7 Tips for Improving Your Dog Recall

This post is part of the McGreevy seminar series. Click here for the index.


One of Paul McGreevy’s training insights was his list of “7 tips for improving your dog recall”.  My notes detail his list as the below, however I may have used my own words to describe some of his tips!

    1. Reward continuously until your pup is skeletally mature
    2. Reward intermittently after your pup is skeletally mature
    3. If dog doesn’t want to come back, increase the reward
      One of the focuses of McGreevy’s overall series was to reward with what the dog wants and likes, not what you think it should want and like.  Dogs have personal tastes and they need to be rewarded with what they want – because otherwise the reward runs the risk of not actually serving as reinforcement (i.e. something that increases the likelihood of the behaviour occurring).

Clover recalling to me and waiting for her reward.

    1. Use the best ever jackpots
      Coming back should be highly rewarded, and including jackpots in your reward schedule is a good practice to secure a reliable recall.
    2. Run backwards when dog approaches
      As we know, dogs like to chase things, and dogs like fun.  In this way, running backwards is a fun game to the dog, and also changes things up, making the recall process more exciting.
    3. Use release command
      This is a good tip that is perhaps under-emphasised.  Dogs need to know when they need to come back, and then when they’re free to do their own thing. If they are confused about this, then there is a risk of tarnishing the recall.

Clover, having received a release command, sets off.

  1. Use the premack principle
    The premack principle is basically that behaviours that the dog does not want to do can be reinforced by behaviours the dog does want to do.  That is, you can use what your dog wants to do as rewards.  So if your dog wants to run, jump, swim, etc, you can recall your dog and then reward him by sending him to run, jump, swim, etc.

A blurry Clover recalls

Though these do provide food for thought, I am not sure if I would put these as the top 7 most important things for improving a recall. I also do not think that this list suits the lay-person, the casual dog owner.  Considering these suggestions, and my past experience, I am pleased to announce my very first guest post at AllYouNeedIsLists.com.  This post covers my 7 tips for improving your dog recall, written for the dog-owner and not the dog-enthusiast.


Further reading: Seven Steps to Off-Leash Reliability


This post is part of the McGreevy seminar series. Click here for the index.


Paul McGreevy Seminars

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to Paul McGreevy present a two-day lecture.

Paul McGreevy is from The University of Sydney’s faculty of vet science. He is a vet that practiced in the UK for 5 years, before pursuing an interest in behaviour.  His approach is scientific, with frequent references to academic studies throughout his lectures.  He is the author of A Modern Dog’s Life (“a rant about what we could do better for welfare”) and Carrots and Sticks (interviews with animal trainers globally).  He concluded his sessions with an emphasis on the help science can provide to the training field, that there is “room for humanity” within science, and there is still plenty to learn.

Photos © Ruthless Photos

I have been struggling for several weeks to begin writing my summary of his two-day seminar.  I think that, due to the breadth of topics covered, I have had a little difficulty organising my thoughts and the best order for presenting the topics on this blog.

What I have decided may be best is to summarise some of the topics covered, in preparation for more in-depth posts as time progresses.  As such, this post is likely to be edited overtime and act as an index to future posts.

Firstly, I thoroughly enjoyed the scientific nature of this seminar.  Paul McGreevy went into details examining many aspects on the nature of dog science, and then also specific dog studies that has taken place.  In a way, Paul described a very similar phenomena to what I described in my post Paucity in Dog Science.  However, this is a lot more to the dog-science conundrum than I initially thought. I will review this topic with enthusiasm!

Paul McGreevy also spoke a great deal about dog breeding, with a particular focus on dog health.  As a dog breeder, I was perhaps sensitive to this information, but I surprisingly found myself quite receptive to his ideas.  Basically, Paul believes that the health of dogs should be at the forefront of breeding practices and that inherited disorders should be considered a form of cruelty.

This was a dog training seminar, so Paul did consider the four quadrants of operant conditioning and other training principles (such as classical conditioning and non-associative learning) a great deal. He talked about what he thought were ‘the keys’ to dog training. He also spoke specifically about improving dog recalls.  Though there were the occasional tidbits that offered new insights, for the most part the information was not new to me.  However, Paul talked a lot about horse training which I found incredibly interesting.  I have a curiosity in horses, yet not enough to actively pursue the subject.

Paul considered the ethical and welfare issues concerning working dogs.  That is, working dogs in all aspects – from sheep dogs, to assistance dogs, to police or customs dogs.  This was definitely thought provoking, and another issue I will look forward to examining in more depth.  He refers to his work with the Australian Working Dog Survey, though I am yet to read this document thoroughly.

The book Paul wrote, and refers to, A Modern Dog’s Life, concerns the stresses of day-to-day life that dogs have to contend with. Though these weren’t at the forefront of his seminar, they were addressed throughout and did provide interesting food-for-thought. These also encompasses, in some ways, the extraordinary dog senses and the challenges these pose for dog trainers.  He also considered how desexing, disease and aging could influence behaviour.


