This chapter assumes that you’ve already set the Ecollar on the dog’s “working level.” Throughout this section I say to use the “continuous button.” But if you’ve found that it’s too high for your dog and he needs repetitive use of the nick button or the tap mode, that’s what you’ll use.
Tools for the Recall
To teach the recall, you’ll need a few pieces of equipment:
1. A retractable leash, such as a Flexi. I use a 13′ model.
2. A buckle collar that won’t slip over the dog’s head and
3. Some doggie treats to destress the dog, if needed.
Usually the first movement taught to the dog with an Ecollar is the recall. This is the most requested behavior from pet owners and one of two bombproof commands that SAR workers need. It is also the command that often cures most other problems that dogs have such as barking digging, destruction in the house, etc.
I use a Flexi leash to teach this. Some prefer a longe line but I find that, especially for beginners at this kind of work, it tends to get tangled up in the dog’s feet and legs and slows down the training immensely.
I clip the Flexi to a non–correction collar, such as a buckle collar that’s snug enough so that the dog can’t back out of it. I prefer not to clip into any kind of a correction collar because I don’t want the dog getting a correction. In this training the leash is just used for gentle guidance. If a dog has the habit of pulling very hard on the leash and you lack the arm and hand strength to restrain him, you might consider using a pinch collar at first.
While the Ecollar strap has a D ring on it I recommend that you NOT clip the leash into it. If you do you’ll pull the contact points to a different place on the dog’s neck every time he pulls on the leash and this could result in the dog feeling what he may perceive as different levels of stimulation. This is because different areas on the dog’s neck are more or less sensitive than other areas.
Once the Ecollar is adjusted to the proper tightness and the dog is on the Flexi you’re ready to begin teaching the recall.
I prefer to use a different command than has been used in the past to avoid confusion to the dog. I usually use “here.” But you can use whatever word you like. This command will only mean “come near me and stay here.” It doesn’t mean come to a heel position and it doesn’t mean do a come-fore, where the dog comes to the handler and sits directly in front of him.
It’s used to bring the dog towards the handler so that he can check the dog or do something such as adjust a piece of equipment on the dog, the dog himself, or to redirect the dog to a new area.
You can train this, or any other behavior, in an area where there are lots of distractions but it’s easier on the dog and handler if you can keep them down to a dull roar. Take the dog to an area where there is plenty of open space available. I recommend that you do this during the day so that you can better see his responses to the stimulation.
Let him wander out to the end of the Flexi and then press the continuous button. For the purpose of this exercise imagine that you’re standing in the center of a circle whose radius is the length of your Flexi. No matter what he does, use the leash to gently pull him towards you. How hard do you pull? About as hard as you’d push on a baby carriage to get and keep it moving. That is, just hard enough to get the dog to move. As soon as he starts to walk towards you, that is, he takes 4-5 steps in response to the pulling pressure of the Flexi, release the button.
More than likely he’ll think that the ground over there was hot or that something bit him (one of those superstitions) and he’ll run past you and go to your other side of that circle that you’re standing in the middle of. As soon as he settles down and is at the end of your Flexi, press and hold the button again. Gently pull him towards you again. As soon as he takes 4-5 steps towards you, release the button. It may take a few minutes before he wanders out to the end of the Flexi again. If you stand around for more than 5 minutes and he hasn’t gone all the way out, gently walk away from the direction that he’s facing such that you move away so he’s at the end of the Flexi again. Press and hold the button and guide the dog towards you again. When he’s taken those 4-5 steps towards you, release the button.
After a few minutes of this you may find that the dog comes and stands by you and doesn’t wander off again. His superstition at this time is that “out there” at the end of the Flexi, the ground is “hot.” He knows that it’s uncomfortable and he doesn’t want to be there. He may think that the center of the circle and/or near you is a “safe spot.” That’s OK for right now.
Next you do several things at once. Practice these without the dog beforehand. I’d suggest that you have someone else hold the Ecollar with the test light on it so they can tell you if your timing is good or not. Practice until it is. You’re going to turn and walk away, at the same time pressing the button. It’s important that you walk in the opposite direction from where the dog is looking. Part of this is teaching him to pay attention to you and walking in another direction from where he’s looking will assist in this. A couple of things may happen. One is that he’ll just sit there. He’ll probably show a bit of confusion because what’s happening now is in conflict with the superstition that he’s just learned, that the center of the circle is the safe spot. If you reach the end of the Flexi continue walking and pressing the button. Remember that you may have to “bounce” on the button to keep the stimulation going. If you reach the end of the Flexi, keep walking and pull the dog towards you. As he increases his speed in response to this, release the button and stop walking. He should get to your position and stop.
If he continues to walk past you, immediately reverse your direction, and press the button. If he keeps going in the same direction he was headed he’ll soon reach the end of the Flexi. Be aware that you’ll probably have to bounce on the button so that the timer in the Ecollar doesn’t shut off the stimulation. If you reach the end of the Flexi, use it to pull him towards you. When he take 4-5 steps towards you in response to the pull, take your finger off the button. Repeat this until he’s turning to move with you ever time you step off. At this time you can introduce the “here” command.
There’s nothing magic about the word “here.” If your dog has some training already and responds to the word “come” by coming to you, I suggest that you use a different word. Otherwise you’re liable to cause some confusion. Now you’re going to do several things at the same time. The next time that you turn and walk away, press the button and say, “Here” at the same time. Three things happen at once. You turn and walk, you say “here” and you press the button. The dog should turn and walk with you. If he doesn’t, you’ve gone a bit too fast. Back up until he’s walking with you reliably.
