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Without question, the recall is the most important skill anyone can teach a dog. Teaching your dog to "COME" when you call will allow you to give them freedom, knowing that they'll be safe and will come back to you when you need them to. Without a reliable recall, your dog could find danger, become lost or even worse. All dogs can learn a reliable recall if they have an owner willing to put in the time and effort.
Once you've gone through the stages of teaching your dog to come to you, don't let all of your hard work be for nothing! Throughout your dog's life, you'll need to make sure their recall doesn't fail due to a lack of maintenance. To keep it reliable, here are some games to keep your dog feeling eager when they hear "come!"
Catch Me If You Can!
Playing 'catch me if you can' type of games with your dog will insight their prey instinct. After you've called your dog, run away and let them chase you. When they catch you, play with them for a few seconds before running away from them again. Learn the play styles that your dog loves. Dogs who love to wrestle will typically love it if you give them a playful 'push' before running away. If your dog is a softer player, they likely won't be into the push away, but they'll still enjoy the chase and the interaction.
Hide and Seek
Dogs love to have their senses put to work, whether it's their eyes, ears or nose, they'll love the opportunity to engage in a great game of hide and seek with you! Working in a safe location, hide from your dog and then call them! It's always a good idea to have a visual on them if possible so that you can help if need be. Initially, play this game and make it really easy for your dog to find you. As they get the idea, hide in harder places. When they find you, have a PARTY to build value for the game!!! I will often play this game at dinner time and hide with my dog's full bowl of food. When they find me, the payoff is their entire dinner!!
Search for the Treats
For dogs, using their senses is a very reinforcing thing and for most, their nose is the favourite! It's also fun for us to see the full power of the dog's olfactory system. For this game, call your dog to you and when they arrive, scatter a small handful of treats in the grass for them to find! The reinforcement value of this will shine after a few repetitions.
A word of caution: Because we will typically want our dogs to focus on us, play this game sparingly, but keep it in your training bag interspersed among games that garner attention upwards!
Break Out the Toy!
Hide a toy somewhere on your person. Call your dog and at varying points along the way, pull out the toy and have a PARTY! If your dog isn't that excited about toys, use a game that they do like, but keep the moment of surprise random so that your dog doesn't expect it until it happens. This will build anticipation for the game and value for you!
With a little bit of continued play and reinforcement, your dog's recall will be bang on all of their lives!
As always, Happy Training!