Recall – Why Most Dogs Don’t Really Know How


Recall – Why Most Dogs Don’t Really Know How

Recall – Why Most Dogs Don’t Really Know How

Recall is a fancy word for being able to call your pooch back to you at any time.  This behavior is typically considered one of the most important behaviors a dog living in our society must be able to do. A recall is only as good as its reinforcement history allows it to be. I’m sure you’ve seen dogs in the park being called by their owners a dozen or more times to “come,” “come here,” “come on, let’s go,” etc. with little to no success in actually bringing the dog back to the owner.  With this type of calling, the dog interaction the owner has given a few of what they think are commands, the dog on the other hand has ignored a few words not really getting the meaning of the game.  Most dogs do not have a reliable recall, and they should.

Here are a few reasons they do not have a great recall:

  1. The owner practiced a bunch with their very responsive puppy in class or at home and then as the months went by they assumed the behavior was instilled and stopped really giving it good practice so their now adolescent or adult ignores them most of the time.
  2. The owner practiced and got great attention at home or in class with great rewards but did not have rewards on them in the park or at a friend’s house or anywhere else interesting and assumed the behavior would translate.
  3. The owner accidentally poisoned the cue by using it and then putting the puppy in their crate, or leaving the park, or giving a bath, or any other distasteful activity.
  4. The owner over uses and under rewards the chosen cue.

If any of this sound familiar, don’t worry. You are part of the majority and you can salvage or retrain this behavior in a really fun way.  If you have a new puppy and have not yet joined the club of owners over-calling their dog, congratulations! Hopefully you can skip the anguish or embarrassment of not being able to call your dog. If your dog only comes to you after you have used your chosen cue or command two or three times and even then does not fully run to you and offer a sit or some other stationary behavior, fix it.  The sooner you fix it the better.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a new cue. Pick a cue that you will not accidentally over use or use in the wrong context ie: come here, come, come on, etc… is over use of the word “come.”
  2. Get some really really good rewards.  I recommend cheese, hot dog, cut up rolls of dog food, etc.  You want your dog super excited to sprint to you.
  3. Use a long leash or light rope if you are going to practice anywhere that is not totally secured.  You will start somewhere only mildly distracting or interesting, not the dog park or a play area with other dogs.

Session 1:  Begin with your dog right in front of you, not far away sniffing something, and say your new cue. Immediately feed your dog.  Take a step back, say your new cue and praise your dog as soon they move towards you. Feed when they catch you.  Slowly add steps.  End the session while your dog is still excited to follow you for food.

Session 2: Begin with your dog right in front of you again, take a step back and praise as soon as they move towards you. Feed when they catch you.  Now add a stationary end to this very simple game, assuming your dog knows how to sit on command ( Take 3-4 quick steps back and give your cue, praise as soon as your dog is moving towards you and when they reach you, lure a sit with a treat right in front of your belly button so that your dog is sitting in front of you close enough to scratch under their collar. Feed immediately.  Repeat this new twist on the game a few times adding distance and see if your dog will immediately sit without being told to as soon as they get to you.  End the session.

Session 3+: From here on out you will start each session with a super easy recall to remind your dog of this awesome new game.  Get your dog’s attention, give the cue, take just a few steps back and immediately reward the inevitable sit. Now you have begun adding some distance, so add some planned mild distractions (roll a ball, throw a treat, etc) and recall your pooch to you when they are not facing you (remember to take a few quick steps back and praise when they begin to move towards you or even turn to look at you).  Each session from here on out you will up the ante very incrementally until your dog can recall past anything.   Remember to use rewards worthy of a recall and to never practice unless you know your dog will succeed. Practicing failures leads to actual failures. In a future blog I will explain the hand targeting technique we teach here at Perfect Pooch and give you some advanced tips and tricks to use to get the strongest recall possible.

Happy Training!

Tamar Paltin

Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch

BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator