Tips for Reliable Recalls

Few things are more frustrating than watching your dog run away from you after you’ve called her.  Many dogs have learned when you call, it either means nothing, or it means something unpleasant is about to happen. Either way, the dog has learned that coming when called is not a good idea. The truth is, dogs don’t naturally come when called. It’s a learned behavior just like sit, down and stay. By teaching your dog that coming to you is always worthwhile, you can, with time, have a dog who will run to you every time you call. Keep these simple rules in mind:

Set up for success. One of the mistakes we make is to assume the dog will come to us outside because she always comes to us in the house. Not true! Start training with minimal distractions so your dog can succeed most of the time. Start by practicing in the house, and only move outside when she’ll run to you every time. Use very high value treats (something your dog won’t get at any other time), or your dog’s favorite toy as a reward.

Make it fun! Be someone you’d want to run to. Run away and encourage your dog to chase you, or back away and entice her with a happy tone of voice and inviting body language like crouching down, making kissy noises, or clapping your hands. Encourage her with praise while she’s running to you.

Never call for something ‘icky’. Calling your dog and then doing something she doesn’t like (leaving the dog park, ending a fun game, trimming her nails) creates a bad association with the recall cue and your dog will learn to run the other way when she hears it. Instead, use a special cue for the icky stuff; “bath time!”, “time for nails” etc., and keep your recall cue associated with great rewards.

Have a party! When your dog comes to you, reward with wild praise (don’t be afraid to act silly, dogs love it), petting, and a handful of high value treats or favorite toy. Show her that running to you is more fun that anything else.

Practice – a lot. The more your dog gets rewarded for coming when you call, the more automatic the behavior will become. In just a few minutes a day, you can get in multiple recalls. Follow that up with daily fun and praise whenever your dog comes to you on her own.

If she ignores you, don’t get angry. Her choice reflects the value she sees in coming to you. Get closer and try to entice her away with clapping, whistles etc. When she comes to you, reward her and praise warmly. Set up the exercise again with less distraction and reward her for getting it right.

With practice and great rewards you can have a dog who loves to run to you every time.