How To Teach your Dog to…Recall!
Did you know that your dog’s hearing is FOUR times better than humans? Their hearing is SO good they can even hear the vibrations of termites in the walls!
Yet, whenever you call your dog on a walk, they suddenly can’t hear a thing…
Training and maintaining a reliable recall is crucial for your dog’s safety, the safety of other people and dogs and to ensure that you can relax every day on your walks. Unfortunately, the trick is… LOTS OF REPETITION. ALL day EVERY day. However, there are plenty of easy changes and training techniques you can implement TODAY to improve your dog’s recall. Check out our top tips for gaining a consistent recall!
Like all other behaviours, you need to work up to using recall in very distracting environments by training the cue in increasingly distracting situations. Start at home, in a nice quiet room and gradually work up to busier environments. It is now time to pick your recall cue! It is important that this cue is not one that you have already over-used. Sometimes it’s easier to condition a new cue than it is to change the emotional response to an old one. Currently 'Come' could mean 'continue sniffing the tree' to your dog! Consider changing it to 'Here' and start fresh! We now want to give the cue value by pairing it with high-value food. Dog hears cue word = Treat appears! Say your cue word and immediately reward your dog with a treat. Repeat this 20 times. TOP TIP- THEY HAVE TO GET A TREAT EVERY. SINGLE. TIME YOU SAY IT!! Repeat this exercise multiple times throughout the day. Please note - your dog does not need to be running to you to begin with. They can be lying next to you or just sitting nicely. The main aim is to start pairing this cue with a high value reward. Very quickly, your dog will associate the cue with the experience of yummy food and you’ll have created a very positive association with this word!
Have you ever noticed that your dog runs to you whenever they hear the fridge door opening? Or a packet of crisps? Well done, you have successfully trained your dog to recall to those cues! Now all we need to do is bring the fridge out with us to the park… Okay, maybe not. So how can we build the same urgency around our recall cue? Start by simply saying your recall cue EVERY DAY before putting your dog’s breakfast and dinner down! This is a super easy way to build a positive association with that cue word.
NEVER punish your dog for coming back to you (Well, never punish your dog full stop!), even if it took 30 minutes and the help of strangers at the park. We know how humiliating this can feel, but when your dog finally returns to you, the LAST thing we advise, is telling your dog off, putting their lead back on and going straight home. Your dog has forgotten all about the fun 30 minutes they just had and has paired walking towards you with negative consequences. Next time they just won’t return! Instead, smile through gritted teeth, celebrate, give your dog a yummy treat, pop them back on lead and continue a nice on-lead walk for another 10 minutes before heading home.
Avoid using your recall cue for something unpleasant. We spend weeks and weeks conditioning our recall cue to equal something positive and then suddenly, we say ‘Come!’ before popping them in the bath or administering eye drops. This has ruined all of our hard work and our dog has learnt that ‘Come’ = SCARY THINGS! Try and be very mindful of only using your recall cue before HAPPY things!
Pay generously! Having some variety will keep your dog interested as to what they might get next. When thinking about rewards in terms of a pay-scale, recall is one job that many dogs find the most difficult, therefore it deserves the highest pay! A boring dog treat will probably mean around £5 whereas cheese, ham or hot dogs might mean £100! When distraction level is high or you’re asking for a harder behaviour, you'll need to be paying the £100 rather than the fiver to make sure they're motivated enough to do what you’re asking of them. Imagine going to work for 5 hours and being paid £50, then going to work for 8 hours the next day and only being offered £50 again.... not doing that again!
Remember, motivation doesn't always have to be FOOD related. We want to try and incorporate toys, a fuss, a ball, twigs, leaves and whatever is around us reward our dogs for a great recall to ensure our dogs want to stick around us! Try and bring a variety of treats and toys out on EVERY walk! Have fun and be creative! Make sure to check the human food you’re giving is 100% safe.
Use a long line when first working with recall out on the trails or park so you can keep your dog close and have better control over self-rewarding behaviour (like chasing squirrels or running up to other dogs). The more your dog practices a behaviour, the better they get at it, so it’s really important that they aren’t practicing running up to other dogs and children on walks every day. Using a biothane, 5-metre long line on walks gives you the added reassurance whilst you are training a reliable recall. ALL dogs should be wearing a long line until they have super recall! In general, working on building focus on you around other dogs is key here, so we wouldn’t advise letting your dog play with every dog they see in the park.
CAPTURE recalls when they naturally happen! We like to say that ‘What get’s rewarded, Get’s repeated!’. If you reward your dog every time they run to you, even if you didn’t ask for it, they will do it more often! Bare this in mind at home and in the garden. Every single time your dog runs/walks towards you, have a party!
Never use your recall cue if you know your dog won’t listen (like if they are playing with another dog or have a squirrel treed); Instead, go and get your dog and remove them from the situation without saying anything. If sniffing, wait for their nose to pop up! Very often, we see owners shouting ‘Benji Come… come…. come…Benji…come…come…’ After 15 attempts, Benji finally wanders back. What has Benji learnt here? 14 out of 15 times when he hears that word, NOTHING happens! Try really hard not to repeat your dog’s name or your recall cue unless you are CERTAIN your dog will respond to it. We always want to set them up for success. If they are having too much fun elsewhere, go over to them instead.
Gradually work on adding distractions at home. This could be something as simple as an old toy. Start working on recalling your dog away from distractions at home first, so that it becomes a reflex when they are met with distractions outside! Especially for puppies, distractions are our biggest challenge, so we need to ensure that we have performed lots and LOTS of repetitions at home. Train for the event!
Finally, STOP CHASING YOUR DOG FOR FUN! Everyone looks so guilty when we say this… Over and over, we see people chasing their puppies and older dogs for fun in their garden to let off some steam. Of course, we love that you want to play and engage with your dogs, however what exactly are we teaching our dogs here? Running away from Mum and Dad is SO. MUCH. FUN. If this is repeated every day, we are reinforcing our dog’s highly for running away from us. Instead, change the game around and get your dog chasing YOU for fun.
Most importantly, always ensure your dog is microchipped and wearing an up-to-date tag.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Lyndsey MacKinnon and I am the Co-Founder of Canine Pawtential and I’m passionate about giving dogs a voice and educating owners on new, positive methods within dog training.
I am a qualified Puppy Training Specialist and a member of ICAN (International Companion Animal Network). I have been studying for the last 7 years with a number of providers such as The IMDT, Canine Principles, The Dog Training College and more, whilst also training my own two dogs, Lucy the Chihuahua and Mango the Whippet. I worked previously as a dog groomer and as part of the senior team in the largest Doggy Daycare in Europe.
Fun Fact – My dog’s have taught me A LOT more than I have taught them!