I often write article about complex behaviour problems and this makes it hard to offer any helpful advice because the complexity often means the solution is very much individual to the dog I am working with.
In this article though, I wanted to talk about what many might call, “simple stuff”, because often, a dog that was a bit better at the simple stuff would be able to avoid more of the complex problems.
When the obvious escapes us…
Often, I am working with a client and they tell me their dog does not have a reliable recall, “comes when he feels like it” is a common way they describe it.
Sometimes, I might playfully ask “why should he or she come?”.
And you know, I can’t remember the last time I got a good answer, and that is probably why their dog doesn’t have a good recall; but here are some of the more common answers
- “Because I said so!” When you want a dog to do as he or she is told without question, you must be very forceful when the dog doesn’t do as you say, most people aren’t.
- “Because it is time to go home!” This may be the exact reason your dog wont come.
- “Because I will give her (more) food.” Unless your dog has a high food drive or food is scarce, your dog likely won’t come away from a good time for more food.
- “Because we have practiced at obedience club” A dog being placed in a static position and left and then recalled is far from a dog being called at random.
When I recall my dog, he comes when he feels like it, but I have set it up, so he always feels like it.
The training I like, is to provide opportunities for the dog to want to give me the behaviour.
They create the behaviour and they can’t stop displaying it.
The dogs are not doing it for me, they are doing it to me.
I never have trouble getting a dog to display a behaviour if the dog loves that behaviour.
Think about it, let’s say you arrive home and your dog jumps up on you. Perhaps you don’t like it, but it is clear that your dog does.
How many times out of 100 would that happen? 100 I bet. This is a behaviour like any other, there is a trigger (you arrive home), there is an action (jumping up) and there is a reinforcer (affection / attention of some kind).
People tell me that their dog is hard to train, but they trained the dog to jump up, 100% reliably.
Reasons why your don’t wont recall, you probably didn’t know.
- Punishing your dog for recalling
There are a million books on dog training that state “never punish your dog for recalling”, and many people think that they never do, but, they do.
Calling your dog away from a rewarding experience is removing a reward, this is known as Negative Punishment.
So, imagine you head to the park every day with your dog, he or she plays with all their friends. After an hour you call “come” and your dog races over and you leash him or her up and head home after a great day’s play.
Repeated, this will teach your dog that “come!” means “fun is over”, and your dog at some point will stop recalling in this situation. Wouldn’t you?
Your dogs’ value of other dogs is too high
So, you’re at the park and your dog is playing with friends, you recall and when your dog comes, you give a food reward. Then your dog runs back to play with the other dogs.
You recall again and feed and again and feed etc.
How much food can your dog eat and find each food treat rewarding? You will get to a point when you call your dog and he or she did not find the last reward valuable so does not come this time.
Allowing another person or animal to surpass your value will compromise your training.
Over promising and under delivering
Many people call out “come” like there are explosions and fireworks awaiting, but when their dog comes running, they just move on, no reward, no recognition, nothing.
This is more negative punishment.
Thinking your rewarding the recall but rewarding the sit instead.
Do you recall your dog with the promise of a reward and when your dog gets to you, give a sit cue, then the reward?
The reinforcement will get applied to the last exercise unless you have reinforced the previous step many, many times.
Simply put, this means the reward goes on the sit, not the recall.
Below is a video of my dog Venom, he will be 9 this year and you will see snippets from his recall training from 8 weeks until now.
Ten super hot recall tips.
- Utilise instinct in your training, have your dog in a harness and have a friend hold your dog back, run off in front and build your dogs energy, scream and jump around until your dogs drive peaks, then call out your recall cue HERE! And your friend lets go of your dog at that moment, pairing the HERE with desperation to get to you.
- Really reward! Develop a reward game or system that your dog loves and does NOT have access to anywhere near as much as he or she wants to. Run number one above (the restrained recall), and when the dog gets to you, deliver that awesome, hard to come by, reward.
- Language! Have a recall cue that says “I have the biggest reward” and also one that is more laid back, maybe for home use. I use “here!” for the big reward and “come ear” in the home or when I don’t have that big reward. This way my dog does not come running expecting the big reward when I can’t provide that big reward.
- If your dog is having a great time, best go get him or her rather than recall them away from fun when your dog is developing the recall.
- Practice! A recall, like every exercise, must go through a teaching, training and distraction phase. The teaching phase is usually done pretty quickly but the training and distraction phase should go on forever.
- Don’t call a dog that won’t come. You head to the park and call your dog, he or she blows you off. This is doing harm to the relationship for both of you. Use a long line until the recall is reliable.
- Every recall matters. If you can’t call your dog away from a guest at the front door, you have no hope in the park. Practice hallways recalls often. Each time a guest comes to your house, your dog runs to front door, stand at end of hall and recall. Use a long line to make sure it happens.
- Close that window of opportunity so that only the fastest recalling dog can get through it. Call your dog and as soon as your dog starts to come, run like hell with the reward the other way. Make your dog feel slow.
- Work on your relationship with your dog. Make sure you’re a cool guy or girl to be with. That doesn’t mean let your dog get away with everything either, but it means when your dog gets it right, boy is it obvious!
- Develop the relationship with you, not food or toys. This does not mean don’t use food or toys, it means only use them to reinforce the exercise.
Some dogs have made a career out of not recalling
These dogs sometimes are of certain breeds or certain types and there has long been a myth that certain breeds or dogs will never be reliable off leash.
I 100% disagree with this, and I have never failed to get a dog to recall of any breed. Don’t accept the breed can’t.
The recall is not a trick
When I had dogs growing up, the recall exercise was not about points or precision, it was about freedom. Dogs given freedom because they would come when called.
Anyone who grew up when I did will agree that dogs had so much more freedom back then.
People of today get riled up when dogs race up to theirs under the banner of “he’s friendly”.
The simple answer is a RECALL.
Do yourself, your dog and everyone a favour and teach your dog to come, every time.
The freedom your dog could enjoy if you did is beyond measure.
If you have tried and it is not working, some dogs are very challenging, but speak to us and we CAN help!
Just call us on 02 45 789 789 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org