Recall is the #1 most important thing you can teach your dog. Sure, sit is helpful and shake is cute, but neither of those will save your dog’s life is there’s a car barreling down the street or an aggressive, leashed dog headed your way.
The biggest challenging with recall is it’s basically a competition between listening to you and going after whatever other exciting thing is in the opposite direction – a dead squirrel, a running cat, a pile of trash on the ground. It takes a lot of work to teach your pup that listening to you is ALWAYS the preferable option.
My wonderful friend Andrea just adopted a new rescue shepherd mix named Julius. He’s one year old, the same age Ru was when I adopted her, and in many ways, they remind me of each other! We’ve been going on frequent hikes in the East Bay hills, and I’ve been helping her practice recall with Julius (it’s understandably a nerve-wracking experience to new dog owners). Whether you’re bringing home a new furball of your own or just want to strengthen up your recall training, here are the tips I recommend:
1. Build up from low-distraction to high-distraction environments
Recall is like a muscle memory. Start by rewarding your dog for coming in “boring” places where there’s not a lot of other exciting things going on. Even still, give him lots of cookies and praise! Continue to build up from there by leaving a food toy on the ground or while there’s another dog nearby.
2. Always carry stinky treats on you
My friends often say that Ru is the best behaved – it’s music to my ears! In addition to tons of dog training classes, a huge part of the reason she listens well is because I carried stinky treats with me 24/7 for the first few years. Every single time she came when I called, no matter the scenario, she’d get a cookie. Dogs, just like humans, want to be “paid” to work, and for pups, that means food. You want to establish that you are the “giver of delicious yummies!” and soon they’ll be bowing to your every command. (Hint: my favorite stinky treat is the Natural Balance Food Rolls. I cut them into small squares and freeze them for training.)
3. Make whatever you’re doing way more exciting
When your dog is running the opposite direction, refusing to listen to your voice, that’s because whatever is going on over there looks waaaaaaay cooler!! So you have to make it look like, actually, what’s going on with you is going to be way more fun! That means, when you call your dog, use a super excited, happy voice as you start jogging in the other direction. To your dog, this behavior looks like play, and it will be tough for them not to sprint over and join in. Don’t forget to give a cookie when they come and lots of praise!
4. Practice recall wherever you go
Recall should be practiced frequently and everywhere. Call your dog from the other side of your house. Call your dog in the backyard. Call your dog at the dog park and on your hikes. Trainers like to say “dogs don’t generalize well” – that means that just because they obey in one place, doesn’t mean they know how to obey everywhere!
How good is your dog’s recall? What are your favorite tricks?