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Recall Training: How to Get Your Dog to Come When Called

Recall Training: How to Get Your Dog to Come When Called

Getting your dog to come when called is one of the most important skills you can teach. A reliable recall allows you to call your dog back to you in any situation for their safety and the safety of others. Teaching a solid recall takes time, consistency, patience and positive reinforcement, but it is a worthwhile investment. In this approximately 10,000 word guide, we will cover everything you need to know about recall training from start to finish.

The Importance of Recall Training

A strong recall is crucial for a number of reasons:

  • Safety – Being able to call your dog back to you is critical for keeping them safe in hazardous situations, such as when they are about to run into traffic or approach an aggressive dog. A recall could save their life.

  • Control – Having a reliable recall gives you more control over your dog when they are off-leash in public areas or on hiking trails. This allows you to call them back rather than constantly needing to keep them on a leash.

  • Obedience – A dog that has a solid recall is generally more obedient in other areas as well, since recall requires them to obey your command. It establishes you as the leader and who is in charge.

  • Trust – For your dog to consistently come when called shows they trust and respect you as their owner. It strengthens your bond and provides reassurance.

  • Freedom – Once your dog reliably comes when called, you can feel comfortable letting them off-leash to explore and get exercise in appropriate areas. This gives both you and them more freedom.

In short, recall is one of the most critical skills for your dog to learn, both for their own safety and for effective obedience. Don't skip this important part of training.

How Recall Training Works

Teaching recall utilizes the principles of positive reinforcement. When your dog comes to you on command, you reward them with treats, praise, play and anything else they find rewarding. This teaches the dog that coming when called results in something desirable for them.

To train a reliable recall:

  • Start in a low distraction environment and use a cue like "come" when they are already coming to you. Reward when they reach you.

  • Slowly increase distance and add more distractions as they learn. Practice in short sessions multiple times a day.

  • Use high value rewards like hot dogs, cheese, chicken or dried liver. Vary and randomize rewards so they don't know what to expect.

  • Fade the food rewards over time but continue praising enthusiastically. The reward becomes your attention and affinity.

  • Only give the cue once. Don't repeat it over and over.

  • Be patient and always set them up for success. Don't progress too quickly.

With consistency and positive methods, you can teach your dog to enthusiastically come every time you call, regardless of distractions. Next we'll cover how to begin foundation training.

Starting Foundation Training

To start building a strong recall:

  • Begin training sessions in a low distraction environment like your home, yard or enclosed area. Have no distractions present.

  • Wait for your dog to naturally come near you, then say your recall cue word ("come" or whatever you choose) as they are already coming to you. Praise, treat and play when they reach you.

  • Repeat this frequently throughout the day, using their regular daily activities. Say the cue as they come to you for meals, when letting them outside, during play time etc.

  • Once they are consistently coming to the cue in this low distraction environment over several days, you can start asking for the recall when they are a short distance away.

  • Give the cue once when they are across the room, reward when they get to you. Vary the short distances.

  • Keep sessions short, fun and rewarding. End on a good note.

This foundation work teaches the dog that "come" means to return all the way to you for something rewarding. You want to set them up to succeed in these initial sessions.

Proofing the Recall

Once your dog is reliably coming when called inside with no distractions present, it's time to start proofing the recall:

  • Practice in short sessions multiple times a day

  • Slowly add distractions like other people, pets, toys and food

  • Increase distance – move to a fenced yard or longer lead/line

  • Practice coming from play time or high arousal states

  • Use very high value treats that are varied and unpredictable

  • Reward with play, praise and treats to really reinforce response

  • Only give the cue once and do not repeat command

  • If they don't come, reel them gently back in via leash/line without punishment

  • Frequently return to easier contexts they can succeed in to rebuild motivation

  • End sessions on a positive note with a successful recall

  • Be patient and persistent. Proofing takes a lot of time and consistency.

Troubleshoot by backtracking to an easier context if your dog is struggling. Keep training sessions short, rewarding and fun.

