The Recall

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Above:These little puppies were quite happy to stay close by.  There were plenty of us to catch them if they should try to run off.

Here's some basic training for the recall.  These ideas are great for a dog or a puppy that hasn't yet been trained to come to call and doesn't have any serious problems. 

Before you start
When your dog is running about enjoying himself and you call him he has to do several things. 

  • He must stop his current activity no matter how interesting it is.

  • He must turn in your direction and look for you.

  • He must make the decision to come to you rather than do anything else.


You need to appreciate that this is going to be a big and difficult thing for a puppy to do and also for a dog that's never been trained.  You won't get perfection all at once and you need to have patience and plenty of treats.  If your dog likes squeaky toys then all the better.  These are ideal for getting a dog's attention when it is some distance away from you.

Let's do the first lesson
If your dog doesn't come when called then you must start training in a safe place.  The garden is a good idea or if it's raining you can start the training indoors.  All you need to do the first time is show your dog a titbit, move backwards a little way and encourage him to come to you.  Give him a titbit and praise and do it again. Once he's got the idea that coming to you is a good thing you can start to say "Fido come" in an encouraging voice and give praise and reward when he comes to you.  Don't expect him to come from any great distance at this early stage. 

Moving On to the next stage
The trick with starting the recall is to watch your dog and choose a time to call when the dog is most likely to come.  If the dog is hell bent on chasing next door's cat you are unlikely to succeed by calling his name when he's in full chase.  If you do try and recall him he'll simply ignore you and he'll learn that he doesn't have to come to you when you use his name and say "Come."  

When your dog is coming to you from a short distance then you can start to practice the recall while he's ambling about in the garden.  All you need to do is to wait until the dog has settled down a bit and is facing in your direction if possible.  Then squeak the toy to get his attention.  If the dog looks up at you then you can call his name and say "Come."  Be encouraging and as soon as the dog reaches you touch his collar or get hold of it. At the same time give a titbit and praise "What a good dog."   Then let go of the collar and let the dog wander off again.  Repeat this a few times and then have a game.  You can do this indoors as well from time to time just to reinforce the lesson.

Well done.  Your dog is learning to come to you already and he's mastering the third item in our list which is to come to you rather than do something else. 

Let's take it further
When you're sure that your dog understands what you mean by "Fido come" you can take the training a bit further.  Once again you can use the garden for training, but this time you're going to call your dog when he's facing away from you.  Use the squeaky toy to get his attention and call him.  Don't forget to sound encouraging and have some really tasty titbits.  Each time your dog responds you must touch the collar or get hold of it as well as giving the praise and the titbit.  This is a vital part of training the recall and yet very few trainers seem to include this in their lesson.  The reason it's so important is that some dogs will come beautifully to call and then run off again before you can get hold of the collar. 

If you're having trouble getting your dog to come to you, you can use a lead.  Get the dog to face you on the lead and then run backwards.  Call the dog's name  "Fido come," and praise and reward.
Alternatively you can make a complete fool of yourself by making a high pitched squeaking noise and running in the opposite direction.  Not many dogs can resist this and sooner or later they will want to join in the game.  

Out in the park
When you are confident that your dog is coming to you and knows what you want it's time to try it in an open space away from home.  You will need a long lead to start with so that you can practice your recalls in complete safety.  Only When you are confident that your dog is not going to run off and disappear can you let him off the lead in a public place. 

Let the dog have a run round on the long lead and let him get all his sniffing done.  Once he's settled down a bit call him in to you.  Use the long lead if necessary and use the running backwards technique.  Give a titbit and praise as soon as he comes to you and don't forget to get hold of the collar. 

Sooner or later the time will come when you feel it's safe to let your dog off the lead.  A lot of dogs race away when the lead is unclipped but usually they stay within calling distance and will keep an eye on you to make sure you haven't disappeared.  You can practice your recalls when your dog has finished the initial race around and has had a good old sniff.  If he doesn't come straight away run in the opposite direction and use a high silly voice to get his attention.  When he comes back don't grab him and put him on the lead but do catch hold of the collar and give your praise and reward.  Let him go again and repeat the recall from time to time.

One thing to remember is that you should NEVER, NEVER scold your dog if he's been tardy in coming to you but has eventually responded to your call.  If you are angry with him when he comes to you he'll be even less inclined to come the next time as he'll be expecting to be told off. 

If your dog is having a high old time with other dogs or is otherwise engaged then don't try to recall if you think he won't respond.  You need to catch the moment when he looks at you or stops what he's doing.  You're much more likely to get a recall and you won't have given your dog the idea that it's OK to ignore you. 

Good luck with your training.  I hope you both have lots of fun.

What to do if your dog has serious problems with the recall.
First of all make sure your dog is safe at all times and that your garden is fenced and secure.  Problems with the recall can be caused by so many different factors that it would be impossible to cover them all and solve them via the internet.  You can get good ideas from forums and websites but really you need the advice of someone who is qualified in dog behaviour. A behaviourist can see first hand exactly what is happening and how you and your dog interact with each other.  This is vital if you are going to solve a problem. 

If you think a behaviourist might help, your vet may be able to refer you to someone or you can contact the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.  If you belong to a dog club they may be able to recommend someone or if you belong to a forum the members there may know of someone in your area that they can recommend.
There are times when a dog can be very frustrating to train but if you're persistent and consistent you will win through and you'll have a happier dog as a result. 

Good luck.

Thank you to julesinsky of morguefile for the lovely photo above.

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