Can’t recall the last time your dog came the first time you called him? Lucky for you, this and next month’s Day School Training Focus is just that: recall! It can be difficult to get your pup to come every time without fail, but it’s a vital skill: a dog who doesn’t feel the need to return when called risks mild dangers (like getting skunked) or fatal dangers (like running into the road). School comes with lessons, and no lesson could be more important!
What, exactly, is a recall? Some people expect a dog to come when their name is called. Some only expect the dog to pay attention to the person who is speaking when their name is called. But a recall is black and white: it's one single, short word (usually "come" or "here") that is a non-negotiable request. It means "I want you to come to me right now, no 'if's, 'and's, or 'but's!"
If your dog is attending Day School here, then they are already learning the basics of recall. At the end of the month, you'll receive a Homework Packet about how to continue your pup's education. But if you'd like to start setting down your own foundation at home, here are some tips:
Start slow! You'll want a quiet room and a calm dog. You're more likely to notice something on the side of the road if you're stopped at a red light than if you drive by at 30 miles per hour. The same applies to your dog. The best place to begin is beside your dog when they are idle.
Pay the dog! Using treats your dog adores, can't resist, and doesn't normally get – bits of cheese or hot dog – means that you're starting off saying, “If you come when I call you, you get this awesome thing!” And if your dog is more play motivated than food motivated, that's fine too: reward them with a quick game of tug or fetch! (As with any behavior, you'll want to wean your dog off of high-value treats once they're proficient. We personally like to use high value treats randomly. Just like slots in a casino, they'll keep playing in hopes of hitting that jackpot.)
Always, ALWAYS set your dog up for success! We can't overemphasize this one. While you're still teaching, don't say “come” unless you're 100% certain your dog will come. If this means practicing on long leashes or in small yards, then by all means, do whatever your dog needs. If your dog doesn't come the first time you say his name, don't say it more! The exercise is over. Do something else and try again at a later point (perhaps with less distractions this time). Otherwise, they'll learn that he only has to listen the third or fourth time around. With a command that could save your dog's life, you want them to return every time, without fail.
Always reward your dog for recalling, even if the reward eventually just becomes a good belly rub. Never punish the recall by doing something they don't like, like putting them in time out! Scolding your dog after they finally return to you after running away makes them think, “Wow, that's not safe! I thought I was being good because I came back. Next time I won't come at all.”
Remember to have fun! Recall should be a game for your dog, something fun that means they get to do awesome things with their favorite human. There are some great examples of recall games on YouTube: feel free to look them up to add a little variety to your training.
Some people say that recall is one of the hardest behaviors to teach. But it doesn't have to be this way! It's all about making positive associations. Just like kids hearing the ice cream truck on a warm July day, your dog will always come if they know you'll make it worth their while!