Training The “Call Off”


Once the dog is reliable it is time to proof and generalise the exercise. In simple terms this means doing it in a wide variety of different situations, environments and contexts until the dog generalizes (understands and complies) and becomes reliable in any and all situations. The reality is that the proofing of exercises is more of an art than a science. Highly experienced trainers can move from one environment or situation to another fairly rapidly because they can read the dog and they will put mechanisms in place to reduce the likelihood of failure. A good trainer will know when to put the long line back on (as a backup to prevent problems), when and if a correction is needed etc.

When the dog is very reliable it is time to add in additional commands and activities after the down. Unless you are extremely confident, most if not all of the exercises below should be done on a long line, or with some other form of control in place to prevent the dog learning that if he breaks the rules he can still get some success. Most of these proofing activities could be done at stage 2 if preferred. We like to do some proofing at each stage to consolidate learning and help to generalise the response. Most of the activities below should already have been conducted as separate exercises prior to incorporating into the call off.

Proofing activities should include as a minimum:

  • Recalling the dog from the down position (rather than sending him in on the decoy)
  • Leaving the dog in the down as the handler walks up to him before sending him on to the decoy, or clips on and heels the dog away. We virtually always finish each trial by sending the dog in at some point
  • Leaving the dog in the down and then calling the decoy out towards the handler
  • Leaving the dog in the down while pat down searches are conducted on the decoy
  • Leaving the dog in the down while the handler does a search of the building or area where the decoy was
  • Any other situations and scenarios you consider relevant to your roles and tasks

Is important to note here that we very rarely have any problems with the dogs not complying with the down during these proofing exercises because we do such extensive foundation work (so the dog is very well prepared) that when we put him in this situation it would in fact be a shock to us if he did not understand it and/or comply with the command.

I have forgotten how many times other trainers have said to me words to the effect of “he does that because he is a naturally compliant dog” or “my dog is more committed to the bite so he doesn’t comply very well in this exercise”. Neither of these are true reflections of the situation. The reality is that either the trainer simply doesn’t have the understanding or know-how to train the exercise properly, or they have not done proper foundation work and training to prepare the dog before putting him in the situation.

This is another one of those situations where some trainers will be reading this and disagreeing with me. You will argue that I am not working with very high drive dogs, or stubborn dogs, or hard dogs, or that I trained my dog since they were puppies etc., etc., etc. None of that is correct. It does not matter whether I raise the dog from a pup. It does not matter the temperament of the dog. It does not matter how strong the drive of the dog. What matters is the correct exercise design, training mechanisms and the proper foundation work to ensure success – no exceptions – EVER!

Final Notes

I have seen trainers who tell the decoy to stop and/or throw his hands up in the air and surrender prior to, or at the same time as they give the call off command. I strongly disagree with this strategy as over time the dog takes the decoys behaviour as a cue. Whilst there are times where the dog should react to the decoy / assailant’s behaviour, this is definitely not one of them.

If the dog is responding in any way to the decoy’s behaviour, this will produce a number of potential problems; firstly the dog might automatically call off if the decoy / assailant stops or surrenders – the problem here is they may not be surrendering, they may be aiming a gun and as such, it must always be the handlers decision to call off the dog – not the dog’s decision based on what he sees the decoy doing.

Secondly; most dogs trained like this are unreliable unless the decoy stops and/or surrenders. This is, in fact, a trick used by sport dog trainers to help make the dog more reliable, but it is problematic and should not be utilised in training the dog for L/E or tactical roles. This type of training means the handler has limited control, and the dog is responding more to the decoy’s behaviour than commands from the handler – not good!