McGreevy Seminar Index

Dog Training

McGreevy on ‘The Keys’ to Dog Training

Classical Conditioning Bits

Operant Conditioning Bits

McGreevy on Rewarding Dogs

McGreevy on Punishing Dogs

McGreevy on Non-Associative Learning

General Dog Training Thoughts from Paul McGreevy

7 Tips for Improving Your Dog Recall


Dog Senses (with Paul McGreevy)

Questioning Working Dogs (the ethics of dogs working for us)

McGreevy’s Thoughts on Dog Breeding

McGreevy’s Thoughts on Dog Science

McGreevy on a Modern Dog’s Life

Vets, Sex, Disease, and Aging


“From fork to friend”

Recently, I attended an Adelaide University event called Research Tuesdays, where one receives a free ‘crash course’ of sorts, with the university promoting their recent research projects.  The hour-long session was called “Animals in Society – from fork to friend”.  It basically was a brief consideration of research being undertaken regarding many facets of animals.  The professor running the topic was Gail Anderson, from the school of veterinary science.

She explained how research on animals has taken place mostly concerning the human benefits involved. Production animals (such as cattle, pig, alpacas, etc) have a financial appeal to people.  Animals have also been useful as models for human disease, and studying therapies for those diseases. Research concerning wild animals often has an overarching environmental aim. There was also a mention of animals used in ‘recreation’, such as racing animals.  Finally, the category of companion animals was considered, and that this was an expanding field as there are ongoing discoveries regarding the human-animal bond.

I will briefly summarise the other categories before considering the companion animals in more detail.

Firstly, production animals need to be as profitable as possible – so research is ongoing into the best way to increase profits from animals.  Additionally, there is increasing concern regarding animal welfare and sustainability of practices.  All of these are research pressures in the production animal industry.

Animal welfare allows for the use of animals in experimental conditions, such as testing human treatments.  There are obviously ethical issues concerned, and there is concern from animal rights groups, as well.

Research into wildlife seeks to maintain environmental populations, discover “extraordinary metabolic pathways”, and otherwise use animals (such as frogs) as environmental indicators. Emerging diseases may also be found in wildlife.

Recreational animal research is often centred around welfare, but also ‘increasing speed’ (and so financial gain).  In terms of dogs, there are studies being commenced that attempt to measure heat stress, and its implications, on racing groups. Particular, methods of ‘cooling’ after racing will be considered. The ultimate aim of this research is to establish welfare protocols – so potentially establish a ‘too hot to race’ policy, and a universally effective method for cooling animals down.

Companion animals, admittedly, were a small segment of the talk. Anderson explained how 63% of Australian households (and 62% of USA households) have pets. As many pet owners place their animal’s health before their own, and prefer their pet’s company to people, then this poses ‘risks’ to people that risk their own well being for the sake of their pet.

We also need to consider the therapeutic value of companion animals – with proven studies shown that touching animals reduces blood pressure, and that caring for animals empowers people.  There was also mention made to the fact that there is a strong relationship between harm to animals and harm to children.  (That is, if a vet sees animals being harmed in a household with children, serious consideration should be given to the wellbeing of those children.)

Companion animal treatments are becoming increasingly specialised.  Vets are becoming specialists in fields or in particular animal species.  Animals that are of particular benefit to people, such as guide dogs, are privy to methods to determine hip dysplasia and arthritis earlier, prevent its onset, and also prevent its occurrence by genetic screening.

This is a brief overview of what was overall a brief session, but I hope it is of a small interest to those involved in animals in some way.

(On a side note, question time revealed that cortisol levels are reflective of stress, but that handling of animals in order to obtain samples can increase the stress of animals and so also cortisol levels.  This has implications for the changes seen in Belyaev’s fox experiment, as the difference between the domesticated and undomesticated foxes could have been exaggerated due to undomesticated foxes being more stressed from handling, and so revealing a higher cortisol level.)


My Dog Book Collection

So this is a post of a slightly more personal nature, I thought I’d share a couple of photos of my book collection. I have only just organised the books in a meaningful way, so I am a little proud of my day’s efforts.

Why the reorganisation? Firstly, I felt the need to get organised because I almost bought a book that I already had a copy of. Not casually seen and bought it in a book shop, but as in almost placed an order on BookDepository. After this near-costly mistake, I felt the need to organise a little better. Secondly, the catalyst to my organisation was that the house is being rearranged at the moment and, as I have to move the books anyway, I may as well put a conscious effort into organising them.

And this is the result!:

My Book Collection

Okay, so it’s not that impressive to look at, but perhaps the more interesting and time consuming effort of the day is that I have used a library database to categorise my books. Continue reading