Recall is when your dog or puppy comes to you when called. It is THE most important thing you can ever teach your dog. Even if your dog obeys nothing else, having them come to you when called can save their life or avoid a dog fight or other dangerous situation. First, decide how exactly what word(s) you’ll use to call your dog. Keep it simple. Everyone in your household should agree on exactly what word or words will be used. Imagine your dog escaped and is running into traffic! Would you yell: “Come!” or “Here boy!”? To teach your recall word, you will start out by saying it in a strong, confident tone. Not a high-pitched inviting-to-play-tone. Remember, if your dog is running into traffic, your tone is going to need to be heard, and likely won’t be fun and high pitched! Keep reading to learn more tips and exercises for teaching your dog a solid recall.
If you have already tried to get your dog to come with you using the word “come” more than a few times and it hasn’t been working, PICK A NEW WORD before starting this training! “Treat”, “front”, “here”, or “cookie” are some ideas. Once you have him/her completely trained to recall for the new word, you can add in the word “come”, so “treat come” and then eventually go back to just “come.”
Do not say “come” unless you know your dog will obey, and do not repeat the command. So if you tell your dog “come” one time and you wait 45 seconds and he does not “come” then don’t say “come” again — go get your dog or use the leash to bring him towards you. If you cannot get your dog then it is your mistake for misjudging your dog’s readiness for that situation, not the dog’s mistake. See exercises below.
Use a whistle sound with your mouth only if everyone who will ever be calling your dog can do the SAME whistle as loud or louder than they can yell a word. Training recall with an actual metal or plastic whistle works, but you may not have it handy in an emergency situation. Clapping is good, but only if you never use a clap to tell a dog not to do something, like jump on the counters.
Recall Exercises: teach your dog to come when called
1. Find something your dog really likes for a reward. (Cubes of cheese or chicken often do the trick.) Some high prey dogs may prefer a chomp on a squeaky toy or a tennis ball toss as their treat, so you can substitute “play with toy” in the steps below. You may have to try many kinds of treats to find your dog’s thousand dollar bill treat! Note: Some dogs really do prefer a toy to a treat, or may be too scared to eat from your hand. If your dog is not interested in treats or toys, seek the help of a trainer before training recall.
2. Plan to do these exercises right before mealtime.
3. Attach your dogs leash and hold the end of it.
4. Divide up the treats into 10 portions.
5. Feed your dog one treat out of your hand.
6. Take a small step backwards and show him a treat in your hand, encouraging him to take a step forward to get the treat.
7. Give the treat if he steps forward! If he doesn’t step forward, wait up to 60 seconds showing him the treat. If he still doesn’t come forward to take the treat (sometimes puppies or shy dogs get distracted), gently pull him towards you and give the treat after he takes even just one step in your direction.
8. Repeat the one step back = treat 10 times. So you’re walking backwards around a room or yard, rewarding each step towards you. After 10 steps, the training session is over. You can do three or four sessions on the first day.
DAY TWO TO SEVEN
1. Repeat steps 1 to 5 above, but now as you step back, say your recall word. We are going to use “come” for this example.
2. Step back as you say “come” and when he steps forward, reward with the treat.
3. Repeat this exercise around your home and yard where they are comfortable.
4. Do this for two days, up to four times a day.
5. On day three, add in reaching down to touch your dog’s collar too, like you’d have to do if the dog escaped and you needed to attach a leash. Touch the collar as you feed treat, just for a second.
6. On day four, advance to two steps backwards before feeding the treat. So step-step “come”, stop, treat. Step-step,”come”, stop, treat. Each day, add in more steps. You may want to switch to a very long leash or light rope, so you can advance a few steps away.
Only advance to this if your dog is coming every time in the week one exercises. Week two is training recall when his attention is not on you.
Do one step-recall-treat. Then stop and do nothing (be boring to the dog) for 10 seconds, as if the session were over. Then give your “come!” command, and have the treat ready for reward when he does!
Gradually over the next week, lengthen the boring pauses between come-treat calls. You can also randomly reward the dog “coming” to you throughout the day too, repeating the word as they approach and giving them a treat. This helps dogs realize the come and treat can happen anywhere at any time.
If the dog gets involved with something really interesting, lets say, picks up a toy, or is watching a squirrel in a tree, and you say “come” and if they do, make the reward for coming to you REALLY big, with lots of treats.
Now you are ready to increase the distractions by going outside! You can practice “come” on with a 10-foot or longer line attached to their collar outside your home, or even on a 6-foot lead out on a walk, anywhere you might be going with your dog.
Try to do the first few sessions outside your home in low-excitement area, such as on your block where you walk all the time, and then graduate to areas with more going on, such as a park or areas with lots of people and other dogs. You don’t want to make the whole outing be about recall, or it will be too much repetition and quickly become boring. Limit to a max of 3 recalls per outing.
Please be safe! When you’re ready to practice recall off-leash, do so in a fenced-in dog-safe area. Some dogs (like scent or sight hounds) can never be off-leash trained. All dogs take lots of training and lifelong practice to recall around compelling distractions. Practice will make close-to-perfect, and a solid recall may save your dog’s life one day, and allow you and your dog to safely enjoy many more activities and a richer life together.
Photo by Jerry Xu www.jerry-xu.com