Off-Leash Recall Training

To train an off-leash recall:

  • Start in a safe, enclosed area like a backyard, tennis court or dog park

  • Use a long line to maintain control while giving the illusion of freedom

  • Let the line drag so you can step on it rather than jerk if needed

  • Practice coming from play, other dogs, toys and high arousal states

  • Use special rewards like squeezy cheese, hot dogs, liver etc

  • Employ target training – call to front and target your hand for reward

  • Slowly increase freedom by dropping/unclipping the line for short periods

  • Immediately reward spontaneous recalls without calling your dog

  • Design training sessions around recalls – call between fun activities

  • If they don't come, quickly go get them without anger and gently lead back

  • Focus on building drive for coming through positive rewards

With diligence, you can eventually proof a reliable off-leash recall. But be cautious about letting your dog off-leash in unsecured areas. Not all environments or distractions may be suitable, like near roads. Know your dog's limits.

Maintaining a Reliable Recall

Once your dog is reliably coming when called in various contexts, you need to maintain that reliability through:

  • Consistency – Regularly practice recall training throughout your dog's life. Don't let skills deteriorate.

  • Rewards – Continue rewarding your dog frequently when they come. Praise verbally, give treats, play etc.

  • Real-life practice – Use real-life situations for training sessions. Call them back when people or dogs approach, before meals etc.

  • Motivation – Keep recall training fun! Vary locations and rewards. Play games incorporating recall.

  • No anger – If your dog doesn't come, calmly go get them. Do not punish them after the fact.

  • Emergency recall cue – Teach an emergency recall "word" using high value rewards.

A reliable recall requires lifelong training and reinforcement. Be consistent and don't take it for granted. Refresher training helps prevent problems down the road.

How to Regain a Lost Recall

If your dog has had a reliable recall in the past but is no longer responding, there are steps to regain that focus:

  • Evaluate the context – Are there competing motivators like other dogs, people or wildlife? Is your dog over-aroused or stressed?

  • Manage the triggers – If your dog is routinely ignoring you for something like squirrels, prevent access until you retrain.

  • Backtrack training – Go back to foundation work in low distraction environments to rebuild value.

  • Increase reward value – Use special treats they don't get at other times to re-motivate.

  • Avoid repetition – Don't nag your dog by repeating the cue over and over. Say it once then go retrieve.

  • Apply negative punishment – When they ignore a recall, end fun play time or outings as a consequence.

  • Be more exciting – Make yourself and rewards as engaging and inviting as possible.

  • Check medical issues – Health problems like reduced eyesight or hearing can make it hard for your dog to comply. See your vet.

  • Consider professional help – If you've tried everything, working with a certified trainer/behaviorist may help.

With consistency and patience, you can retrain your dog's recall in most cases. Identify the source of the problem, minimize distractions and motivate your dog using foundation training methods.

Recall Training Challenges

There are some common challenges owners face when training recall. Here are some troubleshooting tips:

Distractions – If your dog ignores you for things like other dogs, start retraining in a low distraction area and slowly add stimuli back as skills improve. Prevent rehearsing the problem behavior by managing the environment.

Over-arousal – It's hard for dogs to think clearly when overly excited. Practice having them come sit quietly next to you to calm down before rewarding and releasing to play. Teach an emergency recall word using high value treats.

Competing motivators – Real life rewards like wildlife will be more enticing than training treats. Avoid areas with abundant squirrels, rabbits etc. until you proof against those distractions. Use special rewards.

Adolescence – Teenage dogs often show reduced focus and increased defiance. Stick to foundation training, keep sessions short and motivation high using play, praise and treats.

Off-leash freedom – Some dogs get the zoomies when free in nature and won't come back. Use long lines to maintain control while giving them space to explore. Build a strong recall foundation first.

Punishment fallout – Harsh punishment can damage recall reliability long-term. Use rewards instead of physical corrections. If needed, apply negative punishment by ending fun activities.

Medical issues – Health problems like arthritis or decreased vision/hearing can inhibit recall. Check with your veterinarian.

Stress and anxiety – Fearful, stressed or shut down dogs may be too overwhelmed to focus on cues. Avoid flooding them with stimuli. Create positive associations using treats, play and encouragement.

With patience and consistency, virtually any dog can develop a reliable recall. Tailor training to your individual dog's needs and motivations. Make coming to you so rewarding they can't wait to do it!

