When Jackson came home to us in May 2011 I decided to approach his training as if I was a brand new dog owner. Although I had grown up with dogs since I was five years old and watched my Dad train our dogs not just in obedience and household manners but also as bird hunters, the dogs I had owned as an adult had been rescued as older dogs. Jackson was the first puppy of my own to train from scratch, although because we did our due dilligence when choosing a breeder, he came to us knowing how to sit and wait and with a head start on house-training.
As soon as he had received enough of his vaccinations to be around other dogs we enrolled in puppy pre-school at our veterinarian’s office. Just like human pre-school, puppies in this course spent a few minutes working on a new command each class but spent the rest of the session playing with each other. This was a great thing because all of these puppies were certainly missing their litter mates who had been their very first playmates, plus the owners of each of those puppies could look forward to one quiet evening a week after their pups were exhausted from playing with dogs their own age.
Jackson in particular benefitted from this course because he had accidentally broken his leg at two weeks old. He and his brothers were nursing and he was positioned with his back leg under his mother’s elbow. She leaned up on her elbow and his leg caught underneath. As a result he could not roughhouse with his three brothers, so although he had been nicely socialized around other dogs and puppies, he had not engaged in much rough and tumble play.
After six weeks of puppy pre-school we enrolled at a local dog obedience school for an eight week beginner obedience class. As the weeks progressed we covered sit, down, come, look at me when I say your name, stay/wait, settle and off/leave-it. Around the middle of the course we reached something I had not heard of before: reliable recall.
There are two schools of thought on the concept of training reliable recall. One is that your dog should come to his or her regular recall word all the time without fail, no matter when you say or, what the dog is doing, and where you are. Other trainers ackowledge that the casual dog owner is likely to overuse the come command and make their dog somewhat immune to the word. As a failsafe they teach a reliable recall word that the dog never fails to respond to that is separate from the regular recall phrase.
Although I had been raised with the understanding that your dog’s life depended on his or her willingness to come to its owner each and every time the come command was used, Jackson and I trained on this along with the rest of the class. We started off calling them with their normal command and added in their reliable recall word so that I called him by saying, “Come, Jax, danger!” We rewarded them when they got to us with the best dog party in the world: handfuls of treats, toys, praise, petting, as if it were a human’s New Year’s Eve celebration and birthday wrapped into one.
I chose the word “danger” for our reliable recall word out of the suggestions that the trainers gave us because I wanted it to be extremely different from his regular recall. After a few weeks Jax was rocking this command; for all of his “hey, how YOU doin'” antics as we entered the classroom each training class (and he tried to pull me across the room to play with the three Golden Retreivers in the class) he was the best student in the class at this command. Even when receiving affection and liver treats from the trainers, as soon as I said, “danger, Jax, danger” he ran to me like a Thoroughbred on Derby day.
Over the last five years we have practiced this periodically, much to his delight. What dog would not come running when given an entire handful of treats and their favorite toy along with tons of “good boy, good boy, good, boy” with even more treats being placed directly into his willing mouth. I have only used it a handful of times before in practical use: once when the tornado sirens sounded for an actual storm and he and I were outside in the yard and once when I thought I heard coyotes too close for comfort outside our fence and he was meandering around giving the yard the last sniff of the night, ignorning my “come” command in favor of the scent of rabbit droppings.
Last Sunday evening my human family and I were outside with the dogs. I was playing ball with Tinkerbell, my husband was tending to our swimming pool and Jax and our teenage girls were on the opposite side of the yard. Our oldest daughter had just run up and back down the slide on the playset just as Jax wandered over to sniff the grass under the slide. She must have upset a hive of wasps that had built their nest under the slide because suddenly I heard the girls yelling, “No, Jax, stop it, no!” I looked over to see around seven or eight wasps buzzing around Jax as he tried to bite at the insects to stop the attack. I quickly grabbed the garden hose that was coiled nearby, turned the nozzle to spray, and called, “danger, Jax, danger!”
In a split second Jax ran towards me and I sprayed him with water in case the wasps had stuck around and were still buzzing around him. Fortunately they did not follow. We made sure the girls got out of the area of the hive and I took Jax and Tink inside to assess the situation. I grabbed the bottle of Benedryl out of the dog medicine box just in case we would need it and checked him out.
Fortunately Jax did not actually bite the wasps and if he was stung, he did not have a reaction of any sort. I gave him a third of a dose just in case and stayed up with him very late to make sure, since I had been through this before with my parents’ dog Cinder who did in fact bite a wasp and whose head swelled up larger than a Rottweiler for one very terrifying night.
This week we will do some more continuing education on the “danger” command since I do not want Jax’s most recent memory to be of responding to his reliable recall word and being blasted by the hose. Instead a Kong with frozen peanut butter and some blueberry Fruitables will be waiting ensure that he responds the same way the next time we need it.