Recall – Coming when called
There are many reasons for calling your dog. Come to eat, to play, to go to bed or simply to be loved. However, loving your dog means that you will protect him from harm. Stopping him from getting into danger and calling him away from it are good reasons why you should train the recall command. It will allow you to give him more freedom, more room for exercise and more importantly you can go walking off leash.
The two most important things you must teach your dog is a reliable Sit-stay and to come when called (also known as a recall). Both can save your dog’s life. If your dog will not remain sitting when told to do so or have a reliable recallthen you cannot let him off leash in an unprotected area- ever. Quanto is allowed to walk at his pace on the sidewalk and on the command “Sit” will wait for permission to continue again or to re-join me.
If you work hard to achieve a reliable recall with your dog you will have ten years or more to love him, but if you can’t trust that your dog will come and be controllable, you face a life-time of anxiety and always having to be on high alert .
For the purpose of this article the training of a reliable recall will be discussed.
Teaching a puppy or young dog to come back when called is one of those things that is so easy to get wrong! It is one of the most difficult exercises one has to teach a dog. But the biggest mistakes are often made by novicetrainers.
They don’t praise enough when their dog does the exercise properly. You really need to exaggerate the praise and up the reward when you train beginners.
They correct too soon before the dog fully understands thecommands. This is unfair to the dog. You must be 100% sure the dog understands what you are asking him to do before you can correct him for not doing it properly.
They teach their dog not to come by allowing him to run up and play with every dog he sees. This confirms in his mind that you are less fun than other dogs. This is also the quickest way of getting your dog beaten up by other dogs. Training should never be done off leash.
They train and teach in places where the distractions are too high such as where there are other dogs nearby. Teach your dog at home in your kitchen, backyard or any distraction free area.
They rush after their dog that ran away and immediately want to get him back under control. If there is no danger to the dog running free in a safe area, it is best to let him have a quick run and only call him from a kneeling position when he is on his way back.
They forget to praise after a correction. When a dog is corrected you are adding stress to the dog. When you praise your dog you remove some of the stress. You always need to show your dog that you are not mad at him – that indeed you love him.
They only call the dog back when it is time to go home. The dog learns that coming is the end of his freedom. Recall must be a random exercise. Come quickly and go play once again.
They don’t know when to stop. The overuse of recall is one of the biggest reasons for it to fail. Stop when you get a fast return or when it is better than last time.
They go off line too soon. Only when your dog consistently performs on the long line is it time to go off leash.
Puppy recall differs from the approach to train adult dogs and rescue dogs because the latter usually have some bad habits that will slow down training and you have to be aware of the specific problem areas. Older dogs are more independent, want to explore more and are reluctant to give up their freedom. Behaviour modification may need to be applied at first. Unfortunately many dogs learn that, “If I run back to my owner I will lose my freedom and he will put the leash back onto me.” We need to make the dog think, “If I run back to my owner, it’s going to be great fun.”
With puppies you create the behaviour from the start. If you stand in front of a young puppy and, without saying anything, you start running backwards you will find that he will immediately run after you. This is because the puppy is dependent upon you at that young age.
Two people are needed in training the recall; you need some,one to hold the dog while you run a few meters away in front of him, turn around and start calling with enthusiasm. The puppy will struggle to free himself trying to get to you. The moment your dog looks at you; your helper must let him go.
As your puppy starts running towards you, start moving a few steps backwards to create more drive and speed in his effort to get to you. Once he reaches you and, while you are still moving backwards, reward him abundantly (“Jackpot!”) with praise and enthusiasm.
Do not get the dog to sit at first. You are concentrating on a fast, immediate positive reaction of coming to you. Holdonto his collar for a short while. Praise, treat and caress your dog for a few moments before releasing him to play. Physical touch is of paramount importance to a dog in wanting to be near his handler- owner. Puppies must learn that being held by the collar is not a negative experience. (You may later have to grab him by the collar in order to remove a chicken bone he picked up.)
Keep the recall game short because puppies may lose interest quickly. Variations to the game like hiding and then calling him to find you is a good idea.
When the dog first arrives at your home, his name is used frequently so that you can teach him his name. Members of the family also use his name when talking about him but the dog is not required to respond in a special way when he hears his name. Because he is not expected to do anything he learns to ignore his name. We are often in the habit of using the dog’s name when he has done something wrong, when we are annoyed or in a hurry to get things done. Although the majority of dog owners use “Come” or the dog’s name during the recall exercise they should rethink the word when doing remedial work.
I do not use my dog’s name when calling him because he already knows my voice. The easiest way of finding a “recall name” is to adapt his name slightly or use a different name or sound when you want him to come to you. Baloo can become “Loo.” Coco can become “Cocobean.” Buddy becomes “Bud-bud.” How about using, “Bicky (biscuit)?” Come for a bicky? I use the word “Here” pronounced “Hee..re.”
Only use that word or his “recall name” when you are calling your dog.
Start training in a low distraction area such as a driveway, garden or indoors if you have space. Don’t waste your recall command if the dog is going to be distracted and not going to listen to you. Start in the house and then move to an area where you know you can get him to respond. It is easy for a puppy to become distracted and decide not to come when called.
