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The Revolution Recall: The Key Elements of a Strong Recall

Updated: Mar 3



Building a strong recall for your pet gun dog is not as simple as following short tutorials on social media. It requires careful consideration of several elements. This blog will explore the complexities of cues, arousal, management, environment, connection, and reinforcement strategies that can help you build a reliable recall. You can enhance your recall cue by understanding these elements and implementing effective strategies.


Remember, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now." This Chinese proverb reminds us there is always time to start something meaningful.


 

Gundog trainer with black labrador retriever
Dogitivity, gundog Training Surrey

Christina Bluhme

I am a dog enthusiast based in Surrey, UK. I specialize in gundog sports and dog training. I am also the founder of Dogitivity Positive Puppy and Dog Training, a blog sharing practical tips on puppy and dog training relevant to your needs.




 

What you need to know about teaching your gundog a reliable recall:




The recall dissected


The turn

Brown Labrador
Dogitivity, Gundog Trainer Surrey

Consider the turn as your key to success. Reflect on the significance of the turn—it’s the pivotal moment in the behaviour chain when your canine companion disengages from a distraction and reconnects with you. Let the turn be your focus; always reward a TURN towards you with high-value rewards.






Back run

After a sharp turn, we encourage a swift and decisive return, ensuring your dog’s attention remains sharply on you. In the initial phases of recall training, it’s important to have no expectations of specific behaviours during the return. Prematurely demanding a ‘sit-in-heel’ position may hinder your dog’s natural reaction and motivation to return to the recall cue.


Cue

We must decide on our recall cue before we start any puppy gun dog recall training. Choose a whistle cue, a far more distinct sound that travels further than your voice.

The whistle cue should be sharp and clear, such as “beep beep beep”. Most of us use too many cues for coming when called, which can confuse your dog or pollute the cue. Remember, less is more here, and that takes training ourselves to be consistent. Pay attention to what you’re communicating. Are you being crystal clear?


Were you also taught to teach a behaviour before adding a cue? This means that we wouldn't reinforce uncued behaviours while teaching a cue.

However, I recommend a different approach when teaching a recall to a working bred gundog. We need a stellar response to our recall cue in challenging environments, such as calling your dog off from chasing a deer.


We want the recall cue to be charged with value, and we want our dog to perceive the cue as an invitation, not an expectation of performing an obedience-related behaviour. We want to build a solid conditioned emotional response (CER), which is the core of classical conditioning. It is through associations that a dog learns that a leash means a walk, that a clicker means a treat, and that a recall signal means party time. If we only apply an operant approach, we might lose our gundog’s ability to respond to our cue in a challenging environment.



Arousal


Gundogs are naturally predisposed to be easily aroused, which serves a purpose. We desire readily motivated dogs who are engaged, responsive to reinforcement, and keenly aware of their surroundings as the situation demands. Appropriate arousal levels and well-defined drives are pivotal for a working dog’s success.

However, while arousal is a must within the work context, it can also pose challenges for you and the teamwork with your dog. You might find that your dog cannot respond to your recall cue. So what to do?



Management

Teaching your gundog behaviour is important, but setting them up for success by encouraging desirable choices is equally important. Management, prevention and preparation are all about investing heavily in your connection. Your connection is the foundation for learning in a more challenging environment. We will build connections through gundog games and by shaping desirable behaviours.


If you are ready to onboard your gundog recall training journey, I recommend using a well-fitted harness with a five- to ten-meter leash. A ten-meter-long line is an excellent option to give your dog more freedom. Bring your clicker and high-value rewards and reinforce the following behaviours:


The gun dog training connection foundation behaviours are:


  • Checking in

  • Following you

  • Stopping with you

  • Observing mild distraction and reconnecting with you

  • Staying near you

  • Waiting until released

As you start paying more attention to the behaviours you consciously encourage in your dog, you will notice a positive shift in your relationship.



Reinforcement Strategies





Do you know about the law of effect? It was first introduced by Edward Thorndyke (1874-1949), who suggests that animals tend to repeat actions that lead to satisfaction and avoid those that lead to discomfort. However, not all rewards are created equal, and an animal's perception of the value of a reward can change.

Previously, we assumed that an animal's performance in a given task was directly related to the reward value they would receive. However, we have since discovered that the relationship between reward value and performance is more complex than that. The perceived value of a reward can differ from one individual to another, depending on factors such as their learning history, current emotional state, level of distraction, and environment.


Food as a reinforcement strategy


We often use food to reward our dogs because it's easy to carry around and always within reach. However, it is important to know how to use it properly to get the desired results. Remember that every dog has preferences, and oftentimes, a variation of food is better than sticking to a favourite treat.


Food delivery as a part of a reinforcement strategy can be a game-changer regarding recall training. You can enhance the value of your food by how you deliver it. One key takeaway is that each dog has his preferences, so exploring and developing your food delivery methods is worth exploring. Here are a few techniques you can try:

– Toss the food for your dog to catch

– Scatter the food for your dog to sniff out

– Use a bowling movement to toss and make your dog chase the food.



