Awhile back I shared a video on Instagram where I was in the sheep pen with Havok, and I gave the command to go herd the sheep. Mid-run, I said “Havok, Come” and he stopped on a dime and came back to me. He had an e-collar on, and I rewarded him for coming with a ball on string. The question I posed was: “How reliable is your dog’s recall?” I explained that when I do recall, I do it using almost all positive reinforcement and smart planning to set the dog up for success, then I add the e-collar to make the recall 100% reliable regardless of distractions, environments, etc.
The post got thousands of views and lots of comments, but of course there was the inevitable “Yeah but would he do it without the e-collar?” comment, which prompted another post where I further explained recall training…
Think of your dog’s training as a bank account. Each time you train successfully, you make a deposit. Training successfully is a matter of knowing the right combination of motivation, environment, challenges etc that will put your dog in a position – difficult or easy – where you guarantee his obedience will be a success.
In this situation, I had an e-collar on Havok (which I didn’t use but it was there), and I had a toy. So high reward, high punishment. I was practicing his recall around high level distractions (hello, prey drive!!!) in order to make deposits into his recall bank account. They’re guaranteed deposits and not withdrawals BECAUSE I was using the necessary equipment to set him up for success.
Recall training for real life isn’t recall training for real life if you only ever train in easy situations. Six months ago, we came across a moose while out hiking. If you don’t about moose, know this: You want to avoid them at all costs, especially momma moose with babies. We had all four dogs out, they saw the moose and we recalled them. They all came when called even though none of them had e-collars on. That’s awesome BUT that was a huge withdrawal because the dogs technically had a choice: to come when called or not. A huge WITHDRAWAL in recall training where we teach that recall is not negotiable.
For every withdrawal (and withdrawals are always larger than deposits) you MUST 1) Have enough “$” in the account to make that withdrawal (which we did) and 2) Make deposits afterwards in future sessions (or immediately afterwards if possible) to make up for that withdrawal. Here’s the thing, when it comes to life/death, you want to be in control: hence why I now put e-collars on my dogs for off leash hiking in outside environments.
Because my dogs’ lives aren’t worth my ego.
E-collars are like seat belts; you may not need them, but they’re there and in the event of an accident you want it on. Havok’s sheep recall training session was my way of putting him in a tempting situation and making huge DEPOSITS into his recall account for future use.
If your dog doesn’t come when called in the house or yard then 1) Your dog shouldn’t be off leash and 2) It’s time to open a bank account and start making some serious deposits. Which require time, skill, motivation and daily effort. Recall takes lots of little deposits that eventually allow major real life withdrawals.
Would he have come when called in hot pursuit of the sheep? Yes, I believe he would have. And he has proven his recall is reliable without equipment time and time again. But why make a costly withdrawal when I can make deposits instead? Comments and questions welcome!
-Amy Pishner is the owner of Valor K9 Academy and the head trainer of VK9-SPokane. She specializes in puppy training, basic on leash to advanced off leash training and behavior rehabilitation training.