Recall Training Games and Exercises

Incorporating games into training helps maintain your dog's motivation and provides mental enrichment. Here are some recall-based games:

Hide and Seek – Have someone hold your dog while you hide somewhere nearby and call them to you. Make it easy at first. Praise and reward with play when they find you. Increase the challenge over time.

Red Light, Green Light – Say "green light" and call your dog as you run away encouraging them to chase you for a reward. Say "red light" for them to stop and sit before chasing again.

Tug or Treat – Hold a tug toy behind your back. When your dog comes, either reward with the toy or a high value treat. Vary which reward randomly so they keep coming eagerly.

Fetch Back and Forth – With two people standing apart, teach your dog to come back and forth between you. Throw a toy to the other person when they get to you. Reward periodically with treats too.

Obstacle Course Recall – Set up a backyard agility course including tunnels, jump bars, hoops etc. One person calls the dog while the other releases them over each obstacle to come back for a reward.

Emergency Down – While playing, randomly give an emergency cue like "down!" When they lie down immediately, heavily praise and reward. This teaches impulse control and prepares them for emergencies.

These games help maintain your dog's motivation, teach impulse control, and make training fun! You can come up with endless variations using your dog's favorite rewards, toys and environments.

Off-Leash Considerations

While training towards off-leash reliability is a goal, use caution in letting your dog off-leash in public areas. Consider these risks:

  • Road dangers – Even the best trained dog may chase something into traffic. Be very careful around roads.

  • Dog aggression – Leash laws often exist to prevent dog fights. You risk situations with unknown dogs.

  • Nuisance behavior – Your dog may harass or scare other people when greeting off-leash.

  • Wild animals – Chasing wildlife like deer can trigger hunting instincts and lead dogs into hazardous areas.

  • Poisons and hazards – Off-leash dogs can get into things that make them sick – food, chemicals, drugs etc.

  • Legal liabilities – You may face tickets and fines if your off-leash dog damages property or harms someone.

While solid recall training allows off-leash freedom in appropriate areas, consider your individual dog's personality and environment before letting them loose. Use long lines if needed to maintain control.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your dog is showing no progress or a worsening in their recall training, seeking professional help may be beneficial:

  • If your dog frequently bolts or chases stimuli and is exhibiting dangerous behavior, putting themselves and others at risk

  • If you cannot identify the source of their training difficulties or what motivates them

  • If health issues like pain, anxiety or compulsive disorders are inhibiting their training

  • If you have tried all the standard training techniques with no improvement in their recall reliability

  • If your relationship with your dog has deteriorated due to continued struggles with the recall

  • If your dog exhibits signs of stress, fear or shut down behaviors when being trained

A certified dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist can help identify the root cause of your dog's issues and develop an individualized training plan. They may recommend medication if anxiety or compulsion are primary factors. Seeking professional guidance can get your recall training back on track.

Recall Training Tips

Here are some final tips for developing a reliable recall:

  • Always reward coming to you, even if you didn't call your dog

  • Use high pitched, excited praise and physical touch to reinforce

  • Don't repeat cues. Say it once, then go get your dog if needed

  • Practice in short sessions, multiple times a day

  • End sessions on a positive note with a successful recall

  • Frequently return to easier training levels to rebuild motivation

  • Manage training environments and distractions to prevent practicing unwanted behaviors

  • Dogs learn best when they're not stressed. Keep sessions fun!

  • Use the Premack Principle – call them back periodically when playing or hiking then release them to continue the fun activity

  • Make the reward for coming better than what they are currently doing

  • Be patient. Proofing a reliable recall takes a very long time.

Developing a solid recall requires persistent training, but it provides the foundation for a safe and enjoyable life with your dog. Put in the time now and it will pay off for many years to come through the unique relationship you build.

Conclusion

A reliable recall – your dog consistently coming when called – is a challenging but essential skill. While it requires significant time and dedication, the payoff is immense in terms of your dog's safety and obedience. Use techniques like positive reinforcement, high value rewards, impulse control games and distraction proofing to teach this critical skill. Be consistent in training and manage your dog's environment to prevent problem behavior. A solid recall leads to more freedom and enriching activities you can enjoy together with your loyal companion. The effort you put in now will build an incredible bond and last a lifetime. So get out there, be patient and have fun training your dog!

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