The recall, or teaching your dog to come back to you when you call, is one of the most important things that you can teach your dog. Sure, it can be frustrating when you call your dog and they ignore you, but in the wrong circumstances it can also be life threatening. Imagine your dog dodging past your leg when you open your front door and taking off into the street. With no recall to get him back, you’ve potentially got an injured dog, or worse. At the very least, you’ve got you and your neighbors on a merry chase around the city, neighborhood, or countryside for awhile until you catch that wayward dog.
This is where training the recall comes into play. To train the recall, there are as many ways to teach it as there are dog trainers out there. For some dogs, it comes as naturally as breathing to want to stay with you, and to always respond when you call. For other dogs, it goes against every instinct that they have to keep an eye on you. They would rather go do their own thing, and probably check back in with you around dinner time! I have, and have had my entire life, both sorts. Let’s take a look at the difference.
We’re going to be covering training the recall in DETAIL, step by step, over on our membership site, The Rational Dog Pack! If you need discussion, video tutorials, and more, head on over and check it out!
Dogs with an easy recall:
Most herding breeds, some working breeds, and many toy breeds will fall into this category, because they were specifically and selectively bred to have a focus on their owner or handler. I’ve had Australian Shepherds for over 20 years, and these are dogs who are born with an innate desire to stay by you, watch over you, and make decisions for you. In fact, my issue with them is getting them to give me space and privacy during the day!
A typical walk with my aussies is relaxed, laid back, and happy because I absolutely trust that they will always come back to me, and they will ignore distractions and return to me when I call them, rather than taking off and chasing a rabbit, deer, or another dog. When I’m not in the city, my aussies are never on leash. It’s an absolute pleasure to see them racing and running around the pasture, jumping over logs, and rolling in stinky stuff (okay, maybe not that last one).
A lot of this, as I said, has to do with breeding. Aussies are naturally handler focused dogs. How did I get the level of commitment from them that I have? It was quite easy. When they were puppies, I simply walked with them off leash and carried treats in my pockets. As we walked, I would call them. Because they were young and lacked much confidence, I could simply stop walking, or even run away from them a little bit, like we were playing a game. As soon as they reached me, they got a cookie, and we would resume our walk. Boom. Super easy.
Dogs without an easy recall:
Having aussies for so long really spoiled me into thinking that all I had to do was start a puppy young and give them some treats, and I would have a perfect and easy recaller for life. I grew up with coonhounds, and they were notorious for saying, “See you later!” and being gone for the entire day if they ever got loose, but I figured I just didn’t know what I was doing when I raised them. Nope, it’s not about how they were raised. It’s about their innate independence, and their priorities.
Now that I have Noelle, who is a mixed breed of some sort, and Horton the Bloodhound, I’m faced head on with the truth. It was not about raising them right as puppies. When Noelle got to be about four months old, even with all of the foundation work that I had done with her, she decided that she was big enough and bold enough to never have to come if she didn’t want to again. And Horton, I knew better than to start trust him off leash once he was big enough to start following that mega-powered nose of his faster than I can run to catch him.
So what is the solution, if we have a breed of dog who prefers their independent time than being with you? Or if we have a dog that we got as an older rescue or adoptee, who didn’t get the awesome puppy recall foundation at all? With patience, consistency, and hard work (but a lot of fun, as well), we train the recall.
The First (and Crucial!) Rule to Recalls:
I’m giving you this first one for free, and for many dogs it is the game changer that’s needed to get them invested in coming back to you. Many of the dogs that come here for training KNOW what they’re supposed to do when they’re called, but they will turn and run the other way, and their owners cannot figure out why. But when you consider it from the dog’s perspective, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Think about the times in regular life that you call your dog. To come in from outside, to put their leash on in the dog park, to put them in their crate or their special room when you leave the house, to get a bath, to get in the car. Most of those things, unless taught otherwise (except maybe the car) are unpleasant things for your dog! They very quickly learn that when they hear that C-O-M-E word, the LAST thing they should do is come to you! Come means the fun is about to stop, to your dog, and the first thing to do with any dog is to change that perception.
So here’s the rule: For every time you call your dog to DO something, call him 5 times just to get a treat or check in together. And then, this is the big part, LET HIM GO AGAIN.
Your dog is going to learn so quickly that just because you called him, it doesn’t always mean he’s going to go to the vet to have his nails trimmed! In fact, most times it just means you wanted to feed him something tasty or throw his ball for him, and then let him keep playing! It may take a few attempts to gain your dog’s trust back with this, but believe me, this is the first step to regaining a recall and not dealing with the dog who stops and stares at you, then bolts in the opposite direction!
In the next few weeks, and beyond, on and off, we are going to be covering, demonstrating, and trying out techniques to get a great recall in The Rational Dog Pack, our membership site. Beyond the First Rule to Recalls, we are also going to teach an end behavior (so your dog has a GOAL for when you call him), play orientation games to help your dog learn that Come command, play recall games and keep away to make things fun, use the long line to let them learn to take some responsibility for themselves, and a lot more. Join us there and see firsthand how to get that awesome recall!
It’s time that I got my wayward teenage dogs’ recalls under control. How about you?