The crucial elements the way I teach a recall are to protect the value of the cue, classically condition it at every opportunity, pay well and practice, practice, practice.
Important things about recalls If you follow this process and keep on using all those free recall opportunities, your dog will always want to come to you.
- The primary recall cue for all of my dogs is their name. When I say their name I want them to turn their attention to me and then come to me. Later I will add other cues as recalls, such as "come" and "puppy". I rarely use those, except to train them and keep them fresh as recall cues. I teach those in case my dog gets out of the yard; someone who doesn't know her name is likely to use one of those.
- Its very important to protect your dog's good association to hearing her name. So never use your dog's name to scold him or stop him from doing something.
- Never use your dogs name to call her for something unpleasant, like a bath. I admit that sometimes you'll slip up, but be as careful as you can humanly be.
- It is important that your dog always go back to play after a recall during walks or play sessions, so that you set up the idea that coming to you is a great opportunity to get a reward before going back to exploring. Coming to you is not the loss of good things.
- If you know your dog is distracted and likely to have difficulty responding to the recall, pair it with running away (call and run away simultaneously), using your motion to strengthen the cue. Because your dog wants to be with you this ensures success.
- Sometimes when you call your dog, run away as she heads toward you - so that the chase becomes part of the game, part of the reward. If your dog loves to play with you, a good game of chase is always fun.
- Use very high value treats to reward the best recalls. Other times use less-valuable rewards. Try not to over-use your high value treat or you'll devalue it. Other times use other valuable rewards. So even though every recall is rewarded, its still on a variable system of rewards because the rewards change.
- Practice success. On a slow day, you'll want to do 50 recalls a day. You want to practice this a LOT.
- Start with bathroom recalls (bathrooms are boring and small, so you are surely THE most interesting thing going). Say your dog's name and stick a treat in her mouth - without requiring a response from her. Your dog will learn quickly that hearing that special word means good things and very soon she will be glued to you. Do 100 bathroom recalls each day for five days (20 at a time, in five short sessions).
- Then repeat that recall training in other rooms in the house - bedroom, kitchen and living room. Now there is one important change. Say your dog's name and stick a treat in her mouth - without requiring a response from her. Then throw a treat behind her and say "yours". When she turns to get the thrown treat she is resetting herself for the next recall. When she has eaten or is eating the treat and while she is still facing away from you, say her name and be prepared to give her another treat when she comes.
Remember - your goal is to get in a minimum of fifty recalls a day. That sounds like a lot, but it really only takes a few minutes of active training. Also, many of those recalls (as I describe here) are just a matter of being mindful of the possibilities.
Its also a matter of being prepared to reward your puppy any time and anywhere you are. In my own house I have small custard cups containing treats that won't spoil stashed safely out of reach in every room of the house (yes even the bathroom). If I'm going to be outside working in the yard, I get prepared by stashing some small containers with treats in the tops of a couple bushes and a few other places.
Gimme here: I always follow my person around and wait for a chance to come when she calls me. She knows where all the food and other goodies are. Sometimes we run from the front yard to the back door, through the porch into the kitchen and she gets me something delicious from the refrigerator. My person is the keeper of all things wonderful and hanging out with her is the best place to be.
Expand the recall concept
- Start by training the recalls just as you did in the bedroom, kitchen and living room, but now in places outside your home. Do that same training in your front yard, back yard, and garage. If you take your puppy with you to a friend's house, do the training in their yard, house, garage.
- Give your dog treats for checking in voluntarily (initially treats every time, later random treats but still petting and praise). "Check-ins" are any time that your dog has his focus on something other than you and then turns to see what you are doing.
- When you see your dog coming toward you to check in, call her name - using that opportunity to strengthen the association.
- If you have other dogs, do group recalls at home. When all the dogs are sitting in front of you, each one gets a treat.
- Use your dog's name to call her when she is already coming to you for anything she wants. You know when she wants a snuggle, is getting ready to climb on the couch, any time she is following you around... any of these can be used as an informal recall opportunity. This is classical conditioning at its finest.
- Use your dog's name to call her for a good game of tug (or other play) a couple times a day.
- When working in the yard, call her randomly for treats. Sometimes because you have a ball or a stick to throw.
You will want to purchase a 30 foot light line (such as parachute cord) and tie a clip to one end, then fold over and tie a knot to make a loop on the other end. This line is a management tool, it is not a training tool. The idea is to use the line to keep your dog safe and help him be successful. The point is - you won't be using it to correct your dog for a failure to come when called. Also, do not use a long line where other dogs are running free, since they can become entangled in the line.
- If you have access to a safe off-leash environment and your puppy is young, you can start training there right away. A dog that has a lot of structured safe freedom early on, isn't as likely to be reluctant to give it up. They always know there will be more free walks and so are always happy to get in the car after walks. So, if at all possible, arrange for plenty of free walks early in life.
- Whenever you are walking your dog in an area suitable for free walks, attach the long line and let him go snoop around and be a dog. Do a lot of random recalls, which are heavily reinforced and then encourage your dog to go back to exploring. Use a balance of recalls and free time.
- If your dog starts becoming too independent during free walks and is going too far away for your comfort zone, then start playing you-lost-me. If your dog goes out of sight, you hide. If she clearly isn't keeping an eye on you, hide. Hide behind trees, bushes, or stumps, or lay down in a depression in the ground or in tall grass. When she finds you, say her name and give her a treat and a hug. This isn't really formally associated with a recall, so much as it strengthens her desire to be with you and certainly encourages her to keep an eye on you. After awhile you won't be able to hide, because your dog will watch you so carefully.
- If you call your dog and she doesn't come, then do not repeat the cue. Instead casually pick up the long line and walk your hands up the line until you are within 6 feet of your dog (allowing the other 24 feet of line to drag on the ground behind you). Then start training, to get your dog focused on you again. Train check ins, loose leash walking, eye contact game, on leash recalls, sits, downs - whatever your dog knows. Walk for short while holding the line and gradually playing out more and more line. Practice a few more recalls and then casually drop the line and continue as if nothing has changed.
- When you are able to arrange play dates with suitable dogs, do recalls there too. Give your dog a cookie and send him back to play with playmates.