When the dog has started responding to the “here” command I like to guide the dog onto the my left side because that very quickly turns into a “heel” command.
How will you know when your first session is done? You’ll either have Velcro dog (that probably won’t happen on the first time you try this because you’re timing won’t be perfect) or your dog will show you he’s had enough. Any learning, no matter what the method or tool used causes stress in a dog. You’ll notice after 30-40 minutes of work that you dog’s tongue is hanging out and he’s panting pretty hard. You haven’t run him enough for him to be this hot. This is stress showing itself. If the dog starts putting his tongue out to the side of his mouth he’s trying extra-hard to cool himself off. Now is a good time to stop. As with any other type of training end with a success then reward your dog.
I don’t think that a SAR dog needs to learn a perfect heel. I think that a “walk by the handler on a loose leash” is plenty. Proofing the Recall Before you start to proof the recall the dog should be at the start of what’s called “Velcro Dog.” That is he should stick to your leg as if he’s Velcro’d there. When you walk away he should quickly turn to go with you. He may be in the Heel position if you’ve been guiding him there. There are varying degrees of this, the extreme is that the dog pushes into your leg so hard that he pushes it out from under you as you move it forward as you walk. You’re forced to push the dog away so that he doesn’t trip you. It’s not necessary to go that far to get a good recall but it may happen anyway.
To proof the recall you’ll need an assistant to throw your Hierarchy of Toys. You can’t do it and handle the dog at the same time. You’ll need an open area with a minimum of distractions. You’re gong to be supplying your own in a carefully graduated method.
Imagine an isosceles triangle (one with two of the sides the same length) with the base, the side between you and your assistant of about 20 feet. The other two sides are about 30 feet.
Your assistant should stand about 20 feet to your right. This allows the dog who, is going to be in a rough heel position, to see you in his peripheral vision when he looks at your assistant. Where he stands is important to this process.
For this training your dog should be on a six-foot leash. Give your dog a “here” command, even though he’s standing by your side. From now until the end of the proofing, he’s required to stand such that he’s within one dog body length of you. For very small dogs a couple of feet is the distance that he’s required to stay within. If he moves from this position you’re going to, at the same time, press and hold down the button and say “Here.” If the dog continues to leave your side, when he hits the end of the leash, give the command again and guide him back towards you. As soon as he’s affirmatively moving towards you release the button. Guide him back to your left side, a rough heel position.
Have your assistant get the dog’s attention, show him the toy and then throw Toy #5 the dog’s LEAST favorite one, into a high arc so that it lands about thirty feet in front of both of you. (He’ll throw slightly to his left). A perfect arc has the toy going about 20-30 feet into the air.
If the dog holds his “here” command give him some light praise. Not so much that he breaks the command, just enough so that he knows he did the right thing.
Again, have the assistant get the dog’s attention and then he’ll throw Toy #4 in the same manner as before. Repeat with the rest of the toys, ending with Toy #1, the dog’s favorite.
If the dog breaks and goes to chase one of the toys, have your assistant retrieve that one and work at that distraction level a couple of times. If the dog keep breaking the here command, either for one particular toy or any of them, turn up the stimulation level SLIGHTLY. His perception is clouded by the distraction and it will feel about the same to him as his “working level” of stimulation.
If you work through the entire Hierarchy of Toys praise your dog, again, not so much that he breaks the Here command but enough so that he knows he’s done well.
Have your assistant retrieve all the toys and this time he’ll stand about 20 feet to your left. This raises the level of distraction very slightly because now, when your dog looks at the assistant you’re NOT in his peripheral vision and so he gets to do the work without the visual reminder of your presence/
Have your assistant throw the toys as before, beginning with Toy #5 and working down to toy #1, your dog’s favorite. Your duties are the same. If he holds the Here command Praise him warmly.
This time your assistant will stand 20-30 feet in front of you. He’ll throw the Hierarchy of Toys in a high arc, directly over your head, so they land about 20-30 feet behind you. At the top of the arc they’ll be 15-20 feet over your head.
This is the hardest for the dog. At some point he’ll probably turn his body to follow the travel of one of the toys. This is OK as long as he stays within a body length of you (or a couple of feet for a very small dog). But according to the old saying when a dog’s body moves, his mind is free to follow. If he turns his body to follow a toy’s flight, as it goes over his head, be ready. He’s very likely to break on the next toy because it’s closer to his favorite and his body has already moved. If he holds his position, praise him warmly.
It’s now up to you to take your dog to his favorite distractions and proof the recall off th ose. Cats, squirrels, deer,porcupines, skunks the neighbor’s dog. I’d suggest using the Flexi leash for this as it give the dog the opportunity to leave your side but still gives you the restraint if he doesn’t recall.
As we’ve been doing all along. Walk along with your dog after having given him the “Here” command and give him the opportunity to make a mistake. If he does, do several things at once. Walk directly away from the distraction, press and hold the button as you guide him back to you with the leash. If one of the distractions is a dog behind a fence, approach the dog’s yard so that you are on the other side of the street from the dog. As soon as your dog starts to walk ahead of you and opens up the distance between himself and you, do an about turn, press and hold the button and guide the dog back to you with the leash. As soon as he’s moving affirmatively towards you, release the button.
Approach the distraction again and this time you’ll probably be able to get closer. If the dog wanders towards the distraction, repeat as above. Soon, often in a matter of minutes, you’ll be able to walk past the other dog so that your dog is inches from the fence, and he’s ignoring that other dog.
Keep in mind the essence of Ecollar training. Apply the stimulation and then use gentle guidance to show the dog how to shut if off.