There are five rules to teaching, and maintaining a reliable recall:
1. Choose the right word. “Come” may be the most popular word for this behavior, but it may not be the best choice. If your dog goes to day care, or spends time with dog walkers and other people who will say “come” to your dog too much, this can sometimes desensitize your dog to this word. If your dog hears this word all the time, but he is not required to come, then he won’t when you need him to. Another popular word is “here” because it is used far less, and for that I like this choice. A young dog trainer taught me a great option in one of our lessons, which was to use “treat” as your recall word because it has a positive association to your dog. You can teach your dog any word as long as you are consistent.
2. Never follow your recall with something your dog views as unpleasant. This is crucial to the success of your recall! I find it is even helpful to make a list of your dog’s least favorite things, this way you have a clear list of times to NOT use your recall word. Some examples include: leaving the dog park, going to the vet, being put into the crate, getting nails clipped and taking medications. Do not call your dog to come to you, and then cut his nails, or clean his ears; we want this to be a cue that your dog hears and thinks all the best things happen after this, not all his least favorite things. If you do call your dog to “come” and he comes over to you happily and then you leave the dog park, all his fun ends, it will only take a few times before he no longer comes over happily, so be careful not to un-train all your hard work!
3. Give your dog his favorite reward for coming when called. Since this cue is so important you want to reward your dog with his absolute favorite thing! For a lot of dogs you will want to try boiled chicken, bacon or cheese to earn a strong recall, but some dogs prefer a tennis ball, tug toy or even play with a real-fur dog toy, you can buy these from cleanrun.com. Know what your dog truly loves most, not what you want him to, and use it for this cue! Don’t stop rewarding your recall ever! You can eventually make rewards random, but don’t ever completely stop because it is just too important!
4. Don’t scold your dog when you do catch him! This might sound crazy, but just imagine you are in the park and it is time to go, you call your dog to come and instead he turns this opportunity into a huge game of tag! All of a sudden there are people in the park chasing your dog, trying to help you catch him, when eventually you do catch your dog, you might feel tempted to scold him and say “Bad Dog! Don’t you ever do that to me again, BAD DOG!” But unfortunately you have now followed your recall with something your dog definitely does not like; being scolded. Instead, don’t worry about all the people watching, and praise your dog like crazy, even shower him with treats and his favorite kinds of scratching or petting. This way the next time he considers engaging in a game of tag he will remember how much more rewarding it was to just come on over to you because you were fun and happy and had lots of good food to share!
5. Don’t skip the warm up! It is important to be sure your dog knows his recall word in each and every different kind of environment. Any time you are in a new place, start from the beginning and warm up your recall, this will make it much easier to get your dog to listen when you really need him to.
So now that you know the rules, learn how to train the perfect recall in my post Teaching Your Dog a Reliable Recall.