Having a dog who will come when called is often top of every dog owners list. Not only is it convenient to have a dog who will come but it could save your dog’s life. How do you get your dog to come bounding towards you when he hears his name? You train it. And you start in your kitchen.
Let’s start by defining WHAT a recall is? It’s that moment where your dog turns away from a distraction and comes running, directly and enthusiastically to YOU, waiting to be “caught”! *Note: many people miss this step, but “catching” your dog is one of the most important parts of the whole recall! A rocket recall doesn’t just happen though – you’ve got to practice practice PRACTICE! The more successful “deposits” you can put into your dog’s recall bank, the more to draw down from when you need it. Let’s get started with these 5 important tips to building a reliable recall.
1. I’d say one the biggest mistakes I see people making with recall is that they don’t practice it. Just like you don’t start to prevent heart disease while you’re in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, you don’t start to train a recall when you need to call your dog off a wild animal. So… tip #1 is to incorporate recall training NOW into you and your dog’s daily lives. By starting to incorporate 3 RECALL practices at a time into various parts of your day, both inside and outside, you will start to build a bank account full of successful recalls. That means your dog will have lots to draw from when it really matters. Why 3? It provides some successful repetitions, while preventing the exercise from getting old and stale.
2. Set your dog up for success. Training a reliable recall means setting your dog up to have many SUCCESSFUL repetitions – that’s where true practice takes places. So start indoors, where the distraction level is low and your dog can get it right and then be reinforced for his behavior. Move around your home and slowly start to add more distractions (other family members around, other pets, eventually visitors, etc.). Once you move outside, start with short distances, and SLOWLY increase the distance from which you’re calling your dog! I once heard someone say, if your dog is a C student indoors, he’ll be an F student outdoors. So true.
3. Use high value rewards that your dog does not get on a regular basis. Since Recall is SUCH an important skill, do not hold back! Bring out the good stuff when practicing recall – leftovers from dinner the night before, high value training treats, etc. Surprise your dog with what you have to reward that enthusiastic recall! For dogs who find nothing more rewarding than a game of tug or fetch – use that as the reward!
4. REWARD don’t punish. Of course, this sounds obvious, but consider things from your dog’s perspective. Are you calling your dog to go inside from the yard? Does your dog find that rewarding, or punishing (leaving the freedom/fresh air/squirrels/smells of the yard)? My suggestion is that you practice recall when you can then release your dog to go back to doing what he loves. That means that when it’s time to go inside, you either go get your dog, or play the “race inside” game (if you don’t know what I mean – shoot me an email to ask).
5. When necessary, “save” your recall. If you find yourself in a situation where your dog does not come to you when called (and remember – say your recall word ONCE then turn yourself into an exciting, crazy playmate and encourage him as best you can) – “save” your dog’s recall by going and getting your dog and luring him back to you and rewarding him. Why reward and not scold? Because your dog will see that scolding as the consequence of being with you (not to what happened 2 min ago, when his head was stuck down an animal hole, and he didn’t hear you calling). Consider why your dog wasn’t successful and return to your last successful distraction-level and get in more practice!
Finally, keep in mind that progress isn’t linear. You will have great days, and you will have days where your dog appears to have forgotten all of his training. Do not lose heart. Brush it off, snuggle your dog, and try again later.
Now it’s time to get out there and start training! Have fun and train on!
We’d love to hear about your successes and set-backs when training your dog’s recall. Be sure you’re a member of our private Facebook group for Sandy Paws clients! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to join!