Recalling a dog is the most powerful command a dog owner has at his or her fingertips. Being able to stop dogs doing what they’re doing immediately and return to you is a great skill to have. It means that owners can stop their dogs from getting into danger whenever necessary – be that running to a vicious dog to play, jumping into a suspect looking pond of water, or running out into a busy road.
It’s not the easiest command to teach, however – especially not with a 100% success rate. Some dogs will get it immediately, whereas others will take time and need refresher sessions every so often. This comes down to both breed and disposition – as well as the start a dog got in life. If you have bought a rescue puppy, training, in general, may be hard while you get their confidence up and teach them that they are in a loving family environment.
Here we look at the best ways to help teach puppies to listen to our recall commands so they can start life out on the best paw.
It will also help make teaching it pleasurable for you and not at all stressful. Dogs are incredibly sensitive animals and so can pick up on when you are stressed and angry. If they realize this, getting them to obey your recall command simply won’t happen. Plus you, the owner, won’t enjoy it either – meaning that you are less likely to do it in the first place and you certainly won’t do it using the best habits that will all work towards you having a well-behaved puppy.
1. Only Ever Use One Command For Recall
This is important to remember when you start your training for your puppy. It can be easy like “come” or any other word that comes naturally to you when you want your puppy to stop what they are doing and return to you.
Whatever word you choose, make sure you only ever have positive associations with it. By this, you need to give your dog high-value dog treats, a lot of praise or perhaps a toy they seem to enjoy playing with above all other things. It is important that when the dog hears your recall command, they want to come back to you as they remember you are the most fun and interesting thing they know.
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A top tip however when instigating a new command, particularly with respect to a recall one, is to switch if it doesn’t work. They may have somehow associated the word with negative happenings so they don’t want to come to you. That’s when switching is a good idea as you can start afresh.
2. Easy Does It
Little and often is the best way with any training of a puppy, especially recall training.
And start small. Don’t begin your training by practicing your recall command over a long distance in a noisy, busy park. Start in the quiet confines of a small garden with only a few meters between you and your puppy.
When he or she has got the hang of “come” then introduce a longer distance between you. Practice for a few days, every so often, and gradually make the distance between you even bigger – remembering to give a treat or praise at each successful attempt.
Once this has been mastered, try to introduce some distractions and noises to see how he or she copes. If your puppy finds it too difficult, go back to the previous step and practice recall at a distance, but with few noises around.
A puppy’s ability to come back is built up over time and a great deal of practice. Don’t be disappointed if your pup does not get it immediately. All dogs have the capacity to, it just takes some a little longer than others.
3. Always Follow The Same Steps
It’s no good practicing recall in your garden following a certain method, only to change that method when you and your pup are out and about. Dogs are always taking on board what we do as their masters – whether we know it or not. We are a constant source of learning for them.
Therefore, they should realize fairly quickly that when we say come here to them they get a reward.
If we start to forget to reward them when they do come back to us when asked, they’ll start to wonder what they have done wrong not to warrant a treat. From there, as they are intelligent creatures, they will start to wonder whether it is worth their while to listen to you next time you make your recall command. They may think that inspecting and sniffing the closest tree stump is much more fun and stay put.
By always following the same steps, you can be sure that your dog’s recall will only ever improve.
4. When Your Dog Correctly Comes Back, Make Sure They Know It Is Very Rewarding
Getting a dog enthusiastic about coming back to you is key to having a reliable recall command. Plus, it is easier for you to teach recall to them and not as stressful. To do so, positive reinforcement is the best method to employ at all times. By using it, your dog is much more likely to repeat the action that you want them to, time and time again.
To make a successful recall that extra little bit rewarding, you can get creative with your treats but it does not have to be food related. Many dogs love toys with a squeak, or perhaps a tug rope toy, or a ball for a game of fetch or chase. Frisbees are often a big hit with pups too.
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If you own a dog with a partner, piggy in the middle can be a great way to help teach recall in a fun, encouraging way. It’s also great for building up the bond between a puppy and yourself. It will help reinforce the fact that you and your partner are the most fun thing on the planet for them, and all they will want to do is come back to you when you ask.
5. Reward Before They Reach You
This tip is often forgotten by some of even the best trainers as it is not a natural human instinct. However, if you start praising your dog before he or she reaches you, you have already begun the positive reinforcement that is needed for successful recall training. Plus, when you start to initiate recall over long distances, it is especially helpful.
Some trainers use a clicker, which can work wonders with some dogs. It needs to be used the moment your dog starts coming back to you or doing the desired actions you want. The reason that clickers can sometimes be more successful than just verbal praise is that verbal praise can sometimes get ‘lost in translation’. This can definitely be the case if you talk to your dog a lot on a daily basis or out on your walks. Your words can start to have less and less effect, therefore, whereas if you save a clicker for praise, it can ensure positive behavior is praised at all times.
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6. To Keep It Engaging, Change The Reward
Dogs are more like humans than we give them credit for sometimes. Much like we get bored, they can get bored too. To keep the power of reward, it can be good to change it every so often so they still want to return to you when you use your recall command.
