The Mini Educator has a lot to offer but one of the least used features is the tone as a recall. By classically conditioning your dog to the mini educator tone you can achieve a solid recall from 1/2 mile…and it’s easy.
How dogs learn is fairly straight forward but timing is hugely important and the strongest association is made when the condition stimulus (mini educator tone) is present for 1-2 seconds prior to the unconditioned stimulus (food reward).
First hold the ecollar in your hand or place somewhere far from the dog and tone it a few times. This is to make sure it doesn’t startle them. Move it closer and tone it randomly paying attention to their response. You want them to minimally react to it. Continue this until the tone can be close to them without freaking them out. You will have to feel out your individual dog, the idea here is to make sure they don’t form a negative association with the tone. In fact, you want the dog to not give a crap the tone at all. If you dog is reacting negatively to the tone do the next step with the collar across the room instead of on them and repeat the step several times moving the collar closer each time.
Second, place the ecollar on the dog and get a bunch of high value treats like boiled chicken breast. (TIP: Use tiny little pieces, dogs don’t care much about the size of the treat as long as they feel like they got a treat). Give the dog the treat and tone as they are taking it and observe their reaction. Again, make sure they are not freaked out. Toning while they are taking the treat will soften their association since they are distracted grubbing down.
Ok, now comes the conditioning. Hold down the educator tone for 2 seconds then give them a treat. It is important that the tone is continuous up to the instant they eat the treat and tone is released as the treat leaves your fingers; this timing will maximize the positive association. Have the treat in your hand so you are not wasting time reaching for it. Don’t rush it but be swift. repeat every 3-5 seconds.
Last step: Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat; Tone, Treat…
And that’s it! How many times will depend on the dog but 30-40 times once or twice a day for two days should form a solid association. What you are looking for is when you press the mini educator tone, the dog stops whatever they are doing and looks at you.
Once this association is made then you can start conditioning the recall. Start in a low distraction environment, such as your living room. Press the tone and when the dog looks at you, pat your leg invitingly (or call them over if they already know a recall command) and when they come to you, give them a high value treat. If they do not come immediately when called, release the tone and try it from closer. Again, timing is critical here. It should go: tone, look, invite. These events must be distinct and unique with a 1/2 or 1/4 of a second in between to differentiate them (dogs are not good with simultaneous events). Don’t forget that the tone should continue from when you initially press it, while they are coming over, and until you release the treat into their mouth. If they abandon the ‘come’ mid-rout because they get distracted or lose interest, try it from closer. If they still seem dis-interested then the treat is probably not high-value enough.
After they start to getting it you can to start using their dry dog food instead of the high value treat. You should also use a portion of their daily food so they don’t gain weight. You will also need to start altering the reinforcement schedule – that is, treat less often and supplement treats with verbal praise in varying value levels (for example, calm and cool “good boy” vs. an exuberant “Yes! Good boy”). This variation of treats and various values of verbal praise should be a random as possible and eventually phasing out the treat altogether.
Gradually do this building distance in the house, then move into the back yard, then the front yard, then the park…you get the idea. The key thing is to gradually increase the distractions and the distance. You want to set the dog up for success so if they are not getting it, move closer and/or reduce distractions and/or increase treat value and try again!
Once you’ve exhausted the length of your 30 ft leash (or 50 ft) and you want to do off-leash work, make sure your are in a place where it is safe to do so.