labrador and boy

An Antidote to “Come”, Part II

As I noted in Part I of today’s training, we are re-training Ranger to come when called on the cue of “Here, boy!” instead of “Come” so that any negative associations he has with “Come” will not impact his response.

This is an easy cue to teach with children, and it’s important that Ranger listens to the kids if he does manage to run away on their watch, so we’re including my son in this session.

We need to head two things off at the pass – nipping at the treat in excitement (recalls should be VERY exciting!) and running into the child. To help with this, I am having my son deliver the treat in a small bowl instead of his hands, and he’s going to hold it out in front of him just a little ways. Ranger will naturally slow down in order to eat the treat, and the bowl keeps little fingers from getting chomped.

The only downside is that simplifying the training and involving an amateur means we won’t get the super fast and precise behavior I can get with other more complex techniques. However, my rule in family dog training is that you train the behavior you need, not the behavior someone else needs or says you need. We need a quick, kid-proofed recall but not a lightning-bolt, precise, obedience ring recall. If I really needed an obedience ring recall, I would train a different cue for it separately from this one.

We started with these directions to the boy:

Hold your treat bowl in front of you with the piece of hot dog in it and show it to Ranger. Now run away from him, then turn around, kneel down and hold the treat bowl out for him.  Then say, “here, boy!” and I will let him run after you.

And I demonstrated a couple of times:

labrador training

Ranger and Mommy

At first, as you see in the demo, I intended to hold Ranger’s leash and then follow him to the boy AFTER the boy had run a few feet away, stopped, and said the cue. Sometimes restraint will create a little frustration and excitement, making the recall behavior faster.

However, Ranger thought I was more interesting then the boy when we did this, and turned all his focus to me. We then retrenched and I had my son say the cue immediately, run away, and let Ranger run right after him. Ranger liked this more and after a few reinforcements he was ready to go with the original plan. We practiced that several times:

labrador and boy

Ranger and boy at the end of a recall

Pro tip: It’s always a better idea to make the behavior easier and then reward it than to grump about the dog “not listening”.

I like to start off the bat with speedy recalls, and a short distance is not enough for a Labrador to really get up to speed, so after Ranger got the hang of the game, I took him off leash and my son and I took turns calling him back and forth. After about 5 more minutes he was doing quick, direct recalls in a low distraction environment (the back yard) so we brought in the videographer:

Two trainer quibbles with this video-

First, note the amateur error: it’s a little windy and my son has to give a couple of cues for Ranger to respond. You really do want a correct response on the first cue, and if you reward after giving multiple cues your dog will think  “COME come come COME” IS the cue and he will look at you like you are an idiot when you just say it once. But since I suspected Ranger really didn’t hear the boy due to the wind, I simply tried to correct the volume instead of changing the lesson to address non-response.

Second, you’ll note that we added in another variable – my husband, the videographer.  And Ranger wants to go visit! As you can see, my son and I did reinforce the magnetic “look it’s daddy!” Labrador arcs a couple of times just to get the video recorded, but we’ll clean that up next time we practice so that Ranger doesn’t think he is SUPPOSED to do a half-moon every time we call him!

Especially with a recall, and in the learning stages of any behavior, getting the reinforcer in if they did the basic behavior is more important than fretting over an imperfect behavior.  You don’t want to punish a dog for coming when called by withholding treats he knows he is supposed to get. If you try a recall that is a little too hard for your dog to do perfectly but he gives it a pretty good effort, go ahead and reward and then drop the difficulty level next time and build the “perfect” behavior back up more slowly.

Despite those nitpickings, I am very happy with what we accomplished in such a short time. We’ll just need to keep sharpening up the behavior, generalize it out to other situations, and then get in our repetitions. Just like building muscle, you build neural connections with repetition. At least we are off to a good start… and we had fun!

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