“My dog won’t come when he’s called”
“My dog has terrible recall”
“She knows I want her to come to me, but she’s stubborn”
As a dog trainer, I hear things like this a lot, it’s a common problem and it’s SO important for every dog to have a reliable recall; to come when called.
As a beagle owner, I was told I’d never be able to let him off lead. Challenge accepted! My dog not only has one of the best recalls in Ravenscourt Park (our local), but when other dogs are there who are familiar with us, they come running when I call him too!
Dogs learn all the time, whether we’re in a training session or not. The words we use around them are meaningless in themselves, dogs just build up associations with ones they hear regularly. Who actually actively taught their dog to understand ‘Dinner’ or ‘Walkies’? But they likely know it anyway.
So being in the park yelling “Fido come here, come here Fido. Come! Here! Now! Fido. Fido. Bad dog, Fido. Good boy, here now” is probably not something you’ve taught him to associate with anything, and therefore to respond to. However, what I see time and time again (and I’ve been guilty of it when my boy’s been particularly distracted by something), is owners shaking some treats, shouting “Wassis?”, and having a dog hurtle towards you!
That my friend, is a solid recall!
Your dog has built up an association that “Wassis?” equals treats, and therefore comes running for them. He has awesome recall, you’ve just been asking for nonsense up to that point!
So what we’ve learned there is that we have to give a dog a reason to come to us. And as much as he loves you, when there are other dogs around, fox poo to sniff and pigeons to chase, you on your own are not that exciting. You have to be the most exciting thing in the park, and that means treats! And good treats, the park is where I reserve the best treats for because it’s the most critical cue out there! And make sure he knows you have the gold dust treats, by giving him one just before you let him off the lead.
And practice! Start indoors, at home, with few distractions. Pick a cue word “Fido come!” or “Fido Here!” are both good – the name helps get his attention, but using his name alone won’t work as you say that far too often during the day.
Be consistent with your cue, and try not to repeat it if he doesn’t respond straight away, give him a chance to process it… otherwise he won’t learn “Fido, come”, he’ll learn “Fido Come. Fido Come. FIDO COME!”
When you have this working perfectly indoors, you’re ready to take it outside, if you don’t feel confident, get a long lead first. This way you can give your dog some freedom, but you know he’s safe. When you start this outside, start from step one again, and build up from there. Once you’re confident he’s got this perfectly. Drop the long line, but leave it attached to his harness, this way if he does wander off you have a better chance of catching him.
Don’t just wait till home time to use the recall cue, as he’ll build up an association that it’s end of fun time. Call him back at random times during the walk, give him the good treats, and let him go again.
Unlike other behaviours, you should treat EVERY time for a recall. You want it to be bulletproof.