The first rule of recalling a dog is to never call them when there are distractions around because it will lower the chance of a successful recall to almost zero. So what do we do, when our terrier dashes off to the sound of a critter in the bush? Can we even do anything, considering the first rule of recall?
What if I told you that we can use that urge to chase, not only to support a strong recall but also to prevent the dog from chasing unless allowed altogether? Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Well, let’s get to it then!
It isn’t magic. It is to the advanced side though, so unless you already have a good foundation of communication with your dog, you shouldn’t try this protocol out just yet.
First I will need to explain something. Dogs are creatures of opportunity and efficiency. They do things that work for them, and things that work really well for them, they do more often. This is the mindset we’re going to tap into with this method.
Your dog chases birds. She does this because it’s good fun. It’s also part of a deep, ancient instinct they carry in their genes. This basically means that it’s very difficult to avoid, so instead of facing the frustration of trying to extinguish a natural drive, we’re going to replace the simple chase with a better party. A better party, that’s on cue, that is.
- Long line (5-15 meters)
- Harness – this is essential. You do not want to risk your dog hitting the end of a long lead, full speed on a collar.
- Area where there’s birds present and your dog can chase. I will only recommend this being done with birds, as other animals may not have the ability to escape your dog, and the point of this game is to avoid any getting hurt. If you see birds with obvious injuries, it’s best to wait for another day.
- An awesome toy. I prefer Rabbit Skin Chasers from Tug-E-Nuff, but whatever gets your dog going is good. Only requirement is that you need to be able to keep the toy with you. So no balls or other throwing based toys.
- Treats – optional and depends on your dog. If your dog likes to dissect things and finish the chase with eating his pray, it’ll be an awesome addition to the reward. If your dog is like mine and lives for the chase and the tug, you won’t necessarily need treats.
Equip your dog with a long line and a harness. Pocket your toy and go to the fields. At this step, we’re looking for enough distance that the dog will not chase. Wait for the dog to notice the birds, mark for seeing them with a “good girl!” and engage in play. Repeat this step enough times for your dog to make the connection “look at birds=awesome play”. You’ll know when the connection is made based on how snappy the response to your marker is.
Stop marking for looking at the birds. We actually don’t want the dog to just stare at the birds, because the next step up from that is engaging in stalk and from there into the chase, which we are trying to avoid.
So this time you wait. The dog will look at the birds, expect the marker, but when you fail to mark, the dog will look back at you to say “what are you waiting for, hooman?”. This is the point you mark in this step. In the beginning, it may not be a full-faced look, so mark what you get and wait for it to be more snappy. Make sure to engage in the awesome game every single time she looks at you.
Introduce the “OK, Go!” cue. This is easiest to do if your dog already knows a release cue that means “sure, go ahead and do you”, but it’s entirely doable if they don’t already.
Repeat step two, but this time instead of saying “good girl” and reward to you, point excitedly to the birds and say “OK Go!” (or whichever cue you choose). Let your dog run (you may need to let go of the long line and let it drag, so make sure you are in a safe place), let her chase and watch her carefully.
The birds will fly and at some point, she will turn to you. That’s when you call her. Call her, be excited, swing that toy and when she comes to you, you have that party!
Repeat this step over a few days, to let her associate the cue with the chase and the party.
Creating a “Not today” cue. What you have been doing in the past few steps is that you’ve paired an awesome activity with an awesome reward. You’ve made the activity double rewarding and it’s from this point, we can begin to reduce the chase by introducing the “not today” cue.
Go back to step two and when your dog looks at you, you shake your head and say “not today” and present the toy as compensation for the lack of chase. Then you continue your walk, away from the birds. Repeat this until the cue is cemented and the dog does not return her attention to the birds again.
Note: it’s important to still let her chase a good amount of the time, in order not to cause frustration.
Making sure running without a cue is not as fun. In this step, you’ll likely need to let your dog chase on her own, and that’s fine, but keep in mind to practise a safe place and keep the long line on for easy catching. If you’re in a fenced field, you can skip the long line.
Here’s what we’re going to do: Whenever your dog chases without asking and getting your permission, you pocket your toy and go away. Just calmly walk in the opposite direction and wait for your dog to catch up. When she returns you can give a simple treat as a reward for coming back, or just a calm pat. You cannot reward with an awesome game. This is reserved for cued chases only. Hang around for a bit and have some fun with her, or head elsewhere to find birds.
This time give the cued chase and have that party. This step is likely the one that will need the most repetitions, so be patient and always make sure that any un-cued chase is followed up with a cued one to help them make the connection.
Keep on practising The “not today” cue until it is solid. once your dog reliably comes with you, you can exchange the party reward here with a snack or other activity of your choice. My terrier is so solid in it that we rarely need to reward it any longer. But I do it anyway because she’s a good doggo.
Once your dog has learnt this, it’s important to let her chase every now and then to keep it solid. You can use a flirt pole as a substitute for chasing the birds, but meeting the need to chase every now and then, is key to keeping a dog content with ignoring her instincts at times where it’s just not practical for them to chase after everything.