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  • anewleashonlifedog

How can I get my dog to recall?

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

One of the things that I, as a dog trainer, am routinely asked is to help people teach their dogs to come back to them when they are called at the park or beach.


To leave their favourite thing and come back when called.


Haha!


Well, let's take a dog who ignores them regularly, and disrespects them routinely – a dog with zero ability to self-regulate - and ask them to do the hardest thing that they can think of, in a situation where they are massively overstimulated and distracted.


That’s not much to ask surely!



Understand, if they don’t even sit on the first command reliably why would they recall reliably, even if they knew how. And if they routinely do small stuff that they know they shouldn’t then they are unlikely to respect you enough to as you ask when called.


Most dogs have not been taught how to recall, nor do they have much respect for their owners. Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t mean they don’t love them because they do – they just are allowed to get away with all kinds of stuff. Before I teach my foster dogs to recall and before I allow my clients to teach their dogs to recall, I want them to have solid stays and some solid basic rules being reinforced at home.


Then we can get going on recall!


Yeah, ok it’s not much to ask!


The recall itself is not that difficult to teach. However, the main issue that I encounter is that a lot of dog owners are inadvertently making the command itself super unclear and undermining themselves by using it incorrectly. Add to that, owners who don’t understand reinforcement or reward (do you know the difference?) and who potentially are also teaching their dog on a day-to-day basis that ignoring them is not just doable, but in fact, it's condoned.


And here you have a recipe for disaster.


So, let’s look at what things you can do to help your pooch come when you call them, reliably, even when they really would prefer not to.


Firstly, teach them what you want them to do.


Start at home under no distraction and show your dog on-lead what the command is and exactly what response is required so you can be certain they understand what is required. Then practice, practice, practice. Practice under low levels of distraction at first so they can get it right, gradually increasing the distraction levels as you go. When you feel they are ready to try it off-lead, do it at home and go back to no/low levels of distraction and build it up again.


When you feel like they are ready to try it outside the home environment, go back to doing it on-lead only so you can remind them how to get it right if they are distracted, and choose the lowest level of distractions that you can and gradually build that up again over time.


Off-lead privileges in public should be a long way down the track and require a lot of quality practice to achieve, so don’t let them off - or if you do let them off-lead at least don't call your dog multiple times without reinforcing the command as you’ll just be teaching them you are irrelevant and setting them up for failure.


The biggest mistake I’ve ever seen? People who take their dogs to the park to teach them to come!


Ok but what about the other side of the coin?


Make sure you also teach them what things are not ok with you.

  • Ignoring

  • Partial recall

  • Come and then rush off

  • Come over and race past

  • Come over and jump up


Make sure you are clear that these are not what you want from them but coming quickly and behaving calmly will be rewarded!


Ok, what else do we need to consider?


Surely recall practice is enough.


Not at all!


Well, we need to make sure we have our reinforcement and reward ready to go when we teach or practice. Make sure you have a means of reinforcing the command when you give it, so they care that you have called them, and make sure you have a reward that is always available, that won’t run out, and that has meaning to your dog, no matter what the situation. We need to be able to reward them for the right behaviours and to prompt or correct them for incorrect responses, which is why on-lead recall training is perfect for puppies, new learners, or those rehabbing an incorrect recall.


For those whose dogs are ready for something more advanced, practicing off-lead in a controllable environment, gradually changing that environment, so the exercise is challenging but the outcome can always be controlled, is perfect. And make sure you don't call your dog at a time when you are unable to follow through or you’ll teach them to ignore you when you are occupied or distracted. It’s also important that we don’t call our dog only when we are ready to leave the park as this will be seen as a punishment. If their recall is good enough for them to be off the lead you could recall and release them frequently, so they’ll never know when they are going to be leaving.


So, you have the practice happening and the process going nicely, is there anything else you might want to consider?


Help them want to do it right!


I’d want to make sure recall practice is fun and exciting, so they want to do it for you. Saying “Fido come” in a bland or average tone is likely to be ignored whereas a big, long excited “Fiiiidddoooo!!!!” in a long, super-happy tone is very appealing. And start your praise when they acknowledge you, and continue it the whole way in, not just starting to praise them when they arrive at your side.


And then be ready to reward them big time!


Importantly, keep their name a positive thing, not just during recall practice, so they'll always want to come when they hear it called. If they often associate their name with being in trouble, you’ll be undermining yourself. I see a lot of clients who automatically use their dogs' names when the dog is doing something undesirable, or about to do it, but I want you to make sure you don't use your dogs’ names when they are in trouble.


And don’t overuse the command, turning it into white noise!


Now, get out there everyone and get your recall practice started. I’d love to hear how you are going so drop me an email any time at keryn@anewleashonlife.com.au for some feedback or advice!




NB: A couple of words to the wise!


Coming when called should always be positive, and ignoring should always be prompted or corrected, depending on where your dog is at in their learning process, unless your dog is in danger, then safety first! Do whatever you need to do to get them back to safety.


Make sure you keep your dog on-lead in areas where off-lead is against council regulations, no matter how friendly you think your dog is, no matter how good you think their recall is. Breaking the law is never ok and just consider those around you who are doing their best to teach or rehabilitate their dogs. “Friendly” dogs are not better than everyone else.


And finally, do hire a trainer to help you if your dog's recall is not progressing the way it should be.


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