Source: Applied Dog Behaviour & Training by Steven R. Lindsay
No training project is more important than training a dog to come reliably when called. All companion dogs, especially dogs exhibiting behaviour problems when off the leash, should be trained to come and halt-stay to a high degree of efficiency and reliability. The habit of coming when called should be established early and practiced often. Puppies not trained to come when called before 16 weeks are typically much more difficult to train to come reliably as adults. Early training efforts should emphasize reward and play training, thorough environmental exposure and habituation, and varied daily practice activities. An unwillingness to come is most often the result of the combination of neglectful training and interaction that inadvertently trains the dog not to come when called. One of the most common mistakes leading to adult recall problems involves chasing a puppy that refuses to come or delivering punishment after catching or trapping a puppy on the run. Such interaction invariably promotes hostility towards a reliable recall. Another source of conflict and tension involves calling the dog from highly rewarding activities to less rewarding outcomes.
For instance, a dog that is kept indoors in a crate for the majority of the day often finds opportunities to go outside very exciting and enjoyable. Calling the dog back inside before it is ready demands that it give up a highly rewarding circumstance in exchange for a much less rewarding one. In this case, it would be more constructive to have the dog stay at the door and then call it to come outside. After the dog has gotten its fill of the outdoors, its desire to come back inside will naturally improve, especially if strong incentives to do so are presented at such times. When the dog must be called from a highly rewarding one, two methods are usually recommended: (1) The trainer goes to the dog and secures it without calling it. (2) If the dog must be called, a 45-second period of diversionary activity and reward is provided (e.g. affection, treats, and ball play), thereby producing a buffer between the act of coming and a potential loss of reward.
Along these lines of inadvertent punishment, a common mistake is to call a dog to its crate. Crate restraint is far from pleasurable for most dogs and puppies. The overall effect of calling a dog to crate confinement is to arrange a long exclusionary TO with restraint to occur when the dog comes, hardly an incentive to come when called in the future. In addition to being intrinsically aversive to the dog, the timing of crate confinement often signifies that the owner is about to leave the house, further increasing aversive associations with coming. Habitually calling a dog in order to confine it may result in its learning behaviours that are actively antagonistic to coming when called at other times, including the development of chase-and-evade contests when outdoors. Such activities are exciting, fun, and rewarding for dogs, serving to further reward the dog for not coming when called. Lastly, a poorly informed or impatient owner might fall into the foot-shooting habit of calling the dog to the site of a house-soiling or chewing incident in order to deliver a belated dose of punishment. Not only is such treatment ineffectual for producing the intended effect, but it will also strongly decrease the dog’s future willingness to come when called, as well as adversely affect its trust in the owner.
Behaviour shaped through positive reinforcement alone is reliable only to the extent that the dog is willing to work for the rewards offered by the trainer. In the case of food and petting, this readiness fluctuates widely depending on the dog’s motivational state. Another important factor affecting the reliability of behaviour shaped through reinforcement is the influence of the extraneous contingencies of reinforcement. For instance a dog might find chasing a squirrel into the street much more rewarding and immediately gratifying than anything the owner has to entice it to stay or to come. In this example, the opportunity to chase a squirrel may be more exciting and reinforcing than rewards controlled by the trainer.
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