We worked on multi-dog recalls today! I love being able to do this anytime I have a puppy joining an adult-dog household. I’ve had multi-dog householeds for a long time – just having Game for a while was an exception rather than the rule. And as a rule, I always have both a multi-dog recall that means, “Everyone come!” (in my case, the cue is whistling) as well a “formal” recall cue for each individual dog that refers to just them.
Formal, multi-dog and informal recalls
I teach the formal recall cue that will be just for the new puppy in set-ups, following my 6-week protocol. The multi-dog recall is different: here, I jump right in as soon as the puppy is attached to my adult dog and will follow them around. Now I can start using the multi-dog recall my adult dog is reliable and familiar with: I whistle – the adult dog comes – the puppy chases them – I mark and reinforce both dogs. Especially if your puppy is still pretty young, you can use this recall even in difficult and highly distractiong situations from the get go: puppies aren’t independent enough to want to be left behind – so when your adult dog comes running, so will day, no matter what!
Initially, the cue for your puppy is your adult dog running. After a few repetitions (how many it takes varies widely and depends on your individual puppy), a cue transfer occurs: the puppy figures out that your multi-dog recall cue always precedes the other dog running towards you, which reliably predicts treats materializing near you. Once this happens, they will start coming back on the verbal cue alone and don’t even need the adult dog’s help anymore! Voilá – you’ve got a multi-dog recall on a verbal (or whistle) cue!
There’s a third kind of recall I use until the formal recall is well established: my informal pup-pup-pup-pup recall. I use this anytime I am not 99% sure my dog is going to come and if it doesn’t work, I don’t sweat it. I still reinforce anytime it does work, of course – and most of the time, it will. However, having this additional informal recall cue helps protect the formal cue I’m building and will ensure that the success rate of the formal cue stays as close to 100% as possible. Once the formal cue is strong, I tend to ditch the informal one.
Video diary time!
In the video below, you’ll see two of Chai’s first sessions of this exercise. At this point, she is just chasing Game. A few days down the line, she’ll figure out that my whistling, not Game, is the most salient predictor of a treat being available near me.
The video below shows the rest of today’s park adventure: lots of people and dog traffic! AND in the end of the clip, you’ll see another whistle recall. This time, Chai shows up first. There’s a tiny bit of latency and she’s trotting, not running – but we’re getting there! The cue is already picking up meaning!
Chai’s strangers-are-okay protocol
Chai also voluntarily approached and then got fed by 4 strangers during today’s adventure, 3 of whom were kids. The confidence-around-people building continues – despite moments like the ones in the video above, where people just reach for her because she is cute. Go puppy!
In case you are confused: these videos are not from the day I’m publishing them (July 3, 2023) but from Chai’s 17th day with me (April 23, 2023). It just takes time to edit videos and transfer my hand-written notes to my blog, and I haven’t kept up. I want to keep Chai’s diary chronological, so bit by bit, I’m catching up! While Chai is 6.5 months old today, the day I publish this post, she was only 4 months old when these videos were taken and I started writing this post. Time is a strange animal!