When most people get a new puppy, the first trick they usually think to teach their dog is “sit.” Then we usually teach our dog to “lay down.” Then, for some of us, that’s the extent of the training we do. I hear this from countless people in my profession or that their dogs listens to obedience cues “when they want to.”I want to explain why teaching your dog to recall, or “come”, reliably is the most important skill your dog will ever learn.
When we teach our dog to come to us EVERY TIME we are teaching them a skill that could, one day, save their life. Even if you never have your dog out of your house without a leash, there are going to be times in their lives when someone accidentally leaves the door or gate open and, to a dog, there are a lot of very interesting things on the other side of that door. If your dog gets away from you and does not know recall they could be hit by a car, get lost, or get into something hazardous. Knowing how to sit or lay down on command, isn’t going to help them much in these scenarios. Typically, trainers will teach sit or down as a prerequisite to teaching recall so that the dog is in a position away from the owner.
Recall Training DO NOT:
NEVER reprimand your dog for coming to you. Period. Dogs are very “in the moment” animals. When they do something wrong, our first inclination is to treat them like children and have them come over to us so we can tell them what they did wrong. Dogs do not think like this. From their perception, they were doing something, you told them to come over to you, and now you are mad at them. Why would they come over to you just to get into trouble? When you do this, you are teaching their dog NOT to come to you.
How to Teach Recall:
If your dog already knows sit, down, and stay this is a good way to start. Place your dog in a “down stay” position. Walk about a meter away and give them the command: “Sadie, come!” Your voice and tone should be loud and firm because you are trying to mimic what your voice will sound like when you really need your dog to come to you. Next, drop to your knees and pat the ground, kind of like a dog that really wants to play. When your dog comes over to you, have “a party” ready for them depending on what motivates your dog. When you start teaching this, you want it to be something that your dog REALLY likes. For some, it’s a big handful of hot dogs, for others, it’s a huge body rub and their owner telling them what a “good dog” they are in a high-pitched voice.
If your dog is slow at coming to you, or doesn’t come over to you at all, try shortening the distance between you and your dog. Do a few successful repetitions and then increase the distance again. You can also try increasing the reward to something that is more important to your dog. I’ve had people cook their dogs steak to make the reward motivating enough.
As your dog begins to understand what you are asking them to do and they are coming to you at a short distance every time, start increasing the distance you are asking them to recall. After they are coming to you at a pretty good distance, start adding distractions by changing the place you are doing the exercise, or going outside. WARNING: until your dog is good at recall, use a leash when training outside a fenced area. 15 foot long leashes are great tools for this.
After you’ve done some basic training and your dog understands what “come” means, turn training into a game the whole family can play. Stash treats around your house and then give your dog the recall command at random times throughout the day. If your dog in successful, give them the treats and be sure to make it a party for them. This also teaches your pet to come to other people and is fun for everyone.
Never end training sessions with your pet on a negative note or after a failure. Be sure you end with a successful training event, even if you have to make it a little easier for your dog to be successful. It’s also good to do something your dog enjoys after training, like playing ball. This keeps training sessions fun a positive for both you and your dog.