We all want a dog who comes back to us reliably and quickly. Here are my top tips.
- Pay your dog well! Dole out a jackpot–feed several tasty treats one by one. Do a food scatter on the ground at your feet. Toss cookies away from you. Do more than just hand your dog a treat. Make the food interesting!
- Send your dog away from you. This is a big one, and may seem counterintuitive. We often call our dogs away from fun things, and that will actually damage our recall over time. Most dogs would rather chase a squirrel or sniff a tree than eat a measly cookie. So reward your dog for coming to you, then send him away again. He will learn that coming to you will get him some cookies AND he’ll be able to return to his own fun, too. If you ever have to call him permanently away from something especially fun, make sure you follow that up with other fun things…don’t just stick him on a leash or in a crate–play a game, practice known skills, etc.
- Practice in lots of safe, fenced areas. Ask to borrow your friends’ or neighbors’ yards, or head to the dog park when no one is there. The more places you practice, the more reliable your recall will be.
- Use long lines. Long lines are for safety, they are not training tools. That said, they can provide peace of mind and great opportunities to practice recalls. Your job is to reward your dog for coming to you and to be sure you are practicing in places where he can be successful.
- Never correct your dog for not coming to you or pull him toward you with a leash. He may indeed come to you in that moment, but you won’t be building speed, drive, or desire to come to you. We want our dogs to barrel toward us, not creep up to us slowly in order to avoid punishment.
- Avoid calling your dog before doing something your dog perceives as unpleasant. This includes: you going to work, putting the dog in the crate, cleaning ears, doing toenails, giving a pill, etc. IF you need your dog, and you need to do one of those things, you can do one of two things. One–go get your dog, rather than call him. Two–build in a break between your dog coming and whatever you need to do. That could just be some time, say 10-15 minutes, or you can do another activity before the “icky” one.
- Finally, never stop rewarding your dog for coming to you. Because the recall is so important, I keep it on a one to one ratio of reinforcement. That means I always reward my dogs for coming, but the reward may not always be food. When we are walking off leash, I will reward with food periodically for checking in, but I will also sometimes just send them away again. Freedom is often just as rewarding as food, the important thing is to be clear–I acknowledge that they came back and verbally send them off again. Dogs love this game, and it helps them feel secure and confident about coming back.