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How to starting training the recall – “come”

Keep your sessions short and with the dog wanting more of the game when you end the session.

Steve Dunham

February 14, 2022

A reliable recall can head off any number of circumstances that could have an unpleasant outcome otherwise. Come may potentially be the single most important command we can teach our dogs. In order to make the Come reliable, my first goal is to make it as fun as possible for the dog.

Do you remember how you felt the moment you heard the music from an ice cream truck, while playing with your childhood friends? My recollections are feelings of excitement and an overwhelming sense of urgency to beg, borrow, or steal some change and catch the truck before it would disappear until who knows when. This sense of excitement and urgency is what I want our dogs to feel when they hear us calling for them. We have to become the ice cream truck.

To teach a recall I typically start with a very high value treat. By high value, I mean something that is very special to the dog. Something like rotisserie chicken or another piece of meat that they wouldn’t otherwise receive.  Initially the training area should be free of things that distract the dog, and the dog should be hungry. You can use a leash to begin this exercise if necessary.

Begin by enticing the dog with the treat. Don’t give it to them yet, just briefly tease them by holding it at nose level in a partially closed fist. Once they are very interested, immediately take a few quick steps backwards, excitedly giving the recall command to the dog. As the dog follows you, immediately pause then reward with a treat and praise. Repeat a few times.

Once the dog is figuring out that the faster they get to you the faster they get the treat, start increasing the length of distance between you and the dog before recalling. We are making them work a little harder, but not too much. We still want to quickly walk backwards away from them when calling them. We pause when they give us their maximum level of commitment to getting to us, hopefully they are running toward us with excitement when we pause for them. The reward again comes immediately when they get to us.

Recall games can be fun and exciting for the dog, as well as for the family. For example, family members can stand at a reasonable distance apart from each other and call the dog back and forth between them. This can be very exciting for the dog and build the recall foundation significantly.

Initially I don’t ask more from the dog than to come to me with enthusiasm. If I start asking to sit or wait too long for a treat, they will most likely lose momentum. There is a time and place for that but a little later in the training. The intention of this article is to teach the dog that coming when called is very fun and rewarding.

Keep your sessions short and with the dog wanting more of the game when you end the session. Too much training can cause the dog to lose enthusiasm.

After your dog understands the concepts of the Recall and is coming to you with enthusiasm, it is time to increase the distractions. We would love to have the opportunity to help you develop a consistent and reliable recall with your pet. Please contact us if you would like to learn more.

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