Teaching a Reliable Recall
Young puppies have a natural attraction and following instinct that keeps them with the pack and safe. But around five months, the flight-instinct period arrives, taking dog owners by complete surprise when the puppy who wouldn't stray two feet from their side yesterday is now in hot pursuit of every squirrel, person, dog, butterfly, and falling leaf in the vicinity. Teaching your dog to come to you when you call is a systematic process that takes repetition, time, and commitment to perfect.
Keep a Leash On
All early formal recall training should be done on leash — 6, 20, or 50 feet — and retractable lines and leashes all have their place in the training process:
Use 6- to 20-foot leashes for short, controlled recalls and group recalls.
Use retractable leashes for recalls away from distraction and solo recalls.
Use 50-foot draglines to gradually get reliable, off-leash recalls.
Leashes and draglines ensure success while your dog is building the habit of “rocket recalls.”
Use retractable leashes with caution. They have been known to sever fingers if used improperly. Buying a good-quality retractable is a better bargain than buying a cheap but poorly made one. Read the directions and practice braking and releasing without your dog first, and resist the temptation to grab the cord if your timing is off with your brake and release.
When you call your dog, your tone of voice should indicate to him that you'll be happy to see him when he gets to you. Call him the same way every time, with his name first, followed by your recall command. Every time he comes to you, you should be able to touch him (or even better, grab his collar) before he gets his CR/treat.
After he gets the idea that he's supposed to come to you every time you call, have him sit when he gets to you, before you grab his collar and CR/treat. There are several different ways you can practice recalls for lots of reinforced repetition in a short amount of time. Always play recall games when your dog is motivated, and quit while he still wants to play.
Solo Recalls: With your dog on a retractable leash, let your dog watch you toss a visible treat, like a piece of breakfast cereal, several feet in one direction. Send your dog to go get it, and then call him back to you for another treat. Send him again in the other direction, gradually increasing the distance of the thrown treat.
Dual Recalls: On a retractable or long (at least 20 feet) leash, have a partner hold your dog by his collar. Take the leash by the handle and spend a few moments paying attention to your dog — really loving him up, petting him, praising him and then saying his name, followed by treats a couple of times — before running away to the end of the leash. As soon as you turn around, call his name three times, followed by your recall command, “Fido! Fido! Fido! Come!” — enthusiasm is critical! When he is straining to get to you, have your partner let him go. Praise him as he's coming (you have the leash to make sure he does), and CR/reward when he gets all the way to you.
Round Robin Recalls: Three or more people can play. Spread out in a circle 20 or more feet in diameter. Your dog should be dragging a line long enough to reach all the players. One at a time, call your dog and give him treats when he comes. If he decides the game is to run from person to person getting treats, only the person who calls him should pay any attention to him or reward him; everybody else should look at the sky. Use the dragline to enforce the recall if necessary.
Strolling Recalls: When you're out walking your dog, wait for him to lose attention on you. Back up several steps quickly and call him to you, reeling him in like a fish, if necessary. Praise like crazy and CR/treat when he gets to you.
Add a few extra recalls to your dog's day by calling him when he's already coming to you, or is likely to, like at mealtimes or when you're going to take him for a walk or out for some play time.