We all dream of having that dog who stays by our side and who comes right away when called. There are a lot of us who instead… have that dog who gets distracted by a leaf and seems to forget how to hear the minute they step outside. Living in a busy city like Seattle, there are tons of distractions to steal your dog’s attention.
The truth is, even easily distracted dogs can be taught to come when called. In fact, recall is one of the most important skills you can teach your dog. It won’t happen overnight, but I can help your dog get there. I’ve put together this handy guide to help you get started with recall training your dog.
The Importance of Recall Training
Now I already mentioned that recall is the most important skill for your dog to know. But why? Recall training will help keep your dog safe. If they’re in a leash-free area, and another dog is around, the right thing to do is to recall your dog to give that other dog their space. And in the event the other dog is aggressive? Recall can protect you from a confrontation.
Or if they dash out the door, recall will keep them from running into the street. This is when recall training can be incredibly invaluable.
Recall training allows your dog to have a little more agency and freedom in their daily life. If your dog can be reliably recalled, they can go off leash in designated areas. You can take them with you to more places, knowing that they can be trusted to return or stay next to you. It also helps build their confidence. We control most of the things in our dog’s day to day life, giving them a little more control helps prevent fearful behaviors and anxiety.
It can take a while for your dog to learn to ignore distractions and come when called. Even though it’s considered a basic obedience skill, it’s one of the most difficult skills for a lot of dogs to master. But it’s absolutely worth every minute of the time spent on it.
Recall Training Your Dog
Formal vs. Informal Recall Training
Formal recall is to only be used when your dog’s wellbeing depends on it. This needs to work 100% of the time. You’ll use formal recall when your dog is in a dangerous situation like chasing something into the street or approaching an unknown dog.
Informal recall is a nice-to-have. And it’s likely that this will work 50-80% of the time. Use this command for less dire situations.
When conducting recall training, you’ll be practicing your dog’s formal recall in informal settings.
How To Recall Train
1) Have a recall word that you use consistently. Your command word should be short and not something your dog hears all the time. “Come” and “Here” are typical recall training commands. When using the word, you want to only say it once. That way, your voice and the command does not lose its power. You also want to make sure that you call them when you think that you will be successful. If they’re in the middle of enjoying a peanut butter-stuffed Kong, they’re less likely to want to leave that delicious treat to come to you.
2) Hold a treat where your dog can see it and call them over. When they arrive to you, grab their collar (more on this later), give them their reward, and make sure you praise them enthusiastically when they get to you. Periodically, you can even jackpot your dog (give them 5 to 8 treats) or scatter treats on the ground to make things extra rewarding. Once you have repeated this a few times, use your command word as your dog walks toward you. This gets them to associate the word with the action.
As your dog starts reliably responding, start calling before presenting the treat. As you transition to this stage, you should use high value treats to encourage your dog. Start putting more distance between yourself and your dog, until they can reliably come while you call from another room.
3) If you feel like your dog is ready, take training outside, but only as far as your yard if you have one. If you live in an apartment or condo like a lot of us in Seattle, your building’s courtyard can work, or you may have to find a quiet area in a park.
Now you can work on recall using a long line leash. The long line allows you to put some distance between you and your dog without going off leash. Now repeat the initial steps by holding a treat and calling your dog. Try not to tug on the lead, you want your dog to learn to respond to your verbal cues. If you are in your yard, you can work up to removing your dog from the lead.
Once you can get your dog to respond while in your yard, or a quiet area, it’s time to try somewhere busier. When you do, keep the lead shortened to an appropriate length for safety as you work with your dog.
4) Repeat these steps in all areas you and your dog frequent. Be sure to do recall training in areas you know your dog gets extremely distracted. If other dogs take your dog’s attention, be sure to train around other dogs. If it’s squirrels, find the squirreliest area of the park and work there.
Set Your Dog Up For Success
For recall training to be successful, you need to start slowly. Start in your home in an area free of distractions. Slowly work your way to other areas. If your dog seems overwhelmed, take a step back and return to your home or previous training area for a few more days. Introduce areas with distractions slowly to help your dog learn that their attention needs to be on you.
Since recall is all about safety and preventing dangerous situations, it’s important that you plan for how your dog’s recall would work in an emergency situation. Say you’re in an emergency situation, you call your dog over, and they respond perfectly. Congratulations! To keep the situation a safe one, you’ll want to grab your dog’s collar right when they come to you. Then, you’ll leash them up, usher them away, etc. This is why, when training recall, practicing grabbing your dog’s collar is an important step. This gets them used to it.
Keep It Positive
Any time you call your dog, keep it positive. Don’t call your dog for bath time or a nail trim. If you’re out and about, don’t call them just to leave the park. You want them to associate recall with something super positive and rewarding for them. Offer a treat, a game, or pets and cuddles, and play for a few more minutes. Even if you aren’t actively working on recall training, those positive associations will make your dog want to come to you when called.
Make It Fun
Make recall training a game. It keeps it interesting and makes it a fun bonding experience with your dog. Not every session needs to be gamified, but if it’s a rainy Seattle day, move training indoors and play a game of Hide and Seek. Hide in another room, and call your dog until they find you. Make sure you praise them and keep it light and fun.
Remember Every Dog Is Different
Any time you work on a new skill with your dog, this is an important reminder. Some dogs pick things up extremely quickly and seem like they were born obedience trained. Others struggle to pay attention and it seems like the easiest skills take weeks or months. Your dog isn’t stupid just because training is more of a struggle. Some of the more intelligent breeds are notoriously difficult to train. Stay positive, and keep working. Patience, positivity, and trust will eventually get your dog to where you want them to be.
There’s no harm in asking for professional help, too! Reach out to Cosmic Home & Pets, and I can help build a training package that works for your recall training needs.