If you were to ask me: “What is the most important cue to teach to dog?“ I would tell you it is the recall cue such as “come,” “here,” or whatever you’d like to call the behavior of running back to you or coming when called.
If you have a reliable recall, you can get your pup away from trouble almost every time. Puppy is about to jump on your 86-year-old grandma? Just call him back to you. You just avoided grandma breaking her hip and you losing your inheritance. Puppy running out the door or chasing your mailman (this has never happened to me)… call him back to you to avoid an angry mailman who will now leave your packages in the rain. You are at the dog park and a fight is about to happen. Holler “Come!” to get your dog away from it and avoid a $500 vet bill. There are so many uses for just one cue, but…
It’s also the most undertrained cue in my opinion. When you get a puppy at 8 weeks or so, you are the puppies whole world. The puppy wants to be with you at all times. The puppy doesn’t stray too far away and comes running as soon as you make a noise. So, you think “ha, my puppy comes when I call him.“ But fast forward a few weeks… Now your not so little puppy has figured out that there are other things beside you. There are smelly fire hydrants, goose poop, other dogs, and other people that spark his interest. Now it takes you a whole lot longer to get that puppy to return to you. After all there are squirrels to be chased and trees to be sniffed.
You never actually trained your puppy that this word, or all the words you are using to try to get your pup back, mean “come running back to me”.
So how do we train a recall?
We start our training really easy inside the house, where your pup is right next to you! Say your recall word “Here” and give your puppy something fabulous, I’m not talking kibble or stale cheerios. You need something that will make a big impression on your pup. For one of my dogs this is pizza crust, she’ll do anything for it. Say your recall cue and follow it with something magical (chicken, turkey meatballs, pieces of steak, you get the idea). Do this a few times each day. This is how you charge the recall word and build a positive association.
After a few days of doing this, you can start saying it when your pup is a little further away, but not too far, and not if he is in the middle of doing something fun. Train this every day for a few minutes so your pup is looking forward to it. Once your puppy is really good at coming to you from a short distance, you can make it harder by adding distance or hiding.
Now that you have the fundamentals, you can take it on the road. Practice while you are walking your dog on leash. Call your dog when you are in the backyard. Practice in a safe enclosed area. Always keep your dog safe by having him wear a long line if you are not sure you can call him away from distractions.
How do we keep the recall reliable?
Practice, practice, practice!
Make coming to you to you a fun game! Don’t call your dog if you aren’t sure he will come back to you. Don’t call your dog for anything he might find unpleasant like nail clipping, going in the kennel or coming in the house when you are about to leave.
Use rewards that your dog loves! If your dog loves to play, call him to you and play with him.
Be generous with your rewards! If you call your dog away from playing with his dog friends, make it worthwhile for him.
But when can I stop giving my dogs rewards?
Recall is one of the thing my dogs will always, if at all possible, get a reward for from me! My best rewards will be handed to them for coming to me away from distractions, even if they are 10 years old and have been doing this for many years. I appreciate them coming back to me and I want them to know that. If I take my dogs somewhere off leash I almost always have some treats on me. Sometimes they get their dinner, sometimes they get to chase me, but I’m always rewarding them!
Let us help you teach a reliable recall to your dog!