There are not many things in life more upsetting for dog owners than calling their dogs only to being totally ignored. In such a case, it’s easy to blame Scruffy for being hard-headed and stubborn as a mule, but how much work has the owner invested into training a good recall? Chances are high, very little. The recall command is ultimately an enormous investment, and the more time and effort is put into training it, the more dog owners will get paid back – and the returns may ultimately be priceless such as saving the dog’s life!
What are the advantages of training a dog to come when called (also known as recall)? There are several. For instance, when at the dog park, it may come handy calling the dog when play starts getting a bit out of hand. This could help prevent potentially annoying squabbles. Calling a dog when he’s out in the yard, often saves time as it means the dog owner won’t have to walk around trying to catch the dog in order to attach a leash to his collar. Best of all, the recall command could save a dog’s life in the case he’s about to bolt towards a road full of traffic or gets too close for comfort to some dangerous animal.
Step-by-Step: Training a Recall
Because this command is so important, all dog owners should start training it as early as possible and should work hard on practicing it as much as they can. There are several rules to abide to when teaching this command, and failure to follow them is often what causes the training to regress or even fail to reach its full potential. Following is a basic step-by-step guide for training a good recall.
- The dog owner and a volunteer should train in a quiet room with little distractions going on. A long hallway can work great so the dog can run back and forth freely.
- One handler should keep the dog on leash on one side of the hallway.
- The other handler will go to the opposite side of the hallway, kneel down and call the dog enthusiastically.
- As soon as the handler holding the dog feels tension on the leash, he let’s go of it allowing the dog to run towards the person calling the dog.
- Once the dog reaches the person calling the dog, he should be lavishly praised and fed several tasty rewards in a row for about 10 seconds.
- As the dog gets good at this exercise, the distance between the people calling the dog can be gradually increased. The training can then be transferred to areas with increasing distractions such as other busier rooms of the house, the fenced yard and so forth.
Another variant on having the dog on leash consists of having one person physically hold the dog, while the other person calls him. The principle is the same: having the dog restrained a bit so when he is called he gets two forms or reinforcement: release from the leash or the person holding him, and the praise and reward once he reaches the person calling him.
Tips for Training a Strong Recall
The above exercise may appear simple, but as mentioned, there are several rules to follow to ensure the dog comes when called. Following are some important tips that will help dog owners master a reliable recall.
- Dog owners should always make recalls fun and rewarding. Calling a dog to punish him or to tell him that it’s time for his bath or some other dreaded activity, will kill even the best recalls.
- The recall must always predict something great is about to happen. Calling the dog when it’s meal time or time to give him a new toy are excellent opportunities to make the dog’s name sound like music to his ears.
- In order to train strong recalls, it’s best to use very high-value treats the dog goes bonkers for. It’s not a bad idea to experiment with different treats to figure out what causes the most enthusiastic responses.
- Dogs should be set up for success by making the recall easy for them. For instance, in the initial stages of training a recall, it’s best to not call the dog when he is sniffing, playing with another dog, eating or when he’s engaged in an activity that requires concentration.
- Repeatedly calling a dog that has ignored a recall will only weaken the recall and teach the dog to continue ignoring it.
- It’s a good idea to teach two different recalls. One that can be used often on a daily basis, and one mostly used as a back-up for emergency situations.
- Teaching a dog to stick nearby is a good way to bond and reward voluntary check-ins. Dog owners should practice in a fenced, secured area rewarding their dog for coming near them with praise and lots of tasty treats.
- The use of a long-line is a great management tool to use when training a good recall. The dog this way is safely under control, while long distance recalls can be practiced without worrying about the dog taking off.
- Dog owners should make sure all family members use the exact same recall command. A husband saying “Rover come”, a wife saying “Rover here!” and the kids saying “Rover come over here!” will only confuse the poor dog.
- Some dog owners prefer using a silent whistle instead of their voice to train their dogs to come. The whistle may work better than voice because dogs are so used to hearing their owners talk and pronounce their names so often that it soon loses value. The whistle, on the other hand, is a unique, distinct sound that is likely to be heard when practicing recalls.
Fun Recall Games
Why not play some fun games that help polish a good recall? These fun games can involve the whole family and are appropriate for dogs of any age. The best part is that the dog will also look forward to playing these games, so it’s a win-win situation for all!
Puppy in the Middle
Several people form a large circle and have the puppy or dog stay in the middle. The puppy or dog in this case is “it.” Taking turns, each person calls the dog and praises and rewards him for coming. It’ best to form a large circle so that the puppy doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
In this case, instead of the people circling the dog they are placed at opposite sides. This means this game can be played with two people at a time, but if there are more people, they can take turns. The puppy or dog is kept in the middle between the two people doing the calling. The two people at opposite sides will take turns calling the puppy and kneeling down, lavishly praising and rewarding their dog as he reaches them.
This is an advanced game for dogs who know how to perform a solid sit stay. In this case, the dog is asked to sit-stay while a person hides. The dog is then called and the dog must find him. The dog is then lavishly rewarded for finding the person.
Troubleshooting Common Recall Problems
- If a dog doesn’t come when called, it’s far more effective running away than trying to chase a dog who thinks it’s a fun game and runs away even more. Most dogs cannot resist the temptation of chasing their owners especially if they act silly and make it look fun.
- If a dog has associated his recall with a negative experience, it’s far better to use a new, fresh recall command and build positive experiences with that. So instead of “Oliver come!” the words “Oliver here!” can be a better option.
- At times, dogs may come running quickly, but just before reaching their owners, they’ll suddenly veer in another directions captured by some tempting distraction. This can be prevented by keeping the dog focused with loads of praise and encouragement when the dog is just midway.
- If a dog is repeatedly called, day after day, at the dog park to only have his leash clipped on to leave, sooner than later he’ll resent being called because he associates hid name with leaving his buddies and all the fun behind. It’s best to randomly call him at times only to praise him, give him a treat and then resend him off to play. Then, when it’s really time to leave, it’s not a bad idea to play a game of tug or go do some other pleasant activity such as going on a sniffing adventure before heading home.
There are many commands a dog can learn over his lifetime, such as roll over, shake and sit pretty. While these are very cute tricks, they’re really not essential as some other more important commands such as the come command or the leave it or drop it command. The come command is a basic command all dogs should know and there’s no excuse for not training it because this command can ultimately make the difference between the dog’s life and death.