By Drew Webster, CPDT-KA
We have all been there, standing alone with an empty leash in our hands watching our beloved dog running away from us at 100 miles per hour and they only thing we can think to do is yell desperately, “Come Here!, NO! I said COME, Ahhhh”. Have you had this trust altering experience with your dog yet? Make sure you set yourself up for success instead of failure. Responsible dog ownership means obeying leash laws so this means if you live near a city it is pretty tough to practice your recall command. It’s time to get creative and build a radical recall command you can depend on for those “what if” moments in life.
The key to teaching your dog a successful “come here” or recall command is that your dog must want to come to you and have practiced different versions of the exercise to know what you expect in a variety of locations with competing distractions. Let me emphasize the key point again for a minute, the dog MUST WANT TO COME TO YOU. The toughest part for most pet parents is they set themselves up for failure by practicing recall either off leash or with way too many competing distractions. The dog park is not a good place to begin to learn and practice the recall command. The biggest mistake you can make is only practicing recall commands when you need it. Teaching a solid recall is not only a great training goal but it can be a lifesaving command that you use to keep your dog from getting into trouble or from running into the street.
Try this: Set yourself up for success. First find your dog’s favorite motivator like a favorite treat or beloved toy. This should be something he doesn’t get every day so it is extra special. Start out on a long leash (10-25 feet) so you can always end successfully and you don’t end up chasing your dog. Dogs respond better to body language than you talking at them and repeating commands. Raise your hand high above your head, then “play bow to your dog”, bend at the waist so you lower your shoulders and begin to quickly shuffle backwards while bent at the waist, if your dog comes toward you have a tasty reward or favorite toy ready to reinforce him for following your cue (Hint: have a reward marker like a sound or word, I use “YES!” when my dog gets this right). Keep it fun and energetic! Don’t just stand there and order your dog to come to you in a monotone or strict manner. I wouldn’t run to you either. Dogs don’t generalize behaviors well, so it is important that you have built a pattern of positive outcomes in lots of different places. To truly proof your recall command you can master these recall exercises: Straight Recall, Hidden Recall and Chase Recall.
Dog stands away from owner and is called to run to the owner (finish on side or FRONT).
Begin with short distance. Have your dog dragging a leash or on a long line. Make sure you have something to motivate your dog. You should be somewhere familiar with little or no competing distractions. This should be fun for you and your dog so use your body language and energy to entice your dog to run to you. *HINT: When the dog is almost to you, stand up gesturing upward with your hand holding the reward like you did teaching him to sit. You will begin to develop a pattern of coming toward you and sitting in front of you. This is a nice way to work on building recall but let’s be honest. How often other than showing off do we call our dogs to come and sit in front of us? This is a great introduction and your dog can get really good at it if it is important to you. If you want a dog that runs to you with precision and speed think about making recall more of a game than this exercise.
Dog is away from you while you go out of sight, dog must respond to your verbal command or a sound like a whistle.
Dogs like this game because at first they watch you leave. Have a helper hold your dog, attach your long line or if you have practiced some obedience (and are in a safe fenced in area), tell your dog to “stay” or “wait”. Disappear behind a tree, the corner of a building or behind something they cannot see through and verbally call your dog in an excited voice. Have your helper immediately releases your dog and you praise him like crazy when he gets to you. Clingy dogs love this game and you won’t need a lot of rewards because they enjoy finding you so much that it is a reward in itself.
Chase Me Recall
If you want a dog to run to you this is by far the best way. Teach them to hurry and catch up to you as you literally run away from your dog.
You need to be in a safe location for this one like a fenced in yard or have a helper who is willing to follow behind on the long line. I like to do this in big new places so my dog is mildly distracted and likes to smell around. After a few minutes I slowly and quietly drift away when all of a sudden I yell, “COME!” and I take off running away. Look back, as your dog starts to follow use your praise as a secondary motivator “Good, Good, Good”, when he catches up (and he will, because you have two legs and are slow by comparison) praise him excitedly, “Good Come”. Then do it again, repetitions are very necessary and hopefully a lot of fun for you both.
You can combine the Straight Recall and the Chase Recall exercises. Attach a long leash and have a helper hold your dog by the collar for a moment. Start a few feet away from your dog with the other end of the long line in your hand (20-25 feet for this exercise). Say “Come!” and turn and run 10-20 feet away as fast as you can, if you are slow have your handler hold on for an extra moment the release your dog. Your dog will be running to catch up, anticipate his arrival by turning around and asking him to “sit” and then waiting so you have a dog that will run with enthusiasm and then sit in front of you at the end. Praise the whole thing as “good come here”.
If you want your dog to be able to stop and come when called no matter what he is engaged with you need to practice all the time. Make time to play recall games on your walks or in the back yard. See if you can call your dog away from rolling tennis balls and flying objects. Avoid calling your dog if he is in trouble and never ever call your dog to you and then punish or scold him, you will poison the cue of coming and he won’t want to come when called. To have the most radical recall, practice a few fun filled minutes every couple of days and let your dog know you love it when he comes to you. Remember if you want your dog to come to you every time he must want to do so and know that it will always be rewarding. Have extremely fun and successful small versions of your eventual goal. Keep it fun and simple. Now go have fun with your dog!