One of the best things you can teach your dog is to come when called. Teaching perfect recall isn’t that difficult, but when we do it incorrectly, it seems like the most impossible thing on earth. The golden rule, in my opinion: your dog needs to associate coming to you with only the best possible things. You’re the happy and safe place when he’s uncertain of something or when he just needs to check in with you. The Don’ts:
- One of the biggest mistakes I see in the park, especially with new puppy owners, is the repetition of the dog’s name and the command. By the 20th “Rover, come!” the dog believes this means nothing.
- Trying to instil recall in a dog from 100 feet away is too far.
- Not rewarding the voluntary “check in” is also a big no no.
- Not rewarding the dog when/if he does respond to the come command is an opportunity lost.
- Calling a dog away from play will just go further to soil the command, because chances are, he’s too caught up in the excitement to come running back.
- Don’t become frustrated, and don’t rough-handle or yell at your dog when he returns after being elusive.
Now for the Dos of teaching recall:
- Start from a very tiny distance, in an area with no distractions. Inside the house, to the yard, and eventually graduate to the park.
- Reward the desired behaviour every single time with food and praise.
- Dogs will often check in with you during play or romping. That behaviour deserves a big “yes” or “click” and a treat.
- Dogs will sometimes elude owners because they’ve learned that every time they go to them the leash clips and it’s time to go home. Practice on every walk, right from the onset. Your dog will like the odds.
- Use high value treats for teaching recall. Treats that you don’t provide at any other time.
I am over simplifying, and there are many more helpful articles out there, such as this one by Pat Miller. Learn the exact science behind it, and when it’s ok to start slowly phasing out treat-based rewards. At OMD we work on recall from day one, with every single dog. It keeps them safe and us sane.
This is Charlie, a rescue from The Toronto Humane Society. When I started walking her, I immediately realized she is mostly Golden Retriever and I couldn’t’ understand why it was like calling a brick wall. And I was terrified she was going to run away. So, I met her with her mum in High Park one Sunday. It was obvious she wasn’t the runaway type so I broke out my best treats, and we went to work. Because she’s so clearly a retriever and she aims to please, this sweet-natured gal was recalling perfectly within a week. No, it’s not always that easy, but working on this with your dog (or the dogs you walk) could save their lives one day.