Not too long ago I did a presentation at the Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County on teaching a reliable recall. I demonstrated with a darling Australian Shepherd mix. Teaching a reliable recall is necessary for your dog’s safety. Unless a dog has a reliable recall, he will never be able to enjoy off leash play. This exercise can be taught to any dog, no matter what age or breed. I teach from the outline below over a six-week class.
Say your dog’s name, only one time. When your dog looks at you, use your verbal marker, “yes,” or click and reward with treats, toys and verbal praise. Keep rewarding as long as your dog is looking at you.
Stop if he looks away.
Repeat several times a day. Gradually add distractions. Make sure your reward is better than the distraction. Play often and reward generously until your dog spins on a dime when he hears his name.
Hide and Seek
Fill your pockets with really good treats or, if it is close to dinner time, take the dog food bowl with you. Have someone hold your dog while you bid him good-bye. Hide someplace easy for the dog to find you. Call your dog only using his name. When your dog finds you, feed and praise! Continue to play the game, making it more difficult as you go on. Play indoors and outdoors. Notice that we have not yet added a recall word like “come” or “here”. Once the dog has the” name game” and “hide and seek” down pat, add your recall word only when the dog is committed and coming toward you, and you are sure that he will come. Only say your cue one time. Continue to reward lavishly.
On Leash Recalls
Put your dog on a long line or retractable leash. Allow him to explore, then suddenly say the dog’s name. If you have played the name game, your dog will turn and look at you. Say “yes” or click. As the dog starts moving toward you, add your recall cue (come or here) and say it only one time. Repeat the on leash recall several times during your daily walks.
Round Robin Recalls
This is a good game for multiple member households to play. You may use a long line if necessary, and be sure to give the best treats to the children. Adults can stand behind the children in the beginning. Make a circle and call the dog back and forth between family members.
Long Line Recalls
Allow the dog to drag a long line in the back yard or other safely fenced area. If you call the dog and he doesn’t respond, bring him in to you by using the long line. Praise and release the dog to go back to exploring.
Use a tennis ball or a squeaky toy to get a distracted dog’s attention. Until you are sure your dog will come when called, do not use your recall word unless you can enforce the recall. Just say the dog’s name and if necessary move away from the dog. Moving away will usually entice the dog to move toward you, and moving toward a dog will many times cause him to move away from you. When the dog comes in to you, ask him to sit in front and slip your hand into the collar. Treat and praise.
At some point we do have to make a leap of faith and allow the dog to be loose. I do this in a secure area, and have a good recall dog as a partner. I start to walk the field and reward the dog whenever he runs back to me. Then I add a name and reward since he is usually following the other dog back to me. Next I add the “come” or “here” and reward. The rewards may be treats, a tennis ball, or a squeaky toy. Of course the biggest reward of all is that the dog is released to play again!
If the dog decides not to play my game, I won’t waste my voice. I play with the second dog and when the first one checks us out I will put him back on lead and go back a few training steps and try again in a week or so.
Once the dog is coming reliably when called you may want to add a whistle as a long distance cue. Remember, new cue followed by old cue equals behavior! This is an easy way to teach a new cue for an old behavior because dogs are anticipatory learners.
It is never too late to teach or re-train a reliable recall, so start today!