Most people have a list of things that they want their pup to do, but when push comes to shove, nearly everyone wants their pup to come when called. Nothing is more embarrassing and frustrating than standing in your driveway when your pup escapes and you are frantically trying to get him to come back inside! Aside from the frustration, it’s also a safety risk.
So why do new dog owners often have trouble with the “recall?”
Well, it’s actually a simpler answer than you’d expect. Number One: Owners repeat the command. And Number Two: Despite repeating the command, owners don’t ensure that the dog actually follows through and performs the behaviour.
Think about this scenario from a human perspective. Your child is playing a video game on their computer. You ask your child to sweep the floor. They look up and resume playing their game. You try again a few more times, and get the same response. You eventually get very angry, get the broom, bring it to your child and turn off their video game, in order to get them to sweep. Repeating yourself and yelling didn’t get much response, did it? The same is true with a new puppy or dog (who we’ll call “Larry” for this segment). If you say “Larry, come” while he is sniffing a great-smelling fire hydrant, Larry may glance up at you temporarily then go back to sniffing that great scent. So you repeat yourself again – “Larry, come!” This time Larry doesn’t even acknowledge you, and instead trots happily to a nearby tree. Frustrated, in a much louder and sterner voice you say “L-A-R-R-Y, come!” You pat your leg, and pretend to reach into your pocket to get an invisible treat. No success again, since by this point, Larry is half way across the park and visiting another dog. Congratulations, you have now taught him the exact opposite command that you wanted! You have taught Larry to ignore you.
So how do you avoid this, you ask? Well the brings us to the second point following though with the behaviour. You need to teach Larry that recalls are fun! Start in your home without any distractions. Go to one end of the room and have another person go to the other end of the room. Make sure you both have lots of delicious treats and no distractions present. If you have another dog or cat in your house, make sure they’re put away while you practice, at least initially. Take turns calling Larry back and forth. He will more then likely come running one he realizes you have his favourite treats! If he doesn’t, go up to him show him that mouth watering treat you have, right in front of his nose, and start walking quickly backwards….. gently grab the collar if necessary. Once Larry is having a blast in the room, stretch the recall between rooms and different floors in your home!
So, now that you have Larry flying like a rocket throughout your house, you are now ready to move the recall outside to distraction central. We recommend having a 20 – 30 foot line attached to Larry. You will start nice and close together in a quiet outdoor area. Gradually progress further apart in a low distraction area of your yard. Again, if Larry doesn’t come or gets distracted after you have called him once, help him and show him what you want. Move closer together if needed. Lure him with a treat in front of his nose or gently tug and wind up the leash.
You will need to repeat this process several times in different locations while slowly working at a greater distance with a greater distraction. Remember your treat values; as what you are asking Larry to do gets harder, you may need to upgrade your treats. Check out our blog on treat value for more info. Also until Larry’s recall is solid and reliable we recommend always having him attached to a long leash when working outdoors in any area that is not fenced – think safety first!
Having a strong recall is an amazing tool. Just make sure your pup learns that responding when you call is a great thing! Never call your pup to you and reprimand him. Keep it fun! And don’t waste your breath when you know he’s not going to listen (like when he’s discovered his best friend at the dog park). Set up for success! Creating an outstanding recall needs consistency; if your pup is never taught to ignore your command, and you set him up for success, you’re off to a great start!