Have you ever seen a student call their dog, cookie in hand, just to have the dog zoom up, steal the cookie, and take off running?
This is a pretty common problem in basic dog training classes.
Students know they need to use their cookies to teach their dog to come, but their dogs quickly figure out that recalls often mean the end of whatever fun they were having before their owner called their name.
Many dog trainers recognize this problem and try to prevent it by simply telling their students to make sure they practice recalls a lot — and not just when their dog is doing something fun. This is to build so much reward value into the command that the dog will come no matter what he’s doing.
Most also suggest students sometimes call their dog away from something fun and then release them back to it to teach dogs recalls don’t meant the end of good things, also as a way of preventing this problem.
I suggest taking that thought process one step further — training an incompatible behavior.
What’s incompatible to running away? Why staying with you, of course!
Teaching A Dog to Come — And Then Stay With You Using A Collar Grab
The first option for teaching a dog to stay with you after you call them is really simple: teach them the reward doesn’t come until after you’ve grabbed their collar.
Before adding a collar grab into your recalls, begin by teaching the dogs that collar grabs are an awesome thing. This is usually pretty easy to do.
How to Teach A Collar Grab
Have the dog nearby, either sitting or on leash. Grab their collar with one hand and feed them a treat with the other. Repeat.
After you’ve practiced this a bunch, grab the collar, count to 3 and then feed the treat so that the collar grab begins to predict the food. Again, repeat.
As a third and final step, practice grabbing the collar from slightly different angles and with more speed, as if you needed to grab it suddenly, in an emergency situation and reward with treats.
Adding The Collar Grab to Your Recalls
Once the dog has gotten to the point where they clearly think collar grabs are good fun, begin to add them to your recalls — the dog doesn’t get their reward for their recall until after you’ve gotten a hold of their collar. Now they can’t run away unless you let them!
Continue to practice this as you would without it — that is, be sure to sometimes let the dogs go back to whatever they were doing before they were called and make sure recall practice isn’t always during fun things, so that you build a lot of value for that cue.
Problem Solving In Class With Small Dogs
For small dogs, I STRONGLY recommend having owners feed their dogs their treat with the back of their hand pressed against their leg.
Little dogs have a tendency to not want to come all the way into their owners — it’s scary having someone that much bigger than you leaning over you! This can make it hard to grab their collar.
Feeding very close to the owner’s body can help make this much simpler and make the dog more comfortable with getting close, all at the same time.
Teaching A Dog to Come — And Then Stay With You Using A Buffet
Not everyone wants their recall to end with a collar grab, for a variety of reasons. For example, what happens if the dog slips his collar and takes off?
That’s why I also teach recalls with “buffet feeding.” The name —and concept — comes from a friend and fellow trainer, Debbie Benitez-Hanley. I learned it when I took her recalls class with my dog Riley.
The concept is to teach the dogs that they should stick around and more than one treat will appear.
How to Teach Buffet Feeding With No Fail Recalls
To begin to teach this, I like to start with the dogs on leash and pretty close to their owners. In fact, it’s perfectly okay if they’re just sitting staring up at their person. I call these “No fail” recalls.
I have the owner use their “recall” word and then quickly feed the dog three treats – one after the other. After doing this 3-4 times, begin to add tiny pauses in between treats.
So say the recall word, feed a treat, count to 1, feed a second treat, count to 1, feed the third treat.
Building Criteria And Adding In The Recall
Gradually count slightly higher until you get to about 5, then begin to add in short distance recalls. Remember when adding criteria in one area to make it easier in another — so when you begin to add distance, drop the amount of time between treats for a few repetitions, and gradually build back up.
I like to have students play the “get it” game (toss a treat out to about the end of the leash and then call them back to you) initially, and then work their way up to the chase game.
Because the dogs come to expect more than one reward, they develop a habit of sticking around after their recall — no more dine and dash.