Updated: Aug 1, 2020
Arguably the most important thing you will ever teach your dog is the recall (COME).
A young woman in a red dress is crouched at left in the foreground of the photo. A black & tan Dachshund mix is running excitedly toward her across an open grass field. Without a reliable recall, you can never give your dog any freedom. And without being given any freedom, your dog is much more likely to make a break for it any chance he can and he will be less likely to come once he’s loose, thus creating a vicious cycle. I’ve come up with a set of DO’s and DON’Ts to improve even the most hesitant recall. Still having trouble? Sometimes you need to have an expert’s eyes to see the things you don’t…. With a little extra guidance, you can make it your dog’s favorite game! Call or use the contact form to set up a training session.
DON’T chase your dog. EVER. Don’t even follow him around to put his leash on or to give him a bath, etc. DO walk/run away in the opposite direction (and make funny noises) if he walks/runs away. Make him chase you!
DON’T scold your dog when he comes to you, no matter how bad he was prior. This will only teach him that leaving the neighbor’s cat to come to you was a bad idea (or to avoid shoes, trash cans, insert-bad-deed-here in your presence). DO be sure to lavish your dog with praise and rewards (treats, toys, tug, play, belly rubs, more freedom) EVERY time your call him, even if you had to call him off the neighbor’s cat.
DON’T let your dog off-leash until you have a reliable recall. Doing so gives your dog a chance to ignore your cue and reward himself for ignoring you. Your dog should have at least 3 weeks of PERFECT recalls (zero hesitation, zero repeated cues, zero running past you) before he is let off-leash (in safe, enclosed environments only). At the very first mistake, the leash goes back on for the rest of the training session/day. (Also be aware that dogs between 6 months and 1.5 years are notorious for taking off running, so take extra caution when first practicing off leash in friend’s yards, tennis courts, or other safe, enclosed areas). DO use a 30-50ft long leash to give him some freedom instead. The faster the dog, the longer the leash. That way you can walk up the length of the leash if he decides not to listen. (Mendota is my favorite brand because it’s sturdy and prevents rope burn.)
DON’T call your dog before doing something unpleasant to him (locking him in a crate, taking his toy or stolen item, trimming his nails, picking eye boogers, taking him to the vet, etc). He will soon get the same sick feeling in his gut when you say “COME” as you get when you hear the words “We need to talk…” (How often does that end pleasantly for you?) DO pick a new recall word (Charge!, Party!, Now!, Bananas!; have fun with it) that you will always follow with love and praise and rewards and never follow with anything negative. How excited do you get when someone says “I’ve got a surprise for you!”? Use the new word to replace the “We need to talk” feeling your dog may be having when he hears “Come” if you’ve been doing the above “DON’T.”
DON’T practice your recall in any sort of routine (such as STAY, walk 15ft away, COME). This will not only teach your dog to only COME if he is put in a STAY first, but it will also teach him to break his STAY DO call your dog randomly and often, especially when he has nothing better to do. When he is just sitting bored in your living room, try calling him to the other room to give him lots of love and initiate a game of fetch as a reward. Just make sure to give long-lasting rewards (such as bully sticks) after the last recall in a set if you plan on practicing a few at a time.
DON’T smother your dog when he gets to you. Most dogs simply tolerate (not enjoy) our hugs and kisses, so reserve those unpleasant displays of affection for when he’s getting a free massage on the couch at the end of the night, and avoid them when he is working for you. Also be aware of leaning over your dog, pulling them closer, or grabbing with two hands at once as some dogs are sensitive to this. DO condition your dog to accept you gently holding his collar/harness when he comes to you and DO keep your dog’s attention when he gets to you by giving multiple treats one-at-a-time (think like giving a young kid five $1 bills versus one $5 bill – way more exciting!).
DON’T be boring! If you only praise/treat as much as you do when your dog does a SIT, why would he leave a bunny to come to you? DO have a blast! Channel your inner cartoon character. Have fun and be silly! Reward your dog with what he wants in that context (maybe belly rubs in the bedroom, a ball to fetch in the field). If your recall is fast and reliable, you could even reward him with getting to check out that squirrel in the tree. Keep that tail wagging!