Out of all the basic commands you can teach your dog, recall may be the most important one. Knowing how to teach your dog to come when called helps owners to build relationships with their dogs, it makes their lives easier and, most importantly, it keeps dogs safe. A simple way to teach recall is to grab some treats, create a bit of distance between you and your dog (1-2 feet), call your dog using the words “come” or “here,” and reward your dog when they get to you. It’s important to have fun and make a game of it. Keep your body language loose, wiggly, and inviting. The happier you are, the more likely your dog is to come to you.
Here are some tips that should make it easier to teach a dog recall:
Reward. The reward must be extra special for recall. Many owners use things like hot dogs and cheese, but anything small, smelly and stinky would be a good option. The point is to build a strong association between responding to the command and a positive experience. The goal is to ensure the dog wants to come when called every time.
Encourage. Verbally reward your dog many times during each component of the recall. It is impossible to be too excited for your dog to come to you. This is an important element when it’s time to train a puppy to come to his name because it helps make other training later much easier. The dog will recognize the owner’s enthusiasm and respond in kind.
Communicate. Give lots of feedback and use your knowledge of canine body language. Keeping your body to the side and running backward are great ways to invite your dog to come to you. This is a good way to get your dog to come when distracted because you’re modeling the desired behavior.
Stay positive. Recall should always end positively. Even if your dog made a couple of stops along the way to sniff at something, the important thing is to keep up your end of the bargain, or else your puppy won’t be as inclined to listen next time. That awesome treat mentioned above should be dispensed right away. Pet your dog. Tell him he’s the best dog in the world (because he is, of course).
Praise. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Dogs are like people in the sense that they like being appreciated for the hard work they do. They’re not like people because they don’t ask for a lot, so be sure to praise them. Use your high-pitched voice and be as positive as you can. Be the cheerleader your dog needs!
Leash. Use your leash as training wheels to ensure success and rewards. If your dog isn’t successful off-leash, or you’re trying it outside for the first time, your regular 6 foot leash or a long, cotton lead are really useful tools to keep your dog safe while allowing some movement to teach recall. Having a little extra control over your dog can help ensure better results, especially at the beginning.
Remember, the premise for a recall is for your dog to choose to come to you over all the seemingly better options: trash on the ground, kids playing with balls or a dog across a busy street, but you have to start small. A few feet away from you in your kitchen is a great place to start. Then try your living room and then your backyard. Changing the environment slightly will increase the level of difficulty for your dog. If your dog is ever having difficulty, go back to the last place he was successful. Practice there a little more and then move back up. It’s important to work within your dog’s limitations.
Knowing how to teach your dog to come when called is not only good for building obedience — it also helps strengthen the rapport between you and your pet. Recall is a very important skill but takes a lot of practice with your dog, so don’t be discouraged if there are some bumps along the way. Have fun with it! For more puppy training tips you can use, click here.
Jaime Migdal, CPDT KA, is the founder and CEO of Fetchfind, a talent recruitment and services organization dedicated to the pet industry.