By far, one of the most important skills to train a dog is recall (coming when called). It could potentially save your dog’s life.
Yet, many dog owners struggle with training a reliable recall, with most dogs ignoring their people - preferring to continue playing with other dogs or sniffing the bushes.
If your dog does not have a rocket, spin-on-a-dime recall, see if you are breaking any of these five cardinal rules of recall training:
1. Thou shall not call Dog to come for anything Dog does not like
If you call your dog to come to you to be punished or to do things that your dog does not like, such as clipping nails, or putting on the leash and leaving the dog run, your dog will learn quickly that coming to you when you call him may lead to no good at all.
Why would a dog want to come to you to be scolded or to be dragged out of the dog run, putting an end to all the fun romps with his doggy pals?
Don’t be lazy. Instead of calling your dog to come to you for things your dog will not like, go get him instead. Never give your dog a reason to think coming when called will lead to bad things!
2. Thou shall not repeat the recall cue over and over (and over and over)
The recall word must be very special to your dog. You want your dog to hear the recall word “Come!” and react almost automatically by running back to you. In order to do this, you need to make sure not to call your dog to come to you repetitively. Just give the cue once.
Saying “Baobao, come! Come here now! Come, Baobao! BAOBAO COME NOW!” over and over does nothing except to teach your dog to ignore your “come” cue, which is the last thing you want him to do!
If your dog does not respond when you call your dog to come the first time, go to Rule #3.
3. Thou shall save the Recall if Dog does not come
If you call your dog over and he ignores you, preferring to check out the pile of poop on the floor, do not break Rule #2 and call your dog to come to you over and over!
Instead, go over to your dog and save your recall. That is, do what you can to gain your dog’s attention and get him to move towards you.
If you need to, wiggle a treat in front of his face to get his focus, and move backwards so that he comes towards you.
In other words, make it super easy for your dog to want to turn and move towards you to ensure that he cannot and does not ignore your recall.
Your dog’s response, or rather, lack thereof, shows you that his recall has not reached that high a level yet. This is when you remind yourself of Rule #4!
4. Thou shall not call Dog to come if thou knows Dog will not come when called
Calling your dog to come to you when he's in the middle of playing with another dog or chasing birds are examples of PhD level recalls.
Both of these scenarios involve high levels of distractions and possibly long distances. It is unrealistic to expect your dog to run over to you when you call him mid-play in a dog run on a weekend if all the training you have done to date has been indoors, in the boring confines of your living room!
Train your dog's recall in progressive steps - starting from a place with no distractions and with your dog a short distance away. Then, slowly move to training around more distractions and over greater distances.
Your dog will be more successful (and you will be less frustrated) if you make only one thing harder at a time (e.g. just going from 10 feet indoors to 20 feet indoors, instead of going from 10 feet indoors to 30 feet in a park with other people and dogs around).
Will you bet $100 he will come when called? If not, do not ruin your recall. Go get your dog instead!
Do not call your dog to come to you at PhD or even Secondary School level if he has not even mastered recall at Primary School level. You will end up teaching him to ignore the word “Come”!
5. Thou shall use amazing treats to reward Dog
Save your best treats for recall training. Use cheese, cooked meats, anything your dog loves!
Cut up the treats into small pieces and give plenty when your dog runs to you – not just one measly piece, but many small pieces! Be like a jackpot machine and dispense many small pieces of treats over and over! Your dog will think he won big for coming to you!
A dog will come when called if you make it worth his while. Your job is to show your dog that every single time you call him to come, it will always be worthwhile – shower him with praise and lots and lots of amazing treats (jackpot!), or let him play his favourite game!
Never give your dog a reason to doubt that running to you when you call him is the best thing he can do.
If ever you find your dog standing in the middle of the road with a car speeding towards him, the last thing you would want is for him to stand there and decide whether it is worth coming to you.
Keep these 5 rules in mind and in no time, you will have a dog flying like a rocket to you when you call him to come!
Written by Michelle Chan
Michelle is the lead trainer at Pup Pup 'N' Away, a training school in Singapore that uses humane, reward-based methods to train dogs. She is enrolled in Jean Donaldson's Academy of Dog Trainers, which is known as Harvard for dog trainers.