Teaching your dog to come when called is one of the most important “tricks”. But we have to stress something. Dogs do not naturally come to us. They are not pre-programmed to recall. When they are puppies, dogs have a natural instinct not to venture too far from the pack. But as they get older and more confident, dogs might start moving further and further away from you.
This is why you should start teaching recall as early as possible to make sure your dog always comes when called.
Older dogs might get “selective deafness”. Or in other words, they hear only what they want to hear, and sometimes, this means they do not hear your “come” command.
If you want to enjoy the pleasure of a leash-off walk and have your dog roam free, it is important to teach the puppy to come when called.
It is not the easiest command to teach, but I have a game you can play with your puppy to improve your recall.
The Slow Recall Game
For this game, you might need two people. You and a friend. The basic premise of this game is that you want to make your dog want to come to you, but has to wait for that.
How does it work? Well, if you have a friend with you, get your friend to hold your dog. Move away from your dog, and then build some attention. Call your dog, but have your friend hold him for a second or two more.
As your dog starts coming to you, try to slow the puppy down. Use commands like slow, steady, and everything else. Remember, at this point, your dog is away from you and wants to come. With the slow recall game, you get incredible attention and craving from your dog.
Now, if you do not have a friend with you, then it is the hard way. For this to work, you have to have a reliable sit-stay with your puppy. Sit your dog, and walk away from him. Once you are at a suitable distance, call your dog, and again, try to slow him down.
Why is Recall Important?
You might be wondering, why do I need all this? Can I just leash my pup? Well, yes. But having reliable recall training is one of the most important basic obedience skills. It is also one of the hardest and most challenging for owners to teach their puppy.
Why is it important? The simple answer is safety. When you can call your dog, you can prevent many dangerous and life-threatening situations. Think crossing the street, running away, roaming off-trail, approaching an aggressive dog, interacting with wildlife, and so on.
What makes recall challenging to train?
Think about this for a second. Say you were your dog. And you have to make a choice between two things. Let’s say the first one is writing an essay. And the second is playing a video game. Which one would you choose?
Now, which one do you think is you? When you are outside with your pup, you have to make yourself more interesting than everything else around. For example, you should be more interesting than chasing a squirrel. Or playing with other dogs.
It is hard to achieve that bond. But it is possible to make yourself the most important person in your dog’s life. You can do that with hand-feeding and by interacting with your puppy when you are outside.
The most challenging, yet most rewarding part of dog training is making yourself someone that is consistently enjoyable to your puppy. And you are worth running back to.
When to Leash Your Puppy
So, you now have a reliable recall. Should you always let your puppy roam free? You might be tempted to go leash-free at all times. Yes, that can be quite exciting and liberating, but it is not always worth the risk. You can never have a 100% reliable dog.
Even if your dog comes when called, it is not a certainty that you should walk him down the road without a leash. Think of the very dangerous situations when you want your dog right next to you.