I really like recalls, it’s one of the most fun things to watch a dog do. I love filming my dog Gabby in slow motion when we’re doing 50-70 yard recalls. She’ll be off-leash and there are distractions around, it’s one of the most beautiful things for me to watch. So, how does one produce a happy, fast and reliable recall? It’s not necessarily a short process, but I’d like to outline what it takes to build that type of recall.
Step one, you have to make some great associations between your command, I prefer to use the dogs’ name, and the behavior of your dog turning around when you call. They will hear their name, then turn around. At that very moment in time, you want to begin the process of reinforcement. The next thing you need to build an immense amount of value into, is having the dog come all the way back into your personal space to receive a reward that is very meaningful for the dog. The good thing is, there’s a ton of games other dog trainers have created to get dogs to understand how wonderful it is to come to you. I call my version “the treat toss game.” It’s on my YouTube channel if you’re interested. It’s a game where I throw a single, high-value piece of food at a wall or doorway, preferably a narrow entryway. As the dog goes to chase after it, the treat will stop at the door, then as soon as the dog puts its mouth on it I call the dog, and at that point, the dog has no option but to turn around. When they do turn around, I’m going to tell them what a great dog they are and then promise them a reward when they make it all the way back to me. I’ll pet them and give them more food and start the game all over again.
If you watch, it’s a very fast-paced game. If you’re wanting to see this process, just send me a text and I’ll send you a link where you can watch this game. It’s really fantastic. I play some version of this game every day for several months with my young puppies.
One of the very fundamental problems with the treat toss game, is when you call a dog, they will make an estimation on the value, like “is it better to continue to move away, or is it better for me to come back?” A lot of the time, that’s going to be based on how much practice you put in with your dog. However, the reality is that no matter how many times you play this game where it gets rewarded for coming to you, there’s going to be things in the environment that’s better than that. It may be another dog, a squirrel, a car, which may cause your dog to think “it’s not valuable enough for me to come.” This is where long leashes and other tools really help the dog understand it is about making a choice and they must do it because there is a consequence for not coming.
Let’s talk about what this looks like. In the beginning, you and your trainer will have a training collar picked out for your dog that’s the right fit for your dog. I then let the dog get about 10 feet away and then I put a little pressure down the line, call their name, and then guide them back to me using the leash. As they come to me I’m going to reward them and I’m going to make sure the leash is 100% slack when the dog comes back. I will then let the dog get away again, then I call them and use the leash to bring them back to me again. The leash is slack, I make the reward. Then I intentionally go and find a time for the dog where they are distracted so I can do this again. If I call them and they make me have to reel them in, I’m not necessarily going to reward them, because I don’t reward bad behaviors. If I do call them and they come to me easily, then it’s going to be a big reward.
Over time, you’ll see as you practice more with these distractions, the dog will learn the differences of their choices. They will prefer to come and get the reward and they will want to avoid any of the consequences of not complying with what you want. I can’t tell you enough that rewarding your dog is the foundation of this, but unfortunately, because some things are more valuable than the history of your game, you do need to take steps to teach the dog there are consequences for not coming when called.
Again, if you want to see what the “treat toss game” looks like, send me a message at (832) 734-5189.