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The Recall

There are many ways in which to teach a dog to recall, the purpose of this article is to introduce the concept of the restrained recall into your training. The restrained recall is used in many ways during Flyball training and competition. If you never train your dog to compete in Flyball it will do no harm to teach all of the elements of the restrained recall, it can do nothing but improve your dog’s understanding and provide a further incentive for it to recall faster.

Start Training From Day One: 

You should start to train your dog or puppy to recall using its name, from the first day it arrives in your home. Recalls must always be a reward-based exercise, not for punishment.  It is very important to find out what rewards your dog considers to be best. The mistake most owners make is that they give the dog a reward that they prefer to give rather than the reward the dog would prefer to have.

Finding the Right Reward: 

Every dog is different, some like praise some like games but without doubt most dogs like food. To achieve the perfect recall use the reward that suits your dog best. My dogs like playing with a ball, so therefore I use a ball on a rope to reward my dogs when they recall. It is important that the owner controls the reward; by playing with a ball on a rope I can keep possession of the reward and produce it when I decide. The same applies to food when it is used as a reward, it should be used 'little and often'. Whichever reward you use, make sure that your dog knows it's available and NEVER stop using it.

Restrained Recalls

The restrained recall as used in Flyball training is simply a method of someone (called a 'helper') holding the dog while the owner walks away.  Then the owner recalls the dog from the helper. Do not be surprised, when you first try this exercise if the dog tries to pull towards the owner.  That’s the idea of the exercise!  The helper must remain silent and passive, not trying to give the dog commands or dampen its enthusiasm to get to its owner.

One important point to remember is to use someone as a helper that your dog knows well and who has held your dog regularly before you ever attempt to leave it with them while you walk away. Start training this exercise at home with family and friends holding the dog while you recall it up and down your hall, lounge or garden.

How the dog is held for the restrained recalls is important. In Flyball, dogs can only wear flat collars; all types of checking device are banned (even half checks or slip leads).

Step 1:  Use a friend (the 'helper') to assist you with this exercise. The helper holds the dog with both hands on its collar; never hold the dog's skin or fur. With a very excitable dog, it may be better to hold its collar with one hand and place the other on its rear quarters to help prevent it from jumping up. If the dog is so enthusiastic to get to its owner that it is difficult to hold it then just let go. There is no value in holding at all costs.

Start off the training in familiar surrounding at home.  With the dog being held by the helper, the owner should walk a few feet away and face the dog. On the owner’s command (preferably the dog’s name) the helper should release the dog. The dog when released should run at speed towards the owner, who should stand perfectly still and be offering the reward to the dog.

NOTE: The reward is only released when the dog allows the owner to put their hands in the dog’s collar. Progress the training until the dog is successfully recalling at speed over distances of 30 or 40 yards. When this is achieved, we can move on to stage two.

Step 2:  This part of the recall training really speeds the dogs up and you will eventually achieve an extra burst of speed as the dog returns to you. Start with the dog being held 40 yards away, the owner is facing and calling the dog, a signal is given and the helper releases the dog.  When the dog has run 15 yards the owner turns and starts running away from the dog. This is a real chase and will speed up the dog considerably, REMEMBER:  For this system to succeed a reward must be given every time, even if sometimes you just throw a ball when the dog reaches you.

Benefits of a Fast Recall:

Whether you decide to train your dog for Flyball or not, every dog owner must have a reliable recall, it could save your dog’s life and will often prevent problems occurring. THE GOLDEN RULE for a successful recall is to ensure that the dog sees you as being the provider of the greatest games, the best food and the most fun in every situation.

Training Flyball Jumps

On first appearance, it would seem a relatively simple task to train a dog to run away and return over 4 low hurdles. Most well trained dogs that have already learned to jump hurdles should adapt to Flyball jumps easily, but under distracting conditions or with another dog approaching at speed, the normally 'obedient' dog may choose to avoid the hurdle and run around the side. Flyball like any 'expertise' with dogs requires a great deal of training to teach the dog exactly what is required. The safest way for dogs to compete in any activity is for the handlers to learn as much as possible and then to teach their dog in a structured and systematic way. Initial training can commence with Agility jumps and wings but only if the pole can be set at 8 inches, I would discourage anyone from jumping dogs any higher to start with.

