The successful recall is one of the most necessary behaviors to instill in a dog. It is also, arguably, with some dogs, the most difficult to successfully train.
First, let us address some reasons dogs do not come when called:
Problem: The recall cue is inconsistent and/or handler voice is overly authoritative.
Solution: Always use the dog’s name (only once), then your recall cue.
Example: “Fido, Come!”
Always use a happy voice. The dog will be reluctant to come to you if it senses you are angry or frustrated.
Avoid repeating the dog’s name over and over. “Fido, Fido, Fido…” The dog’s name is used in so many different contexts during the course of a dog’s lifetime, and it does not require the dog to perform any one particular action.
Avoid using multiple cues for the same behavior. Example: “Fido, Come here.” “Fido, C’mere.” “Fido, Get over here,” and so on. Choose one cue then use it, always.
Problem: The dog is punished when it does come to you.
Solution: Never punish a dog when it comes to you. Praise the dog when it comes to you. Even if you have had to call the dog multiple times. Even if the dog has done something inappropriate prior to coming to you such as running down the street, getting into the trash or chewing up the patio furniture. The dog will not relate the punishment to the inappropriate action. The dog simply knows that when it came to you it was punished.
Problem: You are not as much fun as …
Oh boy, it’s hard to compete with a squirrel, or running around in the grass, or playing with other dogs.
Dogs can be reluctant to have their freedom curtailed. If every time you call your dog it means the dog will be contained, or will have to participate in an unpleasant activity such as going to the vet, having a nail trim, or taking a bath, the dog will soon associate the recall with their freedom and fun dog activities being restricted.
Solution: The dog always gets something positive, such as a little toy play or a yummy treat, when it comes to you.
Building a Good Recall
1. Begin in an enclosed area with low distraction.
2. Keep the dog on 6-foot lead
3. Always have treats or a toy available in your hand.
4. Call the dog: “Fido, Come!” in a happy voice and jog backwards a few steps to draw the dog towards you.
5. As soon as the dog reaches you, “mark” the behavior (using a marker word like “Yay” or “Good” or “Yes”), and give the dog the toy or treat immediately. Then allow the dog to go out to the end of the leash again with a release cue such as “Go Play” or “Free.”
6. When you have practiced this at home and the dog no longer leaves your side, add distraction, such as practicing at the park or front yard. The dog is still on the 6-foot lead. Always use the marker word and the treat or toy as reward. Every time.
7. Once you have practiced this in as many locations as you can and your dog is coming to you reliably with distraction, then replace the 6-foot lead with a long-line lead (15-30 feet).
8. Repeat all the above from the beginning, using the long-line lead.
9. Once you have successfully practiced this in as many locations as possible and your dog is coming reliably on the long-line lead with distraction, you may now practice this off lead only in completely fenced areas where the dog cannot escape.
If during this process the dog refuses to come on cue, then you must decrease the degree of difficulty. For example, if the dog doesn’t come because of increased distraction when using the long-line lead, then put the dog back on the 6-foot lead for a few times working with the same level of distraction. Difficulty arises when the handler attempts to progress too quickly without having the foundation work established reliably.
This process may take many weeks or even a few months. Don’t be discouraged, and practice it regularly. Understand that some dogs have much higher drive levels than others and this will make your recall training more challenging. Also, please remember that dogs are not furry robots. They are animals with genetically encoded behaviors on board that we are working to overlay with alternate behaviors. They are allowed to fail. After all, we humans certainly make mistakes! If you are experiencing a greater level of difficulty with your recall, then do engage the services of a reputable canine trainer.
Owning a dog is a great joy and privilege. Enjoy!
This training tip originally appeared in the fall 2011 issue of the AKC Canine Partners News newsletter. These great tips on training your dog to come when called are provided by AKC Canine Partner dog owner and dog trainer Sylvie M. Nuzzolilo of Cleburne, TX. Sylvie’s business, Top Class K-9 LLC, offers canine behavior rehabilitation, off-leash training for working and pet dogs, competition training in rally, obedience and agility as well as AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program and AKC Canine Good Citizen testing. Sylvie successfully competes with her rescue dogs in several sports.