In my last blog post I explained a simple process that you can implement to teach your puppy to come. Dog trainers refer to the “come” command as a recall. Teaching a recall to a puppy is quite simple. The real challenge is keeping his recall strong under any circumstances! The puppy in the photo is Brew. She was across a field about 100 yards away, that is about the length of a football field. I blew a whistle and she came flying to me with purpose – to get whatever wonderful thing I had for her.
I did not show her what she would get when she arrived, she just knew if she heard that whistle GREAT things would happen! At the time she was just eight weeks old and EVERY TIME she heard a whistle in those first weeks of her life wonderful things happened!
This kind of learning is called classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is where an animal learns to make an association between two stimuli. When the first stimulus naturally prompts a behavior in an animal you can pair that with a second stimulus that would not have prompted the same behavior. With enough frequency the second stimulus (the one that did not naturally prompt the behavior) will prompt the behavior in the same way the first stimulus did. Ivan Pavlov illustrated classical conditioning through his experiments with dogs. When food (first stimulus) was presented to a dog, the dog naturally salivated. After repeatedly pairing the sound of a bell (second stimulus) with the food when it was presented, the dog salivated upon hearing the sound of the bell even in the absence of food. Although the bell initially meant nothing to the dog, it began associating the bell with food.