Flyball Jump Safety: 

Dog Safety is always the PRIMARY consideration in North American Flyball Association (NAFA) sanctioned Flyball tournaments. The preferred specification for Flyball jumps is that they should not be constructed of heavy materials using thick wooden uprights and slats. They must be able to fall over reasonably easily if disturbed by a dog.  This means the base must not be too wide. Jump Heights and Spacing:  The basic maximum height of a Flyball jump is 16 inches this must be adjustable in one inch increments between 8 and 16 inches. The width between the uprights should be 24inches and the sides should be between 2 - 3ft high. The base should be about 16" wide. The jump height in competitions is set at 4" below the shoulder height of the smallest dog that runs in that lane. The layout of a Flyball course is a very important and an integral part of the Sport. The course must be measured exactly every time, even for a practice session. The success and safety of well-trained dogs depends on everything being exactly the same every time they run. In Flyball, dogs’ reactions and movements become automatic responses IF every jump is in exactly the same place every time they practice. It is these automatic responses that give the dogs their tremendous speed and confidence over the jumps. If jump heights and spacing are radically altered dogs will hit jumps, lose confidence and also speed.

 

Setting up a Flyball Lane: 

The first jump is placed 6 feet from the start line and the second third and fourth are positioned 10 feet apart in a straight line. It is essential that a great deal of time is spent making sure that these distances are measured exactly every time you practice. For further information about the spacing and distances of Flyball Equipment, Visit NAFA Flyball Racing Rules here.

 

Starting Flyball Jump Training: 

The best method of training Flyball Jumps is without a doubt the 'reversed training system'. The method requires you to start at the end and add further elements as the dog becomes more competent. Start with the complete Flyball course set up; place the dog (an assistant should hold the dog see the previous article on Recall) on the finish line facing away from box, as if it had just completed the course. The handler walks away from the dog showing its favorite reward (food, toy, or game.) The assistant lets go of the dog and the handler runs away.  When the dog catches up to the handler, the dog receives its reward. When this element is being carried out enthusiastically the next part of the course can be added. So the dog would be held behind the 1st jump facing away from the box and the assistant and handler proceed as above. When the first jump is mastered every time consistently, the second from last jump is added. This system continues until the dog learns to return over the jumps from the point where the box will eventually be. It may take several sessions to learn the course but the advantage with this system of training is that dogs taught this way rarely make mistakes. Each stage may take around 20 or 30 repetitions to imprint the exercise on the dog’s memory. Some dogs will learn quicker but the more repetitions done at each stage the better the dog will be at remembering what is required at a later stage.

Train 3 or 4 repetitions then take a break, put the dog away and let it relax especially if the weather is hot. Continue further repetitions after 10 - 20 minutes.

NOTE: Never let inexperienced dogs watch other dogs being trained for Flyball.  First it may put the dog that is being trained off its work, or may just "hype" up the dog watching into wanting to chase dogs. When the dog is happy to come to you EVERY time over the 4 jumps, introduce the Flyball box.  DO NOT allow the dog to trigger the box!  Use your helper/holder to position the dogs back legs on the box and have the dog facing you. From the Start/Finish line call the dog, the helper should release the dog; you will notice how the dog will use the box to push off. This is one of the ways in which the dog learns to use the box safely. Dogs can only achieve this safe "swimmer turn" on wedge-fronted box, preferably with 2 or 3 holes.

So by now, you should have a dog that will return to you at speed from a Flyball Box, You’re now half way there. The next Stage is to take away the Flyball box again and start "reverse training" the dog from the first jump before the box. The handler stands where the box should be and the helper holds the dog behind the jump nearest to the box. Continue training as before until the dog will jump from the start/finish line over the 4 jumps.

Proofing: 

This is the way in which we teach the dog that the route up to the box and back must always include ALL of the hurdles. Occasionally with inexperienced teams, the ball may roll a few yards to the side of the box.  From the dog’s point of view, the "as the crow flies" route is much easier for it to take on its return run. Training the dog to "do it" correctly is therefore crucial. Most dogs when they start Flyball hurdling will quickly accomplish the 4 jumps on the way to the box. The problem, which often occurs, is when an inexperienced dog catches the ball from the box and turns for the return run but ends up without a jump in front of it. The other problem for all dogs is the mis-caught ball that can end up anything from a few feet to a number of yards to the right or left of the box. I have even seen the ball being knocked behind the back boards and the dog retrieves it, having taken a 7 meter detour back to the jumps and return to win the race.

Flyball dogs need to be trained to "seek and find" the first jump and then start its return run. There are many ways in which this training technique can be achieved.  Directional control sending the dog left and right with arm and voice signals is a favorite.  The best method to "proof" dogs on the hurdles is to provide the dog with an environment where it always succeeds. This is a positive reinforcement training system; it works well because the dog never makes a mistake.

Again we use the incentive recall system of a helper holding the dog slightly "off line" and the handler standing at the Start/Finish line encouraging the dog back. The amount of "off set" can be slowly increased so that the dog gradually learns to accomplish larger distances to the first jump. In the early training sessions Agility Hurdles can be put beside the Flyball jumps to create a "funnel" effect to channel the dog to the correct jump. In a similar way, helpers can be positioned to create the same effect and they can guide the dog to the first jump.  One problem that can develop with a fast dog when "off setting" for proofing is that the dog can achieve the first (return) jump but in doing so is off line for the second (return) jump and can run past it again jump wings and helpers can be of assistance here.