Remember there is a whole host of rewards available that will help keep your dog engaged and interested in your training. In fact, training will remain a fun game to them if you change up their rewards once in a while. Toys, games, and treats can all be used to have the same desired effect.
Puppies, in particular, seem to respond well to a game of chase. If you encourage them to chase you when they start to return to you and use some verbal praise and a clicker, they will start to ignore distractions around them and learn to recall from longer distances.
When using toys, remember that training toys should only be used for training. While it is good to change up what toys you use as rewards during recall practice, make sure that you solely reserve a few for practice, and have a number that they can simply play with at home to stop a destructive chewing behavior.
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7. Make Coming Off The Leash Or Release Fun
Part of the learning of recall is also learning to be released from a master’s command.
As a consequence, release should be seen as a fun occurrence – so much so that coming back when asked is a happy event. If they were doing something fun before you asked him to come back, let them return to whatever it was they were sniffing or investigating.
It may seem a little odd teaching them to enjoy being released, to the point of being counterintuitive, but it will help strengthen their understanding of the recall command, as well as their positive response to it.
Ultimately, it makes every walk you go on that little bit more pleasurable too as your dog will be happier and you will be too as a consequence.
8. It’s Never Too Early To Start Training
While puppies are definitely full of energy and have short attention spans, the earlier you start training them, the better. Plus, given that the recall command is the best command you can teach them, it is even better to start teaching this command early on too.
One of the helpful things about training a puppy is that they are impressionable at that age and love positive reinforcement. Plus they have endless amounts of energy, so giving them both physical exercise and mental stimulation is an ideal way of tiring them out.
The key is to lay a good foundation between yourself and your new little puppy. It will also help build a stronger bond between the two of you as well as solidify the hierarchy in your relationship. Commands like ‘come here’ are one of the first steps to instill the owner-pet dynamic.
9. Don’t Make It Stressful For Them Or You
This is a key point to remember in all training, especially when trying to instill the importance of ”come here” to your pet.
Training should not be stressful. If it is, it will be less effective. Often this is because, as a consequence, we do things less regularly if we don’t enjoy them.
It is important, therefore, not to set up training sessions in a way that will in all likelihood see your dog fail. This could mean asking them to come back at too long a distance before they are ready, or beginning training in a busy park with all its smells, sights and noises to give lots of distractions.
Starting training in such a place will inevitably mean that your dog won’t do as you ask and you, therefore, won’t praise him or employ any fun games to keep him interested. All he or she will pick up on is the fact that their owner is annoyed.
Keep things simple and fun and you’re halfway there to getting your dog to come back to you every time.
10. Repetition Isn’t Always Key
How many times have you been to the park to see a dog owner repeatedly calling out his or her dog’s name, only to see the dog keep its head down, sniffing what it was sniffing instead?
If your dog is not listening to your command, stop. If you don’t, they will learn that ignoring you and your voice is an option – a behavior that will bleed into any other part of their training too.
Remember to employ positive reinforcement at times where your dog has ignored you, therefore. It pays to be consistent in this, even though it can be maddening when your dog seems to be flagrantly going against your command.
Just move on, and start again afresh when your dog is less distracted.
11. Ask For Support From Friends And Family
It is no good having a dog that only ever responds to one person in the family or amongst friends. Dogs need to listen to all humans if anything as it is humans that will keep them safe from oncoming traffic and other dangers that appear.
Plus it makes your dog much more part of the family as opposed to just one member’s pet. Get your dog to practice recall with everyone and ensure they all employ the same training techniques as you in terms of positive reinforcement. Try to instill the virtues of training your dog with each family member at least a few minutes a day. Consistency is key when training puppies and you will all reap the benefits soon enough.
You can also use your friends and family too as distractions which can help in your training regime. It can really improve your dog’s recall to practice with other people shouting its name or waving one of their favorite toys around.
12. If They Get It Wrong, Don’t Punish Your Dog
This is perhaps one of the most fundamental dog training rules that can be learned. It is also one of the hardest to employ. Just remember that dogs don’t really understand right and wrong. They just learn what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do. They don’t understand why.
The difference between how we differentiate right and wrong is why we, as owners, get so frustrated with our pups when they tear away from us and don’t listen to recall commands – amongst many others!
However, dogs that are trained with negative consequences will often start to act out in other ways which manifest themselves in behavioral issues like aggression or nervousness.
Positive reinforcement is by far the best policy. If your dog gets something wrong, just accept it and move on.
If you start to implement all these techniques when you start training your dog to come back when called, you should start to see an improvement in their ability to respond.
It is important, however, to remember to stop training when your dog loses interest. Dogs have short attention spans and if you go past their ability to keep interest, you will both find your training session a negative experience, which is the last thing you want.
Instead, keep your sessions to around 15 minutes a day. Not only will your dog respond better, you are more likely to train with them every day, which is when dog owners see the most improvement in their dog’s behavior.
The recall is the most important command that a dog can learn – so don’t rush the training. Success will come to those that show patience and love towards their pet.
- How To Train Your Dog To Come When Called, The RSPCA