One of the most common problems I get called in for is a dog not returning to their owner when called. This problem can be anything from annoying, like when a dog won’t come in from the yard; to life-threatening, like when a dog slips out the front door. This is probably the most important skill your dog can learn and one that is straight-forward to train, but also easy to mess up through inconsistency or inattention. Tip #1: Take a Basic Manners Class.
If you’ve never been to a class with your dog, this might be the time to try it. Learning basic communication skills through training will help your dog in all areas of life and make your relationship with them more fulfilling. It’s definitely a good place to start if you want to do any training, including a recall (another word for Coming When Called).
Tip #2: Feed the Crap Out of Your Dog.
Seriously. This is not the time to be stingy. It’s not the time to train with kibble. Go to the store, buy weird, freeze-dried dead animal parts, cheese, hotdogs, and delicious sandwich meat and give it to your dog when they come to you- every time. Think about what you’re up against- your dog might be choosing between you and a squirrel- do you really think they’re going to choose kibble? This is exactly the behavior that it’s worth investing calories in, and at least initially, feed them every single time you call them when you’re outside.
Tip #3: Stay at the Park.
After you call your dog and feed the crap out of them, let them go play again! Many people have wrecked a perfectly well trained recall by using it to remove their dog from the park. It doesn’t take very long for a dog to realize that coming to you means the end of playtime. Call them lots, feed them lots, and then let them go play some more. When it’s time to go, go get your dog and put them on leash. Don’t ruin all your hard work.
Tip #4: Distance, Duration, and Distraction
Be aware of your training environment. There are times when even the best-trained dog will fail to recall due to legitimate challenges in their environment. When starting this with your dog, a short distance in a non-distracting environment will serve you best. Gradually work up to being outside (on a long leash), in a fenced area, and eventually at the park or in the woods. Just don’t expect your dog to be able to come away from the middle of a rambunctious play session the day after you start training. It takes time to build up to that- in the meantime work where you know your dog can be successful.
Tip #5: Refresh and Rebuild.
Sometimes when we have lived with a dog for a while, it’s easy to stop carrying food, stop reinforcing these good behaviors, and just start expecting them to do what we want because they “know”. I’ve been guilty of this and I bet most trainers have. The fact is, that even if a dog has learned a behavior in the past, if you stop reinforcing it, and the squirrels keep running away- the dog is going to start choosing the squirrels. So when you feel your recall slipping, go back to basics and Feed the Crap Out of Your Dog. Many training centers (including Dog Willing) offer Reliable Recall clinics- just a class or two to focus on this particular aspect of training- to brush up on it and rebuild that training relationship with your dog.
A good recall isn’t rocket science, but like any good training it takes time and commitment. Good luck and Happy Training! (Now go buy some freeze-dried liver for that lucky dog of yours…)