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Dog Training: the Recall

August 13, 2016 by Leslie Youra @ UltraLeash.com

What is the recall command? It’s the “come”, “here”, or “dog’s name” command or simply coming when it’s called.

This is the most important, and usually the poorest trained command. It’s the most important command, because:

  1. It keeps the dog safe. If your dog darts out and is heading for traffic, or an aggressive animal, you must be able to call the dog back to you, and have it respond immediately.
  2. It prevents nuisance behavior. A dog that will come when you call can be prevented from jumping on people, or chasing other dogs, cats, geese, squirrels—you get the picture. If you develop a strong recall, you can solve a whole host of other potential problem behaviors.

Unfortunately, it’s also the most poorly trained behavior. Most people simply expect the dog to come when called. When you’re around the house, without too many distractions, the dog is usually very willing to come when you call, because it knows that treats or attention are likely to follow. However, this does not prepare the dog to learn that it must come to you even when other tempting things beckon. If your dog is not properly trained, then calling it does absolutely nothing to stop barking, jumping, bolting, and chasing.

A typical scenario goes like this: the dog is barking. Owner calls out in a reprimanding voice, “Fido, NO!” Dog continues barking. Owner calls out “FIDO!” Dog continues to bark.  Owner yells, exasperated, “FIDOOOOO!!” The dog keeps barking. This pattern gets repeated throughout the dog’s life. Is this a bad dog? Nope. It’s just doing what its owner has taught it to do: ignore commands when distracted.

So, if you never teach your dog any other command, teach your dog to come when called. Here’s how.

The first step is to establish your training signal—the yip/click, or whatever you choose. When that is in place, you can begin training the recall. Choose a command. “Here” is good. You can use the dog’s name, but this is quite tricky, because you will be using the dog’s name for many things aside from the recall, so this is probably not a great choice. On the other hand, your dog can pick up on tones and inflection, so if it feels unnatural (think about what you would do in an emergency) to use something besides the dog’s name, go ahead and do it. The most important thing is conscientious training. To train, you can either “capture” the behavior, or “shape” the behavior.

Always begin training in a distraction-free environment, such as your home. You will need to set your dog up to succeed in order to reward the behavior.

Capturing:

This can be done anytime, not just in a regular training session. When your dog is coming your way, call the dog, “Yip”, and treat. Do this over and over again. Don’t worry about confusing the dog by using your command word when the dog is already heading in your direction. You just need to associate the command with the behavior.

Shaping:

Start playing with your dog. You can run around a little bit, or throw a toy if you know the dog will fetch it. As the dog is heading in your direction, use your recall command, and then yip and treat.

It’s deceptively simple. The hard part during early training is to RESIST calling your dog in situations where you’re not sure that it will come. And on the same note: don’t ever call your dog to you to reprimand it. That, along with uselessly trying to call the dog when you know it won’t listen, is a surefire way to make your training backfire. If you must reprimand or stop a behavior, go to the dog.

If you start in a low-distraction environment to get the behavior set, you can gradually move to using your signal around increasingly distracting environments. It’s this careful escalation of the same training methods in different environments that will strengthen the behavior.

Your “distraction levels” might go like this:

  • 3 sessions inside the house when it’s quiet
  • 3 sessions in the yard
  • 3 sessions in the yard with a couple of other people (family members, perhaps) quietly sitting or standing nearby
  • 5 sessions in the yard with other people who are also running around and/or making noise
  • 5 sessions in the park during a quiet time
  • Many, many, many sessions in the dog park amid distractions.

The recall command is one that you really should never stop training. Even after your dog gets to a point when it will reliably come on command, you should still remember to occasionally treat, praise and reinforce this behavior. Ultimately, your dog should consider coming to you to be the most rewarding possible thing that it can do.

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