Recall Training: Tips to Teach Your Dog to Come
Brought to you by the AKC GoodDog! Helpline – the AKC’s 7-day-a-week training support service
By Hilarie Erb, AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer
Beautiful weather is finally here, and you want to let your dog enjoy some off-leash exploring on the nature trail or by the lake after being cooped up all winter. He comes when you call him at home, so this shouldn’t be an issue, right?
First, for the sake of safety, understand that when a dog is off leash, you have no control. Any dog can get carried away in the moment, and should never be off leash in an unfenced area. Some dogs are programmed to be independent and hyper-focused on what they are doing, too. When they get their noses to the ground in pursuit, nothing else, including you, exists. If you have a dog like this, resign yourself to the fact that you can never let him run free in an unfenced area. But even if your dog’s middle name is Lassie and has come to you at every call since you had her, you should be prepared for the unexpected.
When you call and Buddy ignores you, don’t keep calling. He will get the idea that paying no attention to you is just fine. Nothing happens if he continues digging in the flower bed, lots more fun than coming to you. Raising your voice and sounding irritated will not help, either. If you get lucky and he does come, you still must praise him when he reaches you. Never punish or scold a dog when he comes to you, no matter what he did before. Don’t chase him, either. Nothing is more fun to a dog than a game of chase when you are “it!” Try to avoid putting your puppy into situations where this can occur, until he’s more mature and has learned a better recall.
“Don’t chase him, either. Nothing is more fun to a dog than a game of chase when you are “it!’”
So, what should you do when he just won’t come? If she is clearly engrossed in something fascinating, calmly approach with a high value treat or toy. Show it to her, and when you are close enough to get a hold on the collar, give the treat and lead her away. Cheerfully, even if she just ruined something. Another option is to initiate a game of chase with her – her chasing you, not the other way around! Get her attention with a special toy or treat, use an excited playful tone of voice, and run away. She very likely will follow you back into the house. But if she isn’t falling for any of this, keep reading.
In your dog’s mind, is there a history of you spoiling his fun? You can change this by randomly approaching several times throughout the day and giving him a little treat or some praise, taking hold of the collar, then walking away. This will show that your coming to him means something good will happen. Do this often. It will pay off when at some point there is an urgent need to get your dog, or at least prevent him running away from you. When that does happen, don’t be stingy – take him to the fridge and reward lavishly.
Prepare. Practice recalls in non-distracting environments, being sure that you always reward and praise your dog when she comes. It does not matter what she did before, if she came to you, you must be happy to see her. Get into the habit of carrying high value treats with you, and having them handy around the house. If Fluffy thinks there’s a good chance of a reward, she will have good reason to come to you. The more distracting the environment, the better the reward must be. For tips on how to teach your dog to come, read http://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/basic-training/teach-dog-to-come-when-called/
Training is vital in teaching your dog to come. Start now so that you will be ready for a potentially scary situation. Remember that the absolute safest thing to do is to keep your dog leashed or fenced always.
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For more tips and advice on training your dog, join the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by experienced dog trainers: www.akcgooddoghelpline.org.