As some of you may remember, a long while back (in December actually), I wrote a post about working with Shelby on Bunny Chasing Practice. Well, here’s an update.
Shelby recalls off of rabbits now!!!
Oh no, stop me, I have figured out how to change my font and text color.
Seriously though, it’s a really big deal. We have been working on this behavior for close to six months now, and she is FINALLY doing it reliably! Way to go us! You can go ahead and envision me doing a happy dance like a football player who just scored a touchdown, full with high kicks and bobbing head. Go ahead, we can come back to this later.
You back? Okay great.
I feel like I’m at a podium about to make an acceptance speech. Well, you know, I’m saying to you, my onlooking audience, it wasn’t easy, and a lot of work went into getting us this far, and we struggled and we toiled, and it wasn’t but with a lot of blood,
sweat swearing and tears treats that got us here. But here we are, and we’d like to thank the wonderful rabbits who put their lives on the line with us every morning to help us accomplish this goal. Oh, and the robins, don’t let me forget you, my agile winged avian friends.
Because that’s how it started you know, all this recalling business. Well, it’s not where it started started, it started when Shelby was just a wee nine week old
brat puppy. It started then, but proofing with distractions started with robins. Robins were the best choice, because Shelby likes to chase them, but they are better at getting away (i.e. they can fly). After cueing a lie down and letting go of the leash or unhooking her, I would tell Shelby to “Go get ’em”, and she would chase off after the birds like a bat out of hell. Predictably, whenever Shelby got even remotely close, the birds would simply lift off and fly out of sight.
I started working on training the recall off of one of these annoying flying creatures by waiting until the bird took flight and then calling, “Shelby” in my best herding voice. She would u-turn and come back while I unloaded an entire fistful of treats onto the ground.
Slowly, we worked up to recalling before the bird flew away. When that was solid, I noticed that Shelby was starting to return before she even got started. She would half run to the bird, then turn around before I recalled. I guess she figured she would never catch the damn thing, so she might as well save herself some exercise and just return. I chose not to reward that behavior, although I suppose you could. But I wanted her to realize that she was to come to me when I called, not just whenever she felt like getting half a bag of treats.
When that was perfected, I decided it was time to try it with a real live rabbit. I realized that rabbits would be immensely more difficult because they can’t fly, and Shelby knows they can’t fly, so she’s less likely to give up on the chase. I acquainted myself with the rabbit holes in my backyard and cracked down on Shelby’s recall and boundary training, to make it safe. I also worked hard on Shelby’s “leave it” in the interim, so I knew she could reliably leave a rabbit alone on walks. I figured if she took off after one and didn’t recall, I could at least cue a leave it and lie down and she would stay within the boundaries of the yard, at the very least.
I started as I did with the robins, recalling Shelby after the bunny had disappeared down its hole. The first few times, she didn’t want to give up, shoving her nose down the hall and digging frantically. After one single failed recall, I told her “leave it”, which she did and cued a lie down and went and got her. We took a few weeks to continue working on robins and building up her recall some more. Eventually, we got to a point where she would immediately turn upon the rabbit entering its hole.
We were ready. Five and a half months of training led up to this. On one balmy morning last week, we saw a rabbit on our morning potty break. Shelby hit the deck as soon as she saw it (a default behavior we’ve been working on – say please to chase the bunny). I took a deep breath, dropped the leash and said, “Go!” Shelby surged forward. When she was halfway there, I called, “SHELBY!” which really sounds more like “SHELLBEEEE” where the “ee” sound is in a high pitched voice I’ve often heard at Raspberry Ridge. “That’ll DEWWW”
Shelby didn’t hesitate. She immediately turned in a big flowing arch and charged back to me while the rabbit hopped away. As soon as Shelby got to me I emptied the entire bag of treats in my pocket onto the ground and jumped around calling, “Good girl! Who is a good girl? Who is just the best freaking puppy in the whole wide world? Good girl! You are so smart! So brilliant! What a good puppy!” When Shelby was finished eating, she looked up to me with big, wide eyes and her tongue hanging out, “What did I do mom?” I continued my party, running in circles so she could chase me. She jumped up on me and I pretended to fall to the ground so I could roll with her while she jumped and pranced and placed kisses on my face, which smelled like dog treats and had little chunks in them which were getting in my hair, but I didn’t even care.
It didn’t take any more than that. Now Shelby things recalling off a rabbit is even more wonderful than chasing the rabbit. And it is! It truly is! Although, I still make sure to let her chase that bunny all the way to its hole sometimes, just to remind her that she’s a dingo in disguise!