picture of a bernese mountain dog in nature and the text : bmdtutorials.com - bernese mountain dog tutorials by a dog parent, for dog parents

Chapter 9 - Recall

9 months old Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy
Bruno at 9 months old, just relaxing outside

Imagine you're in the park, and your puppy’s running and playing with the other dogs. You're holding the leash in your hand and from time to time you call him, Puppy, come! He comes and sits in front of you, you bend over, gently grab the harness, praise him, Good dog! and give him a treat. Then you send him back, Go play! After a few minutes, you repeat, and you do this 10 to 15 times, depending on how long you stay in the park.

Then you look at the clock, Hey, it's time to go, otherwise my carriage will turn back into a pumpkin. Puppy, come! As usual, he comes and sits in front of you, you bend over, gently grab his harness, praise him, Good dog! and give him a treat. Only this time, as soon as you grab the harness, you also attach the leash. Then you leave the park.

Now what do you think, will your puppy come next time you call him? How bad a betrayal do you think this is for him? Well, let's see. We compare the number of praise and treat recalls, with the number of we-go recalls. And you’re at 10 or 15 to 1. You'll always have 10 or 15 times more positive recalls than negative ones. That’s how park play works if you want your dog to have a great recall: you regularly interrupt the play and call him to sit, gently grab the harness, praise him and give him a treat. So,

He always has more reasons to come when you call him, then he has reasons not to come.

I just presented you a nice recall, you might even think it’s an ideal recall: you call your puppy while holding the leash in your hand, he comes to you and sits, you gently grab the harness, then you praise and reward him. If you're wondering what's the deal with grabbing the harness and keeping the leash in your hand, well it's simple. In order to attach a leash, what do you need to do? Grab the harness, get a hold of the metal loop and attach the leash to it. Your dog only needs few repetitions to understand that each time you grab the harness, you're gonna attach the leash and leave. Especially if he sees you're holding the leash in your hand. But what if you're always holding the leash in your hand, and you always grab his harness as if you were gonna attach the leash when you call him? Now he won't associate with leaving, right?

Now that we've talked about the fundamentals of the recall, let me present you 3 recall games, so your dog returns to you each time you call him. Like a retractable measuring tape when you release the button. Here they are:

  • The bait
  • The buffooning
  • Ping-pong

THE BAIT

Come

Begin at a close distance from the dog, maybe a step or two. Then, you know the gumball truck that crashed on a bridge above the road in the movie Bedtime Stories? Imagine it crashed above your street and now it’s raining gumballs in your own yard. Now let’s assume you’re psyched — I know I’d be. With that feeling, call your puppy and show him you have a treat in your hand, the bait. The bait can be a Good-Food or a Yummy. As soon as he takes one step toward you, praise and reward him. You can give him the treat in your hand, or another treat. Then you move a step or two further and repeat. Do this 4 or 5 five times in a row.

Come and sit

The next step is to ask him to sit before you give him the treat. So lure him to come to you, and when he does say, Puppy, sit! And only after he sits, praise and reward him. Repeat the exercise with Sit a few times.

Add the gentle grabbing of the harness

Here's what I mean: you lure the puppy to come to you, you ask for the Sit, when he sits you gently grab the harness, praise him, reward him and send him to play. How many times? Like before, 4 or 5 times in a row.

Get rid of the bait

You use the bait only in the beginning, to get the game going. Now it's time to get rid of it. How? You follow the same steps as usual, only now you pretend to hold something in your hand when you lure the puppy. Do the pretend repetitions 4 or 5 times. Then completely get rid of the bait by showing him there’s nothing in your hand. And now you have the desired outcome: you call the puppy, he comes to you, he sits, you gently grab the harness, then you praise and reward him.

Increase the distance

Until now you practiced at a close distance. Next, you increase the distance by half a step. Then a whole step, then two steps, three steps and so on. Each time you increase the distance, you're authorized to use the bait again for two, maximum three repetitions, until the puppy understands it's the same game.

Come means Come no matter what

Same rules when you change the location. For example, if you’ve only practiced in the living room and now you're practicing outside, you may use the bait again twice or thrice. If your yard isn't fenced, you can exercise using the long leash somewhere in a green space, far from the street, somewhere where there are no cars and very few people. The only reason is we don't want people to trip on the long leash.

The Slot Machine Rule

Okay, what about those never-ending rewards? As usual, you give him a treat each time until he learns the meaning of the word Come. Now that he knows it, you can use The Slot Machine Rule: sometimes you give him a treat, other times you don't, randomly. But you always make sure to praise him and to reward multiple correct answers in a row.

The buffooning

This is also a recall game but we don't use a bait here, because you're the bait. Which means you have to convince him to come to you using only your enthusiasm, curiosity and ridiculousness. Here are some ideas: you can clap your hands, make kissy noises, laugh like a chimpanzee, do the duck dance, jump like a bunny and imitate other animals. May the muse be with you!

So, here are the instructions. First, you position yourself two or three steps away from your puppy. Then you call him, Puppy, come! and you begin the buffooning. When he comes, praise him and give him a treat. Remember to make the praise a lot of fun. Repeat this recall a few times, then the next step is to ask him for a Sit and to gently grab his harness before giving him a treat. The following steps are: recall from a greater distance and recall in different environments. For example, in the yard, if it's fenced or at a friend’s house.

Troubleshooting

What if your puppy looks worried when you’re buffooning around? It’s certainly not the intention of the game, but it’s a great opportunity to get your puppy used to this eccentricity. I remember the first time I danced in front of Bruno. He thought I’d lost my mind and tried to bark me back to my senses. So what did I do? I socialized him with dancing. Wiggle wiggle, treat, praise. Wiggle wiggle, treat, praise, petting. After a few repetitions he started to enjoy this, and now he joins me each time I dance.

Ping-pong

In this game, your puppy is the ball. Don't worry, you don't need rackets, but you do need one or more assistants. You can play this game inside or outside if you have a fence. If you don't have a fence, you can use the long leash. Everyone fills their pockets with treats, then you all scatter. And now the fun begins. You call your puppy and when he reaches you, you ask him for the sit, and gently grab the harness, praise, reward and release him. Then your assistant calls the puppy and she too asks him to sit, gently grabs the harness, praises, rewards and releases him. Then you or another assistant call him and so the game continues, the puppy bouncing from one person to another, like a ping-pong ball.

Important

As usual in all games and exercises remember the pixie cut rule: keep training sessions short and nice. Also end the game while you're still having fun, no later.