How does it sound to have confidence that, should you stop, you know that your dogs will come back to you? All on their own. Magic? Not so! This is actually very achievable! In this article, I'll take you through the steps to initially train and subsequently maintain this behavior of automatically checking in with you. There is even a fun video at the end!
How to Start
So how does one start? Ideally, I begin teaching this behavior when dogs are very young, about 10 - 12 weeks. Taking advantage of puppies' natural inclination to stay by our side is the key. Take your puppy somewhere new but not somewhere they will be scared. Let them wander and explore (safely! And preferably somewhere without other dogs or people) while you sneakily find a place to be out of sight. Behind a tree works great or around a bend or behind a hill. What will happen 9 times out of 10 is that your puppy will look up, realize you are nowhere to be seen, and rush back up the trail to find you. The first time or two, make it easy for the pup to find you. Then have a PARTY! Delicious, high value food reward is best. Plus lots of praise. Then carry on down the trail with your pup.
Only do this once or twice in your first outing, but continue the practice every time you are on the trail. Build and encourage the behavior of checking in with you. Better keep an eye on mom! Never know when she might up and disappear!
The KEY to Success
Here is the second half, and Most Important part of the equation. Once you have rewarded your dog for finding you, release them to continue on with a word. I use "ok" and I build extra excitement for the release by adding "ready.....steady....OK!" THIS is the long-lasting reward and the secret to maintaining the behavior you want. This is based on the Premack principle. Essentially, if you do what I want, then you get what you want. What I want is for you to come back and check in with me. What you (the dog) want is to continue down the trail, seeking new smells. Win win.
The other advantage of releasing your dog deliberately after any recall is avoiding negative associations with being recalled. If you leash up your dog every time he comes to you, he learns that all fun stops once he responds to your recall cue to return to you. Pretty soon he will avoid you altogether. You want to be the source of fun (food reward, excitement build up for release) and reassurance that he can go back to what he was doing before you asked him to come to you.
What's the end result of playing all these games? Check out the video below. As soon as my dogs get out of sight, they immediately abandon what they are doing to race back and find me as fast as they can. I've built up a lot of excitement for the game, and they love playing it!
See It In Action!
Click the Video Below