Recall is the single most important thing you need to teach your dog.  It is something that must be mastered and ingrained, so that your dog will stop on a dime and come back when called, regardless of where they are headed. This is what will keep them out of danger, such as rushing into the street or running towards another dog. It is a pretty big bill to fit.

How on earth does one teach recall? I can tell you what I have done so far (after I brag about how well it paid off for Phoebe today). We have been seriously practicing recall for two weeks, and tonight clearly showed how well it paid off. We still have much more work ahead of us, but today was definitely a milestone.

It was the last day of the Beginner’s Obedience class, and Phoebe did not want to go along with the program. She was sniffing the ground the entire time, and when we stopped to listen to the trainer’s instructions, she just plopped herself down, rolled on her side and was ready to take a nap. She was acting like a young child who is bored and wants everyone to know it. Regardless, she came through when it was time for the final test – off leash recall. In fact, she was amazing.

The dogs were supposed to sit while the owners walked down a marked path, and then come when called. Some dogs would not stay in place; some owners only got about 10 feet before their dogs showed signs of impatience, and one dog ran right past its owner,  across the exhibition hall where training is held, into another class and created an uproar.

When it was Phoebe’s turn, she straight, head raised, looking both proud and patient. Normally, she sits like a little glamor girl with one leg stretched out, or she sits like a bunny rabbit, a frog, or basically anything other than a  plain old sit. She was in the zone.

Her ‘dad’ went first.  He gave her the command to ‘wait’  and then headed down to the end of the marked of walkway (3 feet wide and 50 feet long). Phoebe did not break her pose one iota, and when he yelled, “Here!” Phoebe was off like a rocket. She ran full speed, straight down the line, and then planted herself as soon as she reached him. Whoa! She did so well that she got a  little, “Wow,” and little round of applause from the instructors (again – brag, brag – the only one in the class who got that reaction).

I took Phoebe up for her second round. The results were exactly the same as the first run through. She remained on the line and was moving fast! What a gal! It was definitely worthy of lots of praises. The best part was that she did it all for praise  (no treats).

Enough bragging, time to get on with business.

Recall training dos and don’ts

First, a few rules of the road:

  • You always want your dog to succeed, so start slow and praise small achievements
  • As your dog begins to progress, continue to set him or her up for success
  • Pick a special, non-every day word that is used solely for recall (we chose the word “here.”  We have overused the word “come” with innocuous statements like, “come here” or “come on,” so for recall purposes, it has lost its value. You can use any word you want, as long as it is different from everyday terms you use with your dog.
  • Consistently use your recall command when practicing recall
  • Never chastise your dog for approaching you during training, even if they break out from your sit or stay command. Your dog needs to know that coming to you will result in something positive (even if it ticks you off). You do not have to praise them and give them treats; just don’t chastise / discipline them. Here is how it plays out:During training, if your dog is told to sit and stay / wait, and they start to edge forward, correct them and put them back in place by stepping directly in front of them, and continue to walk forward, so they are forced to back-peddle to their original spot. This must be done at the first sign, which is why you need to start small (more on that later). If you allow your dog to come to you and you do not correct them at the onset, then you just have to suck it up. As I mentioned, you don’t have to praise them, but definitely do not chastise them.  In reality, they most likely broke free because we pushed them beyond their limits. If needed, scale back.

Things you will need to get started on recall training:

  • A leash
  • Patience
  • A dog that knows how to sit on command
  • Some regular treats
  • Some “jackpot” treats (something unique) –  I use popcorn; the only time she gets it is during sit and wait, while we build upon distance and time.
  • Some “super jackpot” treats – I use cheese cut up into little 1/4″ squares. Recall is the only time she ever gets cheese.

Setting the stage for recall training

How quickly you proceed between steps is dependent upon your dog and well, umm… your dog.

The leash is not necessary if you are practicing at home; it is only needed when practicing out in public.

These baby steps are only to instill obedience and patience – gotta get their attention before you can teach them something new.

  1. Have your dog sit
  2. Tell your dog to stay, wait or whatever term you use; if you use a hand signal, then use that too
  3. Take a step away from your dog, and then immediately return and give them a regular treat
  4. Have your dog sit and stay while you continue to increase the distance of stepping back and returning before they get up – remember, you want them to succeed, so don’t go from one step away to 10 feet overnight
  5. Gradually increase the distance, regularly repeating “sit / wait” and giving long-distance praise; return and give a treat
  6. When you feel confident in your dog’s ability, you can up the ante.

Moving on to pre-recall activities

This stage is to continue building discipline, while getting your dog to correlate your recall word with approaching you for a treat. Unlike the baby steps, you are not returning to your dog to give them a treat; you are calling them to you to cash in.

  1. It’s time to switch to the jackpot treat (in my case it is popcorn).
  2. Once you have built up a decent ‘stay’ and ‘wait’ distance, go to that point and then call your dog to you, being sure to use the recall key word.
  3. When they reach you give them the jackpot treat
  4. Continue the sit, stay, recall word, treat and loving until you think they have the idea.
  5. Invite you dog to come running by hollering your keyword, then give them their jackpot treat (you must use your keyword, so your dog begins to correlate that running to you = yummy treat and some loving).
  6. When you get consistent results (i.e., your dog waits for you to call them, and then runs straight to you, it is time to up the ante again.

This this where the game changes to recall challenges. By now, your dog should be familiar with the recall word and the results (i.e., treat).

Recall training begins

For this use the super jackpot treat (I use tiny pieces of cheese).

  • Start with the usual sit and stay
  • This time move out of the line of sight (turn a corner or something); just like the very beginning, set your dog up for success by only waiting a second or two and then call them using your recall word (one piece of super jackpot food gets the point across real quick).
  • Continue moving out of sight and increase the time, just as you did in the beginning.
  • By now, your dog should very familiar with the recall word, so you can start having some fun.
  • Sometimes I walk out of sight, but have another family call out the recall word – Phoebe comes running; that is how I knew that she understood what is expected when she hears the recall word.
  • Then I started moving into odd-places; she found me real quick
  • From there I moved on to “cold drops” I waited until she was loitering in the yard, and then without any warning I holleted the recall word; she still came running (and got some cheese)
  • Whenever the mood strikes (once or twice a day), while she is occupied in the yard, someone hollers the recall word and she comes running.

My next step will be to start weaning her off the super jackpot treats (e.g., give her one every other time, and then every third time, and so on).  I also need to take her out of the home on a long leash and practice in oddball places with distractions. I will need to start the routine just as I did indoors. Things may move along a little quicker – I guess I will find out soon.

What I just described is what worked for me. You may need to adjust things to suit your dog’s need, but hopefully this help instill some ideas.