Play as a reinforcement strategy.


Krichbaum, S., & Lazarowski, L. (2022) conducted an interesting study on 39 labradors to determine their most preferred reward. The dogs were chosen between a high-quality soft treat and a chuck-it ball, and 57% of the population preferred the ball. The study suggests that a dog’s preference for certain types of rewards, such as toys or treats, may be linked to their underlying temperament characteristics, including their baseline level of arousal. For instance, dogs that strongly respond to balls or toys have been associated with hyperactivity and impulsivity. Therefore, dogs that prefer balls might naturally have higher arousal levels than dogs that prefer treats. This label certainly applies to many of the gundogs I work with.

Food rewards may not always be the best option for working-bred gundogs. This is because these dogs are often stimulated and overly excited about their environment, and a food reward may not be as effective as a squirrel chase. Toys can be a more effective reinforcement strategy for your dog.


The first step in using toys as a reinforcement strategy is to learn more about your dog’s toy preferences. You can observe what type of toys, textures, and games your dog loves to play with at home. In my experience, different breeds have specific toy preferences based on their breed-specific purpose. For instance, Spaniels enjoy hunting for furry rabbit balls, while HPR and Retrievers like squeezy Chuck-it balls. However, asking your dog what they love is the most important thing.


You can introduce toys that hold treats to add value to the reward while building more speed and engagement into the recall. Many variants are available, but some of the ones I found handy are the prey dummy, the clam with a bungy, or the one Tokyo holds in the video, the Paws Pocket.



Trouble Shooting the recall

Recall training is an ongoing journey; a failed recall is an opportunity to learn. When it’s time to take off the training lead, the stakes are higher, and the distractions are much more intense. If the recall fails, take a deep breath and try again, but only once. Dogs can rely on us for safety but are confident in our whereabouts when we keep repeating the cue or calling them by name. We want them to stop and ask, ‘Where is my human?’

If your dog returns to you the second time, use your recall cue and reward him with a treat or a toy. Even if you have been so worried that your first impulse is to scold, grab him by the collar or attach the leash, then don’t. Instead, scatter a lot of food on the ground and let it be what he remembers.

Afterwards, enjoy a well-deserved cup of tea and consider what happened. Did the environment's distractions cause your dog to chase wildlife? Or perhaps it was due to your dog’s past learning history? Did you wait too long before recalling your dog? Do you need to revisit your training and use your training lead again in similar situations? Remember, this is all valuable information that can help you prevent your dog from practising the same behaviour in the future.

Recall training is a continuous challenge for every dog guardian’s creativity. The Revolution Recall isn’t a quick fix – it typically competes with what the dog desires at that moment. If we are not always careful to balance it out, our recall cue can, in this context, be experienced as an aversive event. To improve your recall training, try using high-value treats and toys for your dog, and practice recalls daily. Slowly increase the difficulty and level of distraction to make the training more challenging and fun for your dog. You can also try playing recall games with your dog to make the training more engaging and enjoyable.



Training Opportunities

Interested in diving deep into teaching your canine partner a Revolution Recall??

Join me at Tromplo for an exciting 6-week online program.


Recall Revolution: How to Transform your so-so Recall to a Rocket Recall.


 Your Journey With Your Pet Gundog Begins Here!


This course is a specialized program that focuses on teaching the four pillars of Recall. 


The intrinsic motivation for hunting and chasing in gundog breeds is powerful. During the hunt or chase, our Recall tends to fail, compromising the safety of our canine partners and wildlife. During this course, we will explore the value of the reinforcer, the cue, the conditioned response, engagement and stillness to movement.


Who would benefit from taking this course?

This course is for you who have a passion for training pet gundogs and want to understand and work with their specific motivations. Whether you're a competitive gundog enthusiast, a professional dog trainer, or a lucky pet gundog owner, this course is for you. It offers in-depth insights, practical techniques, and communication enhancement to help you improve your gundog training skills.


What will you learn from this course:

Throughout the course, participants will gain an in-depth understanding of building a recall and deep insight into the foundations of working with a pet gundog. The key topics covered include:

  • Reinforcement strategies for gundog breeds

  • Cueing: teach, transfer and condition a whistle cue. 

  • Engagement building: through gundog-specific games and training techniques.

  • Stop the chase: strategies for teaching stillness to movement.


Prerequisites for this course include an understanding of clicker training. Participants should have experience with clicker training techniques and a basic knowledge of positive reinforcement principles.

By the end of this course, participants will have acquired advanced skills in teaching rocket recall. You will possess the knowledge and techniques to train your dog effectively to perform a reliable recall in the presence of the most challenging triggers. Whether your goal is to excel in competitive gundog sports or strengthen your bond and communication with your canine companion, this course will enhance your training capabilities and elevate your gundog training skills.




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Christina Bluhme

I'm a dog lover, a dog sports enthusiast and a dog trainer based in Surrey, UK. Also, I started this blog as I love sharing relevant, practical puppy and dog training tips. I am the founder of Dogitivity Positive Puppy and Dog Training, Surrey, UK.

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