Teaching a fast, reliable recall on cue often seems impossible. Your dog comes running when she hears the food hit her bowl, but you aren’t going to carry her dish and a bag of kibble to the dog park!
- Review your dog’s name. Bitsy hears her name a thousand times a day: Bitsy wanna go for a walk? Bitsy hungry? Bitsy, stop it. Bitsy, no. Bitsy, as a word, means nothing to Bitsy. Load yourself up with some treats when your dog isn’t paying attention to you, and say her name, only once. If she’s busy or distracted, make other noises like a clucking sound or whistle, and as soon as she turns her head toward you, mark that with a Yes! and give her a treat. Wait until she’s distracted again and repeat. Do this 10 times, then stop. Wait a few hours, or overnight, and try again. Try it on walks. Play this game with your dog until whenever you say her name, her head whips around. That’s all she has to do.
- Choose your word. Think of a unique word or sound that will cut through all the other ambient noise in your dog’s world. We never recommend “come” or “here” because they are too stale. A word that ends in vowels, like “Cookie” or “Quickly” is good, or more of a sound like “Heyyaaaa!” or loudly trilling works really well. Start in your home with something special like boiled chicken or cheese hidden on you, and wait until your dog is not paying attention then enthusiastically say her name and make your new sound just once. Be excited with clapping and lots of happy talk, moving away from your dog. As soon as she starts to follow you, get even more excited. When she reaches you, drop ALL of the treats on the ground, praise and pet her for a full 20 seconds, then let her go off on her own wondering what the heck made all that fun stuff happen. Do this just 1 or 2 times a day. Don’t try it in more distracting environments until you have a dog that looks to you when she hears her name, then comes running to you when she hears “Heyyaaaa!” Here’s a brief video demonstration:
- Reward at the right time. Timing of rewards and avoiding punishment are critical. Don’t call your dog, make her come inside, then ask her to sit before giving her a biscuit. You did not reward the recall, you rewarded a sit. When she comes to you, never punish her even if she didn’t come right away, or else you are teaching her that coming to you means she’ll be fussed or yelled at. Finally, play lots of “catch and release”: call your dog, reward her for coming, and then let her go back to what she was doing. This is the best way to forge and strengthen the bonds required to have an instant recall!
You can find more training tips and resources at www.la-spca.org/training.