There's not much in the world that's more important than a reliable recall. A dog who comes when called is a dog who can be kept safe in a world full of danger. If you've ever been in a situation where your recall literally saved your dog's life, you'll know exactly what I mean.
Yes, it can be a LIFE SAVER, but the real magic in a great recall is much more evident in day-to-day life. Being able to allow your dog the freedom of an off-leash romp while knowing that you can safely and efficiently call them back or feeling secure that you can open your front door without risk of your dog running onto the road. These are the more obvious gifts that effort put into creating a GREAT recall will deliver!
The first task in creating that reliable recall is building the DESIRE to get to you! It cannot be overstated how important this piece of the puzzle is. If you don't make it fun and rewarding to get to you, the outside world will trump you and your recall will likely become a source of frustration rather than fun.
What's the solution? Time spent training the RESTRAINED recall!
Think of this first phase of recall training as the 'key' that will start your dog's engine - once you've turned the key and the engine has sprung to life, you can steer it wherever you'd like. If you skip this step, you're 'car' is not likely to cooperate at all.
From 8 weeks of age, when you bring your puppy home, you can start playing this game to build drive and desire for coming to you. Dogs love chase games - both chasing and being chased! Getting them to chase you translates to joy for running to you!!! I start this game almost immediately with my pups so that they learn that chasing ME is a blast. Ideally, the association that running to you reaps HUGE rewards should be well-engrained in every dog from a young age. If YOU are valuable, you will be worth listening to.
Start in the hallway with family members. One family member can restrain the pup while the other calls them. Use one command and lots of encouragement. Don't repeat your command. The ultimate goal is to get an immediate response to ONE command word, so it's nice to set that expectation right off the bat. After your come command, if your pup is running to you, praise them like they're bringing you a million dollars! When they reach you - throw a full on party! You can praise, play AND feed. Make this an event that they WANT to repeat by making it rewarding for your pup!
You won't have to rely on the food forever (I know someone is asking that question right now ;o), but if you don't create a value proposition for your pup, they will only learn that the COME command is not worth listening to. Take the time to teach them that the world rains wonderful things when they get to you after hearing come. There will be lots of time to worry about weaning away from rewards after you've built value.
Hide and seek
Another great game to add to your early days of recall training is the hide and seek game. This will teach your pup to actively seek you out if they can't see you right away. I don't usually use the COME command in the early stages of this game as I don't want the association to be lost or wasted if my pup doesn't find me right away, but I do want to teach them how to search for me!
Learn how to play Hide and Seek with your pup
How to build from there
We play this game in a few different ways - we'll describe 3 of them here:
With anOther Person
Enlist a friend or family member to help you train your dog! Why not add more fun to the mix? Maybe you have a friend who's also training a dog and you can help each other out.
The perfect start has the dog interested and eager to break away from the restrainer and run happily to you. This is one of the rare times we encourage pulling. If you've started this in the house, your dog will likely pick up on the game in a jiffy!
- Have your training buddy restrain your dog either with a leash or, if the dog is comfortable by the body or chest.
- Step in front and face them
- Use something exciting that they LOVE (high value treats or a toy) to get them excited.
- When they're itching to get to you, give a loud and clear 'COME' command. The restrainer should IMMEDIATELY let go of th dog
- Run away a few steps to allow the dog to chase
- Reward them close to you with enthusiasm. Be sure the reward is something that makes them WANT to get to you and ignore all else. This is NOT the place for dry cookies. Break out the GOOD stuff to create desire to get to you when they hear COME
solo With a stationary object
When I'm working with a youngster, I like to do HUNDREDS of repetitions of restrained recalls. Everywhere I go I will try to get in a recall or two to help the pup understand how to be successful in any location. This necesitates a means of working solo. Luckily, we have a few great ways to work on this when we don't have a helper.
Using a LONG leash or a second leash if the area is potentially dangerous and a stationary object, like a fence post or tree, you can recreate the restrained recall above without the need for a second person. Wrap the second leash around the post to restrain the dog, then move in front of them and go through the rest of the recall.
solo with you and your dog
One final way I work this skill is in locations where there's nothing convenient to use to restrain my dog. For this drill, I will use one arm to restrain the dog while I use the other to encourage and build excitement. The added benefit of this is it's SUPER easy to get in a few quick reps and doesn't require any extra set up. There is a great demonstration of this technique at the time stamp in this video:
Investing time into your dog's recall is one of the best ways to spend a training session. Always remember that the more you put in, the more you will get out. So get that key in the ignition and START YOUR DOG'S ENGINE! Then, you can drive them wherever they need to go!
Check out the BLAST we had at the recall races!!!
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As always, happy training.