Jumping Style: 

The ideal action in Flyball jumping is a single bounce between each jump. To achieve this desirable trait, keep the jumps low when you start to practice and if necessary reduce the distance between jumps to achieve single bounces. When the dog is confidently single bouncing, gradually raise the jumps to the "team’s" running height and increase the distance between the jumps to a maximum of 10 feet.

 

Flyball Jump Construction: 

By far the best Flyball Jumps are the flat pack design as these are by far the easiest to transport, and the fastest to adjust the height on.  One 8 x 4 sheet of 1/2-inch plywood Sintra or MDF will make 4 jumps.

Putting a Bit More Together: 

When a dog is able to consistently "find" the first jump from any angle and distance every time, you can now start to think about training with the Flyball Box. Never rush into racing any dog up and down a Flyball jumps and expect it to trigger a Flyball box before you have taught it what you want it to do, expecting an inexperienced dog to perform, will only cause confusion and accidents.

Swimmer’s Turn

We emphasize:

  • fast recalls (returns)
  • beginning with the "dead-ball pickup" drill
  • human pylon

Fast Recalls: 

Fast, fast recalls are the key. We do more recalls (dog is held at the box, and returns to the handler) than complete runs or box work since we discovered that a fast recall really helps a dog with a swimmer's turn. (Our handlers hate it because they have to run so much in practice.) In addition, playing (aka fun) with the dog at the end of a recall is important. The dog wants to come back to you as fast as possible so that he can "play" with you. The most important thing in the dog's life is to play with you. The handler must show all kinds of enthusiasm.

Dead-Ball Pickup Drill:  The ball is on the ground in front of the box and it is placed on the side that helps the turn rather than directly in the centre. This drill helps the dog to turn and get their back feet up for a push off the box. Human Pylon:  A person stands sideways near the box (the body is at 90 degrees to the box) - facing the direction (left or right) the dog is coming from. After the dog has passed the human pylon the person moves forward to give the dog room for a tight turn. The dog is recalled over no hurdles, over one hurdle, over two hurdles etc.

Beginning Dog Sequence:

Initially we place the tennis ball on the floor against the pedal in the centre. Someone stands behind the box in the box-loader position and we do many repetitions. We start the dog out a few feet from the box and gradually increase the away distance. Like a regular recall, the handler runs away from the box and provides plenty of encouragement when the dog returns with a ball in their mouth. The handler must not look back. Once we determine the direction of the dog's turn, we gradually move the ball over to that side (we stop when the ball is about 8 inches from the side of the box (location of 3-hole box). We then gradually move the ball up the box. And finally we place the ball in the hole but we don't trigger the hammer. After many, many repetitions we finally properly load the ball and set the spring tension on our box so that it throws the ball 8". We then gradually increase the distance of the throw.

Hesitant Releases: 

Sometimes a dog hesitates on the release, usually by pausing and looking back at the handler or even spinning around. Sometimes this is due to separation anxiety, wanting to chase the returning dog or wanting the reward before going out and back. There are several possible causes for this and things recommended trying and solving it:

  • If the handler talks while releasing the dog, its attention is focused on the handler. Try having the handler remain quiet and get the dog to focus on the box loader.
  • The handler pushes the dog to get it to go - have the handler remove their hands and limit hand motion that might distract the dog.
  • Make sure the handler keeps "rewards" out of site until the dog has returned. You may need another person to hold onto the "reward" until the dog is released.
  • Have someone else hold the dog and position the handler 10 ft from the box, have the handler call the dog and let it do the box, when the dog has the ball, handler and dog return at speed.
  • Get the handler to throw the incentive to the box loader who picks it up and pretends to turn it into a ball, which is then loaded into the box. When the dog gets the ball and returns over the line, the handler (magically) produces another incentive.
  • If you think a problem may develop but you decide to try this, spend a lot of time transferring the dog’s attention from the toy to the ball both on and off the practice area.
Off the training field, play games with the dog with a 3 to 1 ratio of toy and then ball on rope. On the training field, focus the dog on the box by throwing the toy to the box loader who would then spend up to one minute bouncing a ball on the box, throwing it in the air, and catching it and at the same time calling the dog, by the time the dog is released the dog should have forgotten the fact that the toy is at the box and be tuned into the ball.
  • The handler should hold the dog and when it is released start running towards the box, the dog will be unlikely to hang around spinning on its own.
  • There is also the possibility that a dog will spin on the line because they are chasing the returning dog. Try running the dog first and throwing a ball to the loader to focus the dog. Loud box loaders can sometimes help focus dogs.

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