A woman crouches in the green grass teaching her dog to come

Teach Your Dog Recall

A reliable recall is a highly valuable skill to get your dog back to you when off-leash. A solid recall can also help you manage and avoid potentially dangerous situations. When we say solid or reliable, we mean having a completely proven recall that your dog listens to 100% of the time in any situation. As dog owners, we often see different dangers in environments that our dog is possibly not aware of, and being able to call them back to us will help us avoid these scary situations. Besides the dangers we can run into, it's also nice knowing that when you let your dog off-leash, you can easily get them back. 

 

Tools needed: 

  • High-value food rewards—This is something your dog loves and only receives during this training of this skill. It's important to remember that we do not get to pick what is considered high value to our dog. What a dog considers high value is completely up to them, so test out a few options, see which your dog enjoys the most, and only use it for recall training. If you begin using this reward in other training, it devalues the rewards, which may weaken the behavior. Some examples of things your dog could consider high value would be sardines, bits of cheese, pieces of hot dog, and boiled chicken. The idea is that the reinforcement history of this cue is solely tied to this awesome food they only get when that word is said. So, if Fido goes dashing to the street and hears their recall, they instantly stop, turn, and come back. 
  • Treat pouch—A treat pouch is a great way to hold on to your high-value reward. Often for dogs, high-value rewards are mushy and smelly food items, so having a pouch to keep them in instead of your pocket is appreciated.  
  • Check cord—This extra long lead comes in 15' and longer. A long line is a great way to keep your dog tethered during your first few training sessions, especially when you change environments and add new distractions.  

How to Teach: 

  1. When first teaching this new skill, start in a low-distraction environment on a check cord. 
  2. Next, you will create meaning to the recall cue you have chosen. Start by saying your dog's name to get their attention. Follow with your recall cue, and then provide your high-value reward. Repeat this until your dog shows that they understand that your recall cue is triggering the dispensing of a yummy reward. 
  3. Practice restrained recall to continue associating the cue and the behavior. You can do this by having a friend help you in your training session.   
  4. During the drill, your assistant will hold onto the dog while you move a few feet away, between 5 and 10 feet to start.  
  5. Next, while the assistant holds the dog, you will begin to call their name and get them excited.  
  6. Once the dog seems engaged, provide the recall, and at that same moment, your assistant releases the dog. 
  7. The dog should come barreling to you, and once they get to you, mark it with a “yes” or click and provide that high-value reward.  
  8. Practice this repeatedly so your dog continues to tie the cue, behavior, and reward together. 
  9. As your dog understands the recall reliably, you can begin shaping this behavior by working in new environments with different distractions and at different distances. For a dog to truly understand behavior, it must be proven in many different situations. This is how your dog understands that recall and other skills mean the same thing in any scenario. For example, once your dog seems to understand recall well on a check cord in your backyard, your next step would be to remove the check chord and see if they perform the same behaviors. If your dog does not respond once the leash is removed, then you know it is not time to change the environment, but rather keep building your association to the cue or find a higher-value reward.  

Remember that this is a skill that could potentially save your dog in an emergency issue. Do not overuse your recall; ensure you are always dispensing your high-value reward. There are many different recall drills to continue to improve and shape the behavior, but this is a great place to start.