How to get a great recall with your dog!
The reason that you’re reading this article means (I hope) that you’re not that person standing at the park gate, yelling and screaming for your dog to come back to you, or at least, you’re looking to change this and make it a much more pleasant experience for both you and your dog.
So why is recall such a hard cue to teach?
Chasing squirrels can be highly rewarding to a dog, especially if their prey drive kicks in for them and then why would they then pick you, the crazy, screaming person over a chasing the squirrel? If the thing they are chasing is more rewarding for them than coming back to you, why would they make the choice to return to you? A shouting, angry human who is going to stop their fun seems like a rubbish option.
This is where we must put in some training and consistent fun if you want that 99% recall success! If they are ever going to pick you over the other object, you need to be consistently fun, rewarding and worth running back to. Whilst this takes time, there is no complex or magic training regime needed, just lots of fun training and games, so when they have the choice, they pick you because you’re super fun!
Consistent and exciting training is the essential base to your recall training, your dog needs to learn that coming to you means great things happen!
Step 1: Set yourself up for success. Minimise all distractions and ideally, start in the house where they know most of the distractions off by heart. (you can progress to your garden, on lead on walks, long leads etc. later)
Step 2: Get some amazing treats at the ready, something your dog goes crazy for (think healthy, smelly treats) or a squeaky toy if they’re not interested in food.
Step 3: Think short, fun sessions. 10 mins of fun games and training is so much better than spending 2 hours expecting your dog to do successful and reliable training. If they lose interest, stop and move on to something else or stop and have A PLAY with a TOY.
Step 4: Everyone who is training the recall with your dog needs to use only one word e.g. “come” or “here”. that word needs to be linked to the good stuff so when they have the choice to make and they hear the word, they subconsciously are reminded of all the good stuff you offer. Don’t use this RECALL word for bad stuff, like if they’re on the kitchen table and you want them off or you’re planning on bathing them, IT NEEDS TO ALWAYS BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE GOOD STUFF.
Step 5: Say your recall word only once, if they’re not paying attention, you need to go back a step and teach the basics again. Don’t make the recall word negative with all the hard work you’ve put in, you don't want the recall word to suddenly become ‘ignore me and keep sniffing’.
Step 6: Step back (make sure you’ve got space behind) and call your dog with big open arms, lots of excitement and say “Fido, come”, reward handsomely with a tasty treat or a little play with a toy and use their reward word excitedly (reward words are something that your dog connects with you meaning they’ve done something good, e.g. good boy, well done, yes etc., you can use a clicker too if you have learned how to charge a clicker first)
Step 7: Use release word/s like “off you go” or "go play" this in itself is a reward too. It builds the communication skills between you and your dog because they know they’re allowed off to go and play and you’re happy about them doing it.
Step 8: PLay lots of recall games! Games like hide and seek, where you hide with a treat and call their name and recall word, then praise lots when they find you and offer a treat or a play with a tuggy toy. Try Recalling and throw a treat through your legs when they come to you. Try Doing a tornado recall (see youtube). Basically, Play recall games where you have a party when they come back to you, they'll learn from all these games just how much fun you can be!
Never punish your dog for returning to you, I nearly cry every time I see an owner at the park yelling after their dog for them to “get here” for 5 minutes, then when the distraction eventually goes away and the dog reluctantly returns to the owner, the dog gets yelled at, put back on lead and yanked out of the park. What has the dog learned there? They’ve learned If they do decide to go back, they often get yelled at, punished and next time they're faced with a choice, they might not bother returning!
always, ALWAYS reward them for returning, no matter how long it has taken! feel free to swear at yourself later for not putting the recall work in before you let them off and next time put some training time in before you let them off the lead.
Finally, Sometimes you just need to put a lead on your dog. Rabbits, roads, squirrels etc. do not go well together, no dog is 100% reliable and some dogs are more naturally led by their instincts so please remember this when you consider the environment you want to let them off in.