Building a Reliable Recall

Everyone wants a dog that comes when called, right? Most of us aren’t trying to win a dog show or anything; we just want a “good dog”.  Half the people that come to obedience classes would be happy if their dog would just come to them when called.

“That’s it, that’s all I want, is that too much to ask?”  they’ll say. “If he would just come to me and not take off down the street, I would happy.”

Is it too much to ask? 

Of course not, but is it easy?  That’s another story. Without writing a book about it, I will just say this. Having a reliable recall is one of , if not the most important command to have solid and is often times the most difficult to master. I also believe that dog training is holistic in nature and therefore everything is connected. Sometimes we have to really look at the whole relationship and establish some basic principals like Leadership, Trust, Fulfillment, etc. before we can begin to expect a dog to listen to us at all… let alone come to us when off-leash at the dog park or around some other distraction. So, before I get off-topic let’s work on that recall.

Here are a few tips to remember about calling your dog that will help if done consistently.

  • NEVER call your dog to you for something that they find unpleasant. This could be grooming, medication, leaving the dog park, etc. Just go and get them for these things. We want them to have a positive association with coming to you.
  • Never call your dog to you to receive punishment. Even if they chewed up your favorite pair of shoes, dug up your tomato plants or destroyed the remote. If they come to you, they are a good dog. Remember, they don't have the intellect or rationale to realize they are being punished for the shoe chewing episode; they will associate the punishment with coming to you which is wrong. To repeat. Anytime they come when called, they are a good dog. 
  • Always make it rewarding when they do come to you (treats, affection, tug toys……whatever is rewarding for them). If you don’t know, find out what your dog really likes and use it to build the recall.
  • Don’t use your official recall word (i.e. “Come”) if you are not sure that they will come and/or you are unable to enforce it. If they are off leash and you do not have a strong recall try using your casual recall (C’mon, let’s go, whistle, etc.) and/or start walking away. Obviously, do whatever it takes to get your dog, but really try to avoid chasing them. The come-chase-me-game can be very fun for dogs and very bad for training. We want them to come to us, not the other way around.

Fun games that help build the recall

Fetch – Don’t let fetch turn into the “chase me” game, which would be counter-productive. Use a long line if you need to have some control over the game. The part where they bring it back to you is the key. If they don't bring it back, you can bring them back to you using the long leash.

Hide 'n' Seek – You hide and they seek. This game creates a fun scenario where they are looking for and coming to you as opposed to the other way around. When they find you, reward them so they create a good assocation with coming to you.

Puppy Ping-Pong -- A good game,  but it takes 2 people. Have plenty of rewards and take turns calling the dog back and forth. Using a 50 foot long line is a good idea until your dog gets the hang of this game. Again, reward the dog when he comes to you.

Some dogs are easier than others but having a truly reliable, off-leash, real world recall can be challenging for any dog. Let’s face it; there are a lot more interesting things than you out there. I know, I know, it’s a blow to the ego but it’s true. Squirrels, cats, other dogs, things to sniff and pee on….it’s hard to compete with these things. But, with patience, practice, proper technique and consistency, you will see improvements with your dog’s recall, I promise!

For a few more tips:

  • Check out my blog on Preparing for Off-Leash.
  • If you live in the Bay Area, check out my calendar for upcoming obedience classes to learn the mechanics of COME.
  • If you're not in the bay area, you can purchase a copy of my training DVD, "No Dog Left Behind" which has an entire chapter dedicated to the mechanics of COME.

Chad Culp–Certified Dog Trainer, Behavior Consultant, Certified Holistic Chef for Animals

Copyright 2005-2012 Chad Culp, Thriving Canine. All rights reserved. Chad@ThrivingCanine.com