A good recall is a wonderful skill for a dog to have. Not only does it allow us to call our dogs away from dangerous or unwanted interactions, it makes us feel good when our dogs come when called. It is a very fancy skill but one that usually takes more time to train than other skills and behaviors.
The secret to training a highly reliable recall is to make it successful and fun for your dog from the very beginning. We want our dogs to come when called every time we call them. Reliability is very important when it comes to the recall. To achieve this high standard we will need to make it easy for our dogs to respond correctly from the very start!
The most common reason our dogs don’t come when called is that they are distracted by something much more compelling. A squirrel, another dog, people, cats, smells – there are many things that distract our dogs. Training the behavior in a less distracting environment strengthens the behavior (more reliability) so that it becomes much more likely in more distracting environments.
The second most common reason the reliability of the recall goes down is that some of our dogs learn that coming when called means that the fun is over. We call them, then we leave the dog park. When we call them, they no longer get to play with the other dogs or smell all the smells – their freedom is over. These events actually serve to punish coming when called. No wonder they don’t come reliably!
To teach a reliable recall start working with your dog in a safe place, either a fenced backyard or even inside the house. When you begin training, make sure there are no major distractions to compete with (other dogs, toys, people, etc). The setting should be kind of boring so that you will be the star attraction for your dog.
Step 1: While in the house or in a fenced yard, let your dog mill around a bit so she isn’t really paying much attention to you. When she’s not too far away (start at about 10 feet) call her to you enthusiastically, with a happy, fun tone. Try to decide on one standard cue, like “Rowdy come” and use the cue only once as you call your dog.
Step 2: As soon as she begins to come to you, start cheering her on with all kinds of praise until she gets to you. Whistling, clapping, and crouching down can all help to make coming to you more fun for your dog, so give them a try.
Step 3: As soon as she gets to you, give her some yummy treats (like cheese, chicken, liver or a lick of baby food – tasty things that she usually does not get) and even more praise. When you give the treats, give them one after the other instead of all at once.
She should be pretty happy at this point. You did great. Repeat this process again, but only after your dog has lost interest in you and your treats. Wait until she is again milling around away from you, then repeat the steps. You may need to wait for several minutes.
Step 4: If your dog is running to you when they hear your cue, lure your dog to sit in front of you once he or she gets back to you after you call them and also introduce a collar grab. This is a great way to make sitting and leashing up automatically part of the recall behavior. Once your dog comes and sits, you grab the collar, THEN deliver 5 treats!
Have fun with this exercise! Training a good recall can be really fun. It just looks so sharp when your dog runs up and sits after you call them. Be sure to call a certified trainer if you are having any trouble. Little problems can be solved quickly if dealt with quickly.