Silas and I are wrapping up Susan Garrett’s “Five Minute Formula for A Brilliant Recall” class, so I thought I’d chat a little with you about it here.
People who talk about Susan Garrett on the internet either love or hate her, usually fervently. (As is true for most people who talk about most things on the internet.) I feel like I need to get that out there before this review can get underway. I don’t feel the need to assess her personality, which is where most conversations about her seem to end up.
The course has been a lot of fun. The class gives you a new lesson, almost always in the form of a game, to play every week day for eight weeks. (An introductory week, six weeks of games, and a bonus week, as of Recallers 4.) Silas was able to participate more in some of the games than in others, which, from the comments, seems to be true of almost every dog enrolled. The games themselves are intended to teach your dog value for you and for paying attention. Only a handful of them are explicitly about teaching your dog to come on command.
So, does Silas have a Brilliant Recall at the end of the class?
No, but it’s getting better.
The truth is that Silas needed a lot of rudimentary work as we went through the class. The games are often presented with “beginner” and “advanced” levels, and for most of those we stayed at the beginning stages. Paying attention to a person is just not natural to him, so we didn’t get any “free passes.” I think people who ramp all the way up to a fantastic recall in just eight weeks need less work to start with. Silas’s recall on cue was very rusty before we started, because he’s so very rarely off leash. (He will usually come back to me outside just for the joy of running.)
While we don’t have a perfect recall in just eight weeks, this class has been so good for Silas. He can now play with my husband without becoming a whirling dervish. He will play tug in the park while “terrible” things happen, like cars driving by at a distance. Since Silas is hesitant to eat outdoors, this is a great way to counter-condition him to his many fears. Without me even trying, his sit-stay has become astonishingly good. As in, “Drat, I forgot to tell him he could get up” good. We never had a sit-stay, only down. I posted a few weeks ago about how much he has improved in general, and I think part of it is the skills and confidence that he learned in this class.
Is this course right for you? It depends. If your dog is very sedentary, this play-focused class might not be a good fit for you. If your dog does not play tug, you will be frustrated, although there is good support within the class for teaching your dog to tug. Susan’s Crate Games program is an unspoken prerequisite for the class. A few people complained pretty bitterly because they couldn’t, for whatever reason, use a crate, but I honestly didn’t see that it was an insurmountable obstacle. The course material is pretty relentless, with a new thing to do every day, which is a pro for some people and a con for others. If you’re a perfectionist, you may struggle to let go of Monday’s game that your dog never “got” and move on to Tuesday’s.
On the other hand, if you have an energetic dog who has been kicked out of in-person classes like we have, or if you don’t otherwise have good local classes, it’s worth a look. It was expensive ($200 for the cheapest level, with moderate pressure to upgrade to the $400 or the crazy-expensive level), but I personally felt like it was a very good value even at $400. This isn’t a class that teaches your dog a few tricks; we’ll be using some of these games the rest of Silas’s life. I’m not sure that we’ll re-enroll every time she offers the class, like some of my classmates do, but I am very pleased with having done it.
(ETA for 2014: For Recallers 5 the tiered pricing has been dispensed with, and I can see why. Even at $400, I think this class is absolutely worth the money if you can afford it. Local training classes in my town are $150-$200, and you only get new material five days. I am happily re-enrolled myself, although Alumni get a discount.)