's piano recital knows how agonizing that can be !!
So what's the bottom line ? When you are working around distractions practice the basics and make each step easy enough for the dog to be successful. Make sure that your dog has the basic steps down and that he does them quickly and reliably without distractions before you increase the difficulty. You'll want to think not only about the type of distraction (for instance: things that move, things that smell, things that make noise, etc.), but also the distance between the dog and the distraction, and the distance between you and the dog. As you teach your dog to come in very distracting environments you must plan for each of these things and only increase the difficulty when the dog can perform the basic steps. You must control the training session and gradually increase the distraction without losing the behavior entirely- the dog should be successful without too many mistakes if the level of distraction is appropriate.
If you'd like to train your dog to come reliably, join us for our Come, Now ! workshops offered several times throughout the year. We offer a really great training session designed to meet each dogs skill level so that we can help you gain fluency and a reliable recall.
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