Learning to come when called, or recall, is one of the most important commands and training skills your dog should learn. Sadly, many owners make mistakes when training their dogs. Today, we will talk about how some owners basically train their dogs not to come when called.
The important thing here to understand is that when you ask your dog to come, you are asking him to stop what he/she is doing. Basically, he turns away from interesting smells, playing with other dogs, or food, to come to us.
So, to build a reliable recall, you have to train your dog that being close to you is the most fun thing to do.
The Two Big Mistakes Owners Make
If you do one of these two mistakes, you are basically training your dog not to come when called. Read on, and try to change it.
The first big mistake is shouting at a dog. You call your dog, come here, he doesn’t come, so you start shouting and raising your voice. Would you come? Shouting and raising your voice usually signals punishment or doing something bad. That is, unless you have taught your dog that a higher voice means more urgency and better rewards.
At this moment, your dog is probably saying “I am not coming to a human that is shouting and might punish me”. And you probably will punish your dog for not coming the first time. Why would he come if he knows he will get punished?
The second mistake is they do not know how and when to punish their dog. Basically, if your punishment is off, you are punishing something else. In this case, you are punishing your dog for coming back to you.
It goes something like this. You walk around with your dog, he runs away to sniff something or say hello to another dog, or anything else. You start calling your dog, and when he eventually comes, you say something in the line of “do not dare do that again” and you punish him in any way. So, you do not punish your dog for running away. You have punished him for coming back to you.
These two examples show exactly why it is important to understand which behavior you want to teach, and which one you want to avoid.
Why recall is important
Recall is one of the most important dog commands. It carries the same weight as sit (emergency sit). You want your dog to come to you when you need him to be close to you.
Without proper recall, you cannot let your dog run, roam around, and burn energy. If you do not have the confidence your puppy will come back, why should you let him go?
And the most dangerous thing is if your pup ignores the recall, a disaster might strike. For example, your pet might run across the street or run into dogs you do not want around.
Simple Recall Exercises You can Try
We talked about how you basically train your dog not to come back. Do you remember what was the most important thing? When you recall your pup, you make him stop anything interesting he is doing and come back to you. So, basically, most of these games play with the fact you should make yourself more interesting to your dog. Here are a few games to try
Recall game with treats and kibble
This is a simple game you can try at home or in the park. We suggest playing at home first, where there are fewer distractions. And as you gain more confidence, play it in the park.
Basically, you have kibble and some high-value treats with you. It works even better if you hand feed your dog.
Threw some kibble close to you, and let your dog go for the kibble. As he eats it, wait for him to come back to you, and give him some high-value treat. For example, salami, or cheese.
It teaches the dog there are always better treats close to you. And when you perfect the game and play it in the park, your dog also works his scent skill.
Tug Toy Game
What is the best part about tug toys? Your dog has to be close to you to play. Tug toy is basically a free recall. You get free attention from your dog.
What you need to do is teach your dog to play with a tug toy. And then, anytime you are out or you need your puppy to turn his attention to you, pull out the tug toy.
Clicker for recall
Using clicker and food in training is a perfect combination. The best part about the clicker is precision. You click the moment your dog does the behavior you want.
So, the moment your pup decides to run to you to collect his treat and reward, you click. It makes the clicker another reward and reinforces good behavior.
This way, the dog also learns that coming to you is not the end of the world. He gets used to coming to you and collecting his reward.
We talked about recall games you can try. Now, let’s talk about how to maintain proper behavior. It only works when your dog learns that he needs to come to you.
The trick now is to slowly phase out foods and rewards. Random reinforcement works better for maintaining behavior. Why, because if you reward every recall, you will get a sloppy and average response.
For example, your puppy knows every time he comes back, he gets a reward. You can make him faster at recall and more focused when you reward only a good response. Do 10 recalls. And put a threshold. Let’s say, your dog needs between 5 and 10 seconds to stop what he is doing and come back to you.
So, for this exercise, you reward him only when he comes for less than say, 6 seconds. If he needs more than 6 seconds, you do not give him a treat. You only pet him or praise him, good boy.
Also worth noting, if you reward every recall with a treat in your hand before calling your dog, expect things to go south. Your dog will stop coming if you do not have a treat. Remember, do not reward average behaviors. Reward only his speedy recall.
With time, you should reward only his third try. Reward 1:3 ratio. This will continually improve the behavior of your pup.
Last, but not least, you can make off-leash time a REWARD for good recall. Your dog will understand that if he gets back to you when called, he can have his off-leash time. Otherwise, he will have to walk on a lead.