Being able to call your dog to you in a emergency is a critical ability, yet many people have problems training this. It’s actually a pretty simple behavior to train if you are willing to observe a few basic rules and put in some time practicing.
A recall is a behavior we train for emergencies, not for routine situations like coming in from the yard or for meals. For these situations use another cue. For example, when we are done playing in the yard I use “Inside!” and my dogs run into the kitchen. Sometimes they get a treat for that. (Most of the time they don’t, which makes it all the more tantalizing.)
When you have to use your emergency recall, you want your dog’s immediate attention and you want him to come to you as quickly and directly as possible, without hesistation. In order to insure this we follow these rules:
- A recall is always rewarded with something special. We do not fade out rewards like other commands.
- A recall never ends something fun or starts something that is not fun. This is why we use other cues for routine situations that may not be rewarding.
- When practicing always guarantee success. The goal of practice is for a recall to be automatic.
Caffeine is distracted by the toy. I call: “Caffeine! Here!” She immediately turns and runs to me as fast as possible. When she reaches me she sits and waits for her reward. She only gets up when I release her with an “O.K!”
So, a full recall consists of four behaviors:
- Find me when I call your name.
- Run to me when I say “here.”
- Sit at my feet when you get there.
- Stay there until released.
We train complex behaviors like this by breaking it down into steps. Since the most difficult part of a recall is sitting and staying, we practice that first:
Practice this call/step exercise, gradually adding more steps and adding more time at the end. Adding time at the end is easy: feed very small (and very tasty) treats, one at a time. Always feed at least seven.
After a few days of practice and solid performance at six steps at a time, add some distance. This video shows two different exercises for that.
The first exercise adds some speed and distance to the previous exercise. You may need someone’s help to hold your dog to keep her from following you. As you practice this, start spacing out your treats at the end to add even more duration to the stay at the end.
The second is a “run away recall.” Running away from most dogs usually results in them chasing you, like a game of tag. Use that to make practicing your recalls a game.
Keep practicing, for as long as you and your dog are together. This is a critical emergency behavior and you don’t want it to get rusty! Make sure you use a special treat and make sure you reward her every time! For some really snappy behavior, add a game of tug at the end, after the treats!