Why You Need a Reliable Recall and How To Train One

I was out walking in my pasture with my dogs and suddenly saw a skunk.  It was March and they had come out of hibernation to find a mate.  My dogs saw the skunk a fraction of a second after I did.  They started forward, but came to me when I called them rather than chase the skunk.  Could you call your dogs off a skunk or would you have been giving your dogs a bath that night?

Even dogs who never leave the yard need to know what “come” means.  Dogs sometimes get out and you need to be able to get your dog to come to you when that happens.

The first part of the recall is done on a leash, preferably a six foot leash.  Get treats that are so good your dog cannot resist them — things you do not usually give.  Little pieces of hot dog dehydrated in the microwave work wonders.

Most people teach the recall after teaching the dog to sit and stay.  This makes it easier to leave the dog and then call him to you.  However, the sit stay is not mandatory.  This method of training does not use it.

Start out on a walk around your yard with the dog on lead.  When your dog gets distracted and is a few feet away, but not pulling on the leash, say your dog’s name and “come.”  Display the hot dog bit and if necessary reel the dog in.  Give the dog the treat and tell him, “good come.”

Repeat this two or three times during the walk.  Do this two or three times a day, with the same number of repetitions.  When the dog comes to you without being reeled in, start the next phase.

Here you need another person to help you.  Have the person hold the dog gently in a sitting or standing position while you go to the end of the six foot leash.  Display a larger piece of hot dog than you usually give to the dog, and get the dog’s attention.  Usually, they will strain to run to you.  Tell the dog to come.  At the command, the person holding the dog lets the dog go.  The dog should run to you.  At this point, you reward him with the hot dog and an enthusiastic “good come.”  Only do this once or twice three or so times a week.

When the dog shoots towards you with no hesitation, then start working off leash, but with the helper.  Work on this phase the same way as above, but do not have the dog on leash.  Make sure you work in a securely fenced in area, so there are no mishaps.  Again, give the dog a larger piece of hot dog than normal for coming straight to you.

A few words of caution are appropriate here.  Never repeat your commands.  Enforce the first command by catching a dog that does not come to you and ending the training session.  Never, ever, hit your dog because he does not come.  All you teach the dog by doing this is that coming to you hurts, and your dog will never come well.  Finally, dog treats are meant to be cues to the dog that he has done a good job.  Cut hot dogs into half inch thick slices, then quarter those slices.  Cook in the microwave until dried.  One of these bits is plenty for a dog.

Once the dog is reliable with a helper off lead, practice at random times with the dog when he is in the yard.  Make sure the dog is securely fenced in when practicing off leash.  You want the dog to come to you no matter what he is doing, so make him feel welcome when he does.  Praise him, give him a treat, and love on him.

When the dog is reliable in his fenced in yard, start fading out the treats.  That means that sometimes you give a treat, and sometimes you do not.  Always give praise, however.

The reason for this is that you want the dog to come even if you do not have a treat with you when you call the dog.  After all, if the dog gets loose, you may not have time to grab the treat bag before pursuing him.

Finally, start taking your dog out on the town and practicing the recall on leash.  Parks, parking lots, picnics, and other such locations are good to go to.  You want your dog to learn that no matter what is going on, he has to come when you call.  When you first go out around distractions, your dog will likely have some difficulty coming.  Go back to a treat with every successful recall, and use the leash to reel him in when necessary.  Soon he will go back to being reliable even around distractions.  Fade out the treats again, giving them randomly for success.  Always, always praise a recall, even if you have to reel the dog in.

A successful, distraction resistant, recall could save your dog’s life.  You owe it to him to work to develop such a recall.  As a bonus, the time you spend training will improve your relationship with your dog.  Who could ask for more?