I call it Paper Plate Recalls. Some of you, who have been around forever have seen this (or at least, part of it, as it keeps evolving). Later arrivals have not.
It’s an idea that I originally came up with as an aid to teaching solid stays. The biggest hurdle to a reliable stay is that we quite often end the stay by having the dog come to us. This does nothing except confuse the dog as to the meaning of stay. I have found that introducing no ambiguity into stay makes it much easier for the dog to understand the concept. Any time we make it easier for the dog to understand a concept, we also make our job as trainer (teacher) easier. So, in my classes, I insist that telling the dog to stay will impose two conditions. The first is that the dog will remain where he is left until the trainer returns and second that the trainer always returns.
Wonderful in theory, but it leaves us with the problem of how to get far enough away from the dog to make calling him worthwhile. I solve this problem by not worrying about getting away from the dog. I let the dog get away from me. The easiest way to teach a dog to come to you is to teach him to run away from you!!!
Paper Plate Recalls will definitely teach your dog to run away from you.
For purposes of explanation,
will equal dog,
will equal target (which is a paper plate)
will equal owner (or trainer).
The setup is:
Start by putting the plate directly in front of the dog (3 or 4 inches). Drop a treat on the plate. Let the dog eat the treat. Do it again. Maybe another time. All you want right now is for the dog to understand that there are treats on the plate. Tell the dog to sit and stay. Move the plate about 12 inches. Put a treat on it. Return to the dog and send him to the plate. I use the command, “out,” to send the dog away from me. You can use any command that you like. When he eats the treat call him back to you and give him another treat. Stretch out the distance between dog and plate as the dog can handle the distance. In a week’s time, if you have a secure place to practice this, you can be sending the dog 40 or 50 yards and calling him back. The farther your dog has to come back, the faster he will come. I ask my students to do 20 Paper Plate Recalls a day.
After the dog and owner have finished the Basic class, they can go into my Advance class. The goal of the Advance class is off leash control. I define off leash control as, “the dog is off leash and will do what the owner asks.” Paper Plate Recalls in several different permutations help us accomplish this. The six versions of the game are in increasing difficulty and are taught in the order presented.
This game is played with two plates. Dog and owner are mid-way between the plates. The dog is sent to target 1. As he eats the treat, the owner calls him back and sweeps him by to target 2. We do this several times until the dog realizes that there are now two targets. In a short time he will be running mindlessly from target 1 to target 2. Our goal, remember, is off leash control. Mindless running is not control. So, as soon as the dog is comfortable with the two plates we add a tad of control. We send him to target 1. When he eats the treat, we call him back. As he reaches us, we have him sit. Then we send him to target 2. The sit is the beginning of off leash control. Once he is sitting reliably, we mix things up. Sometimes we have him sit. Sometimes we sweep him by without a sit. The dog has to start paying attention. Paying attention is off leash control.
There is another two plate game I teach. The setup is the same. The owner is not with the dog, but out away from him, as shown:
We are going to gain lateral control. Extend your arm on the side that you want the dog to go to and tell him, “over.” When he eats the treat on the plate, call him to you. Put him back directly between the plates, walk to the owner spot, extend the arm on your other side, command, “over” and send him to the other plate. Call him to you after he has eaten the treat.
I teach both of these games the first week of Advance classes.
The second week of Advance classes, I teach what for many dogs is downright difficult to understand. I teach them to turn and go behind them to a plate. The setup is:
The dog is facing away from the plate. The owner is facing the dog and the plate. The owner throws both arms straight up over his head and commands, “back.”
The first time this is done, many dogs look up and say, “yep, the sky is blue.” Most folks, at this point, have a tendency to lower their arms and shoosh the dog back. Resist the urge. If you succumb to it, the dog will never learn that two arms raised means to turn and go away. If the dog is having problems, there are things you can do to help him. Try putting the plate closer to the dog and making a big production of putting the treat on it. This quite often does the trick. If it doesn’t, turn the dog so that the plate is to either his right or left. This is like the “over” game above except that you are standing as you would in this game. As he gets the idea, turn him, in degrees, so that he is facing away from the plate. Give him genuine praise as he makes any attempt in the right direction.
A word about praise. Clicking is NOT praise. Clicking is a technique used by people who don’t want to actually interact with the dog and who will never master the beautiful art of training a useful animal. Clicking is nothing more than a mechanical sound made by a mechanical device. Praise, though, is help. As with all help, praise must be genuine and it must start on the heart. It must start in the heart so that the mouth will know how to let it out. Praise can be soft or not. It can be urging or cajoling. It can be patient. It can be pleading. I can be many things, but it must be what the dog needs at the moment. Learn to praise. It’ll make you a better trainer and teacher. And throw the clicker in the garbage. You’ll not need that crutch any longer.
Once the dog has mastered the over and back games, we go to three plates. We play a game that I call bazaball. The setup is:
This is called bazaball because the setup resembles a baseball infield. There are treats at first base, second base and third base. Dog is on the pitcher’s mound and owner is at home. In whatever order you want to have the dog eat the treats, calling him to you after each treat. Put him back on the pitcher’s mound before sending him for the next treat.
Mixing up the order from game to game will increase his attention to you.
Up until now, you have called the dog to you after each Target. In this game, you will send the dog all the targets before calling him to you. The setup is:
Dog and owner can be anywhere in the setup that you wish. In whatever order you want to have the dog eat all the treats. It could be, for instance, target 1, target 4, target 3. target 2 or target 4, target 3, target 2. target 1. The commands are, as needed, out, over and back. I call this game, “I am such a hotshot dog trainer.” It gets the name because brave trainers will announce ahead of time in what order the treats will be eaten.
Then there is another three plate game we play that, for some reason, the dogs seem to especially love. The setup is:
The distance to target 1 is long. This is important. Send the dog to target 1. As he eats the treat, call him back to you. As he reaches X, without stopping him, cast him “over” to either target 2 or target 3. Watch your dog as he is returning from target 1. If he drifts toward either target 2 or target 3, cast him to the other. You choose, not the dog. That is the essence of off leash control.
And finally, there is the game I call the pentagram. It’s a bugger. It has built in traps. Some dogs and owners never master it. It’s call the pentagram because I’m convinced that one must have the blessing of the goddess to successfully do it. The night before I demonstrate this in class, I dance naked under a full moon. I also practice Annie to make sure she remembers.
If you will draw a line from target 5 to target 1, then to target 2 and then target 3, then to target 4 and finally back to target 5, you will notice that you have drawn a star or pentagram. You will send your dog to the targets in that order.
Target 1, command “out.” Target 2, command “over.” Target 3, command “over.” Target 4, command “over.” Target 5, command “come.”
If you are really feeling froggey, you can face your dog away from target 1 and send him with “back.”
When the dog is going from target 5 to target 1, target 3, being closer, will act as a magnet. The same is true from target 1 to target 2, with target 4 acting as the magnet. Multiple commands are allowed. I don’t care what the AKC regs say.
That’s Paper Plate Recalls. Feel free to add it to your program if you like. My students, human and canine love playing the games. Anything your students love will get practiced. Practice gets the dogs trained.
Written for the NADOI email list by the legendary Dick Russell of Louisiana