In my opinion, recall is one of the most important commands that you should absolutely, 100% teach your dog. For me, dog that is thought recall command is a dog I can let off the leash and not worry about it running off. It’s also good for your dog because it can roam freely and explore more.
So how do you teach recall correctly? Believe or not, there’s a simple step by step system that you can follow with near 100% success rate. I’ m going to lay it down below, but you can start at the stage you’re already at.
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Step 1 – Baby steps.
If you have a puppy, it’s very important to get the basics right. If you won’t, you will have to correct problematic behaviour down the line.
To teach recall to a puppy, you must start indoors or in secluded garden. Remove all distractions – toys, snacks, other pets. Put a leash on your dog (I suggest buying a 10 meter leash, but standard leash will do for this stage) and have your dogs favourite treat at hand.
Make your dog sit, take a few steps back and call your dog to come to you. Now’s the important part many people miss. When your dog comes straight to you, you must reward and celebrate like your dog just found gold. Give your dog a treat right away and use high-pitched voice to praise it. Repeat this process until you feel that it “clicked” for your puppy. Feel free to change up the distance, increasing it by a few feet.
It’s important that you repeat this process on a daily basis, no more than 10-20 minutes. You don’t want to bore your dog, but we want to develop the pavlovian response – that is when your puppy automatically associates the recall command with something very, very positive.
Once you’re feeling confident indoors and your dog is coming to you at least 9 out of 10 times, it’s time to add a disctraction.
Take one of the toys, throw it nearby and call your dog to come to you. This might take a few tries, but the most important thing is that when eventually the puppy comes to you, you must praise and reward it like it’ s the best dog in the world.
Feel free to reward it with a little play time so your dog associates comming to you with all things good and fun – treats, praises and playtime. Repeat this excercise 10-20 minutes per day till you have nailed it down.
Step 2 – Moving outside.
Once you’re feeling confident with recall indoors, it’s time to progress to the great outdoors. This is a big leap, but one you must make. It’s very easy to get frustrated with your puppy when teaching recall outside for first few times, but you must understand that all these new smells are much more interesting than comming to you for a little treat so here’ s a small cheat – when you progress to outside, switch to a new interesting treat and basically repeat what you did inside.
First, train without distractions in a big, open field if possible. When you’ ve got that nailed down, use a toy or a stick for a small distraction.
From there, you can progress to either city park or forrest for the next level of difficulty.
From my experience, I know that it’s easy to loose patience when you call your dog and it ignores you. I’ve seen many dogs come to their owners after 5th or 8th call and when they do come, their owners get mad at them, but this is how you loose all the progress you’ve built and your dog will associate comming to you with something negative.
When your dog comes to you after ignoring you at first, praise it less than usual or just be neutral to it. NEVER use negative reinforcement for this command or you’ll loose all the hard work you’ve put in.
Step 3 – Off-leash training.
Once you’re confident while training recall on leash, it’s time to move to off-leash training. It has a few differences from what we did before that are very important to follow.
When starting out with off-leash training, only call your dog when he is not distracted with anything else. The goal here is that your dog comes to you with first try and when he does, you guessed it, you praise and reward it like he solved world hunger.
Like with any command, repetition is key. You want your dog to develop your dogs pavlovian response and the easiest way do achieve that is with rewarding greatly. You should only decrease the frequency of rewards when your dog consistently obeys your commands.