Teaching The Recall

Your recall is your cue to tell you dog to come to you no matter what. And, let's face it, dogs can be really really distracted. So your recall should be really really effective. That's what a recall is - you call, they come. Period. What is a recall not? A suggestion. Let me say it again; a recall is not a suggestion. Come on puppy, come on, hey! No! Come on! Puppy! - STOP!...This is not a recall. This is a hoarse throat after a while.

I won't spend too much time on WHY you need a recall. But let's go over the basics. Fido is down the driveway and there is a car. The neighbor's cat has just taken off across the street! Or how about you're at a dog park and a fight amongst other dogs breaks out. In your dog's excitement he goes running to investigate the hubbleabaloo. Maybe you're outdoors a lot hiking or camping and you trust your dog not to go too far, but you just can't see her. All these things and more can happen and you'd like to be able to call your dog and make sure they come back.

Because they know their recalls we trust the pack out in the open off leash.

There are more than a few ways to train a recall. I'm going to share my preferred way. First, decide what word to use. If your dog knows his name, that's great! You can certainly use your dogs name for the recall. But, you probably use his name for a lot of things. You're probably saying it all the time. You may even be guilty of calling him by name when he is in trouble (I've done it too, don't feel bad!) I suggest using a unique word accompanied by his name.

A perfect recall by Io, Zephyr and Dresden. They were about 100 feet up the hill and I've just said HERE! And here they come!

The great thing about a unique word is that if you have multiple dogs you don't have to rattle off a list of names (Escobar! Mercedes! Io! Dresden! Zephyr!) but rather you can give your one word cue (Here!) and everyone will come running. In case you missed that, my recall cue is Here. You might like Come. Return. To Me. Let's Go. And so on. Just pick it and stick with it. Don't confuse your dog by using multiple terms.

The best way to start is to introduce your recall word when your dog comes to you on it's own. So, Fido approaches you and you say Here Fido! Good Here! Good Here Fido! Good dog. And reward (pet, treat, click, or however you decide to mark a good behavior). Now you've put the idea into their head that the recall word (in my example, it's the word Here) has a meaning and results in a reward! Yay!

Let's assume you don't have a stubborn dog. If you do and you're trying to fix a bad recall response keep reading, I'll get to that. But if you have a new puppy or you are just beginning to train your recall do yourself a favor and load your pocket up with some cheese (or whatever treat you like). I'm not normally a training-with-treats type of trainer. This is one of the exceptions. And we won't use the cheese forever. The goal is to wean off of them with this cue.

Pocket full of cheese and recall word picked out? Cool, now practice. Inside the house or out in your yard get some distance between you and your dog. Go into the next room or to the other side of the yard. Give you word. Here Fido! Make it exciting. Here! Here Fido! Come on! Kiss kiss kiss. The more high pitched your voice is the easier it is for a dog to hear from a long distance. When she comes, give a treat. Then ignore completely! Don't give her a chance to be confused by WHY she got the cheese. She heard Here, she came, she got cheese. We came, we saw, we conquered. Don't reward for wagging around like a goofball (showing submissive behavior) or for rolling over for belly scratches or jumping up. Just ignore.

Once again, create some distance and give your cue again. When she comes to you, give the treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repeat every day at least 10 times a day; better yet do a few sessions throughout the day. It'll take mere minutes. Never stop practising. When you feel like you've got the hang of it in a safe place such as the house or the yard graduate to somewhere public.

If this is a young puppy or a stubborn dog use a LONG leash now. Head to a sports field, part, or hiking trail and bring along a 20-30 ft leash. Allow your dog to walk to the end of the length of the leash, give your cue (Here Fido!) and reward. Now ignore. Once she goes to the end of the leash and has some distance again - repeat. It's a good thing this is really easy or all this repition would get really boring.

Escobar just after I got him at 4 years learning a recall on a 30 foot training leash. His expression says, "I love you new humanmomma. I'm pretty sure you're made out of cheese sticks and belly rubs."

You're repeating for a reason. You want to create an automatic, muscle memory response in your dog. The more you do it, the more the brain will retain it (like typing, driving, riding a bike, hearing a phone ring, etc) So, you're good at home and in the yard. Now you're good on a long leash. Now find places with only limited distractions that are not familiar to begin off leash. Ask a friend to use their yard. Go to a school that is fenced and out of sessions (no kids around!) Or a park that isn't busy. For me, the hills out where we live work really well. Try a few different places to practice. Yay, more repetition! I bet your dog has this down by now huh...

About now I'm going to suggest you stop with the cheese and start with affection as your reward. Make it big, make it dramatic, make it awesome. Pet pet pet. Good Here! Good Here Fido! Good Dog! This should be a really positive experience. Don't you dare go undoing all your hard work by using your recall to punish your dog. I don't care what they did! Favorite shoes? Pooped in the house? That's nice. Go to them for their punishment. If you associate your recall with a negative result (punishment) then they aren't going to come where you call.

Increase the stimulation. Go to busier and busier places. Allow for more distractions. People, dogs, cars, cats, etc. Don't run before you can walk. Don't get a good recall 20x at home and then go to a dog park with 30 other dogs. Baby steps. And remember, never stop practising!

For more on this check back soon for 2 new articles - working with an electric collar (on a recall for stubborn dogs) and what to do when your dog runs away when you try to catch them!