Come when called, or recall, is an extremely important skill to teach all dogs. After all, if your dog gets away from you it can be extremely unsafe! You’ll want to practice with your dog a LOT inside your home, in your fenced-in yard, and by using other enclosed spaces as well as using a long line in other areas, so that your dog will be able to come to you no matter where you are.
In addition, you’ll want to add distractions to these situations. It is always important to have your dog on a leash to prevent them from getting to the distraction. Whatever you use to reward your dog when they do come to you must be even better than the distractions you’re working against. For instance, if your dog finds squirrels really appealing and you’re using milk bones, that may not be successful–you may need to use little bits of hot dog or cheese instead! And remember to build your distractions gradually. Going to the park when it’s less busy before going on a busy weekend will set you both up for better success, for example.
Here are more tips and techniques to build a more reliable recall with your dog:
- Seize opportunities to reinforce this cue, like using “come” to call your dog to dinner or to engage in play or another activity she likes.
- Be careful to not call your dog to come if you are certain or even unsure if she will actually come. Overusing this cue and not having success with it can work against you! Set up situations that are successful when practicing.
- NEVER punish your dog once she gets to you. This can “poison” the cue. Even if it takes a bit for her to come to you, still reward her! If it does take a while, re-evaluate your criteria and make things easier. Maybe you need to move closer (work on shorter distance) or work in an area with fewer distractions. By evaluating the why, you can be mindful about how to practice for better successes.
- Make it fun! Call your dog very excitedly and be more interesting than anything else. This may mean making silly noises, raising the level of your tone or getting closer to the ground. Play fun games like “catch me” (enticing your dog to run after you if you run in the other direction to “catch” you) and “hide-and-go-seek.”
- Remember, if you are always calling your dog in from the yard or to leave an activity she is enjoying, she may develop a negative association with your recall cue. Practice calling her in these situations and allowing her to go back to the fun so that it doesn’t always mean the fun ends.
- Practice lightly and then more firmly grabbing your dog’s collar when she comes to you, and treating for it. This is important to build a positive association with this kind of handling, so that, if a situation occurs where she is away from you without any leash on her, you can grab her collar to get her to safety so she is used to it. You can also use a verbal cue, such as GOTCHA, right before you put your hand on her collar, so she can anticipate the grab.
- When you are using a leash or long line for practice, be mindful to not apply pressure to the lead to get your dog to come to you. This will set a precedence for her giving into pressure rather than making the choice to come to you, and won’t translate well for off-leash reliability.
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