Successful recall should always mean, “If I run back to my owner, it will be worth my while.” Unless you have already trained your dog to love a ball or toy now is an opportunity to use food when retraining the recall command with your dog. Use tasty treats and don’t be stingy; the faster your dog returns to you the bigger the “payment” he gets. Make it worth his while to come back to you. Surprise him with a piece of cheese, chicken, sundried liver or a favourite toy. Have fun with it by not always giving it straight away. Make a game of playing or hiding it before rewarding him. The dog must look forward to the reward and the faster the better. The saying: “The slow dog loses marks fast and the fast dog loses marks slowly” applies if you intend competing later with your dog.
Try to get family members or a friend involved in your training exercises. Each one should stand a short distance away from each other, call the dog and hold the collar briefly before rewarding him when he comes to them. You recall next and then someone else. Keep this kind of training short. Other helpers may enjoy playing with your dog and want to go on for too long.
Once your dog reacts quickly to what was done in the first two phases it is time to move the location to add a change and distraction. At the club puppies and owners usually form two rows and each owner has to call his dog running past other people and their dogs.
When you go to a dog park or another open space you must put your dog on a long training leash to prevent the dog from running away. Leave the leash loose on the ground so that you can quickly step on it to stop your dog if needed.
Follow the same routine and hold the collar for a few seconds before letting go. As your confidence increases with the exercises you can add distractions by getting someone else to call your dog. When the dog is on his way to the other person, use your recall word and call your dog back to you. If the dog runs all the way to the other person, he must find that he is completely ignored by the helper. Running to a stranger must hold no fun for the dog. Dogs should learn to avoid strangers.
At the club I stand next to a dog with a treat in my hand and ask the owner to walk away and call his/her dog. Usually the dog stays close to me hoping to get a treat but none is given. The owner keeps calling and soon when the dog realises that I am not parting with my treat, runs to his owner. I then follow the dog closely and reward the dog next to its owner who hugs and praises his dog for coming.
Finally the aim is that your dog can play with another dog in an open area and will still reliably answer your recall command. This need not be too difficult to get your dog to return to you when called. If the work in the first three phases was done well you may not have to repeatedly call your dog. The trick is to interrupt the play ever so briefly with a cheese treat and say “Go play.”
The dog must understand that by coming to you when called he will not only be rewarded but that he can go play again. Do not test your dog more than two or three times when he is playing with a friend. If the dog does not want to obey you need to go back a phase and train some more.
Older adopted and recued dogs can benefit from doing the recall in much the same way as was recommended for puppies and young dogs. Much depends on the quality of the obedience training they have had if any. Remember, bad habits can be hard to break!
“Control” means the dog cannot run away and you are able to interact with your dog at will. It means that you have physical control over your dog and you can get him to come to you.
The long line (5m min. length)
will ensure that he will be paying attention when you call. It will also teach the dog the range in which to stay while on the leash and later off leash. The dog must learn that it must have your permission to venture further than the line allows him to go.
Before starting to recall older dogs I first spend quality time bonding with the dog. I pull the dog into my left side and gently stroke him from the collar to the tail all the while whispering sweet nothings to the dog. I then turn to my right so that the dog is behind me and say, “Come with me.” I keep turning in a tight circle stopping to caress the dog and to get him to come when I move. Soon the dog begins to follow my movement without having to call him. At that point I know I can start the recall exercise.
With the dog sitting I take the long lead straight ahead of him stopping when the line is almost taut. As I simultaneously give a slight pop on the line towards me on the line as I start running backwards. I stop before the dog gets to me. The dog must learn that when called he must come immediately. In fact he learns to beat the pop by reacting quickly. Praise and reward as before. If the dog has had some training previously, he can sit in the “present position” when he gets to me. Five repeats complete a training session.
Later I drop the long line on the ground and allow the dog to wander around. When he is distracted, I pick up the line and call him. (Only call the dog when you have the end of the line in your hand). I allow for my recall word to reach his ears before running backwards, calling excitedly and I give him a “Jackpot” treat. If the dog does not respond immediately to my call I will give him a firm enough “Pop” on the leash to get him to understand that coming to me after my call is obligatory.
The older dog training follows more or less the same pattern as for puppies and young dogs. Firstly train in a distraction free area, then training goes to new venues and finally he is recalled when near other dogs. Do not go off line too soon.
Until such time as the dog has learnt to reliably come immediately when called, he should not be off leash.
When he consistently performs the recall exercise with good speed on the long line you can change the training to off line.
Random recalls from a “Sit-stay” and a “Down” are best attempted at first. Put obstacles in his way like a chair or another dog lying in the way. Hide around a corner or inside a building.
On the walk
When walking my puppies/dogs off leash in a safe place I do my recall from a submissive position – sitting orbending down. This invariably has them running to see what I’m doing. After praise and a treat I react with, “Off you go” and their walk continues. Soon I do not have to call my dogs to come to me – I lower myself and the dogs’ race each other to be first for a treat. What happens is that the dogs are constantly watching my movements and I find it almost impossible to hide from them.
Decide on the recall word that you are most comfortable with and only use that word when you call your dog
The recall exercise is the only one where you don’t use corrections. Never correct or get cross with your dog when he comes to you. Coming to you must always be a positive experience for him.
A hungry dog will work for food. Make sure the dog is suitably hungry before starting recall training.
Do not rush through the training levels and do not overdo it.
Once you call your dog and he starts running towards you, start walking backwards when he is half way. This produces the best recall results.
Learn to read your dog. Watch him very closely and try to avoid mistakes. Always first consider if the mistake made by the dog could possibly be your fault. Maybe you missed something?