Alexandria, VA – Do you want a dog who comes when called every time? I do. A reliable recall can be a lifesaver when a dog gets out of the house or off its leash. It can give your dog more freedom in off-leash, unfenced areas. Confidence that your dog will come back to you in any situation, around any distractions, is genuinely awesome.
But coming when called is among the more difficult behaviors to teach. Why is that? We do not always associate our dogs’ names and recall words (“come”) with good things. Sometimes, we call their name in frustration when they are “misbehaving,” “not listening,” or being “stubborn.” We may call their name in a punishing way, such as “Trixie, no!” What if we call and they don’t come? We call again and again. We become background noise.
Less is more when we interact verbally with our dogs. If you want a dog that alerts to you when you call their name and bounds to you at their recall word, practice this list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to build a reliable recall for the life of your dog:
Name Game – Grab a few tasty treats and say your dog’s name in an upbeat tone. Mark your dog turning its head to you with a clicker or verbal marker (“yes”) and give them a treat. You want your dog orienting to you immediately, what we call a “whiplash” turn. Most important, only associate your dog’s name with good things. If they don’t know if you call their name to come or because they are doing something wrong, your dog will hesitate.
Call their name once when playing this game, and every time you call them. We want them to respond when we say their name one time. If they don’t, use other sounds, like a kissy noise, whistle, or clap, to get them to turn their head toward you. Then say your dog’s name and recall word (“come”) in a positive tone, mark and reward.
Your dog does not have to do anything. This is classical conditioning. They hear their name and the word “come,” and good things happen.
The Power of Proximity – Having your dog choose to stay close to you regardless of distractions is key. Drop a treat in front of your dog and take a few steps away while he eats. If your dog chooses to come to you, mark it with a clicker or verbal marker (“yes”), put the reinforcement on the floor or ground in front of them, and take a few steps away. When they show up, mark it and put another treat down. Practice this throughout your house, then take it outside. If your dog doesn’t come to you right away, make a kissy noise or tap your leg until they start realizing the value in being close to you.
Collar Grab – If your dog gets loose outside of your home, their response may be let’s play the “chase me” game. Dogs love a good chase. Unfortunately, this can put your dog in jeopardy. Instead, make hands coming towards them and you grabbing their collar a fun and rewarding game. My good trainer friend and colleague Kikopup has a great video that shows the steps to making the collar grab the bomb! www.youtube.com/watch?v=62NNwZtbtIA&t=57s
Use a Long Line – Before working on off-leash recalls, add a 50’ line to your training repertoire to practice recalls at different distances with different distractions. Never jerk or pull at the long line. If all else fails, walk your hands back to them on the long line and go back to practicing the recall games in a less distracting environment.
Remember, always use high-value treats when working on recalls. Whenever your dog comes when called, act like a miracle has just happened. Because it has. This calls for lots of praise, high-value rewards, fun, play—and lots of practice. Soon, your dog will want to come to you—and stick around.
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head Trainer of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adolescent and adult foundation and life skills, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.