ARTICLE: Informal Recall

Written by Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith Dog Training
778 836-DOGS (3647)

This is not the formal recall or come command lesson but this will help you start to establish a good recall with your dog. The trick to teaching a good recall is to be more attractive than everything else to your dog, so you have to give your dog a reason to come back to you. Figure out what is your dog's favorite thing (it could be chicken pieces or a tug toy) and then offer him that for coming back to you - each and every time.

Informal Recall Exercises

It's a familiar scene. You're at the Dog Park, The dogs are having a good time and then you decide to go. This is when the recall can fall apart. "Fido come" is repeated again and again, but still no dog appears. This scenario is very common among dog owners, particularly owners of young dogs. The critical mistake many dog owners make is the attempt to use the command come before it has been fully installed in the dog. The command was presumed "known" because the owner had witnessed correct responses in the past - probably in a no distraction area. But throw some distractions in (like being at the Dog Park) and the dog does not come. Most owners at this point figure that the dog is just being stubborn, after all the dog knows what come means and yet refuses to comply. But does the dog really know what come means? It may astonish you to find out that stubbornness is not a trait that dogs have, although it certainly may seem like it at times. Most people don't do nearly half as many recalls exercises, as they should with their pooch to proof this command. They call their dog to come and the dog comes so they figure the dog knows this command. Yet the same dog when playing does not come. To rectify this problem you have to start from the beginning again.

Setting your dog up for always coming when called.

Call your dog's name and the command in a singsong voice. You may want to think about changing the command word from come to "here" as your pup has heard come over and over again and at this point it does not mean much to him. Call him once and if he does not turn around towards you or even make a move towards you, YOU move in closer to him and show him a nice tasty treat. As you pique his interest, run backwards a few steps. Talk to him in an encouraging way as he gets closer. When he arrives, give him his treat, and then… let him go play again. If you call your dog at least 6 or 7 times per play session when he is off leash, you are on your way to a good recall. Many people don't want to treat their dog if the dog doesn't come of his own accord. Understand that behaviour changes according to its consequences so if the dog sees that good things are coming his way when you say the word "come" you will change his mind over time about that word. You want your dog to think the word come is a good thing and means perhaps a tasty treat for him. Do not repeat the command come or whatever command you are using, over and over and simply stand around and wait for your dog to come to you-you go to him show him the treat and then back up and then give it to him. Some people in frustration start repeating the command and then start getting a negative tone to their voice-understandable, but not helping in teaching this command. What you are doing be repeating the command is desensitizing your dog to this word, and the negative tone isn't helping either. You want your dog to always see the word Come as a fun, positive word, like something great is coming his way, no matter what.

Giving your dog a treat each time he comes to you, even if you had to go in and help him understand what you wanted, will set up a positive experience. Your blood may be boiling and you may feel like clobbering your dog when he won't come to you, but stick a smile on your face and continue with the exercise. Finding a suitable reward is key to having a reliable recall. If your dog is motivated by food, use food. If a toy motivates him, then use that. Remember though when working with a motivator you must always follow the correct format of call the dog, then smile, praise, pet, and then give the motivator. This way you are pairing a primary motivator (food or a toy) with a secondary motivator (smile, petting and praise) and over time they become one and the same for your dog. Where most owners go wrong with this command is they just give the motivator without using the praise. A motivator alone over time will not be enough. Also the motivator that you use has to be of high value to your dog. Using the same cookies that he gets at home will not be enough to entice him to come to you.

Recall games to play in the house

Periodically throughout the day, call your dog to you in a sing song voice and when he comes to you, praise the heck out of your dog and have a 30 second play session with your dog. Rather than just putting your dog's food down in the a.m., portion out your dog's food in at least 10 different containers and spread them out around your house. As you are walking around your house in 10 minute intervals call your dog to you in a sing song voice and give your dog one of the rations of food. Follow this format in 10 minutes intervals until all the food is gone.

Recall games to play outside

Stand 20 to 30 feet apart from a family member, either in your yard or at a park with low distractions, with your dog off leash and call your dog back and forth between you. When your dog gets to you, reach down and gently grab your dogs collar, smile, praise, pet and treat. Have your dog run back and forth between you. Your dog will quickly catch on to this game and won't even realize he is being trained in the come command.

If you do not have a treat on you and your not doing this exercise with your dog but you want
him to come to you DO NOT USE THE COMMAND COME when you call him. Whistle, clap, say his
name, say "comehere" really quickly but don't use the formal command of come until it has been
totally installed in your dog. In the initial stages of training we want all the recalls to be fun,
positive and most importantly rewarded. Do as many recall sessions as you can everyday.