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Recall - How To Come When Called

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Regard a solid recall as an insurance policy because it could save their life one day.

At 8-16 weeks, when you first take your puppy home they want to be with you and stay close to you, they haven't yet learnt they have a choice in this and coming away from their litter and mummy, they will want to practically have 1 paw touching you all the time to help them feel settled. If you let your puppy off lead during this time, they also check in with you regularly so a recall can come very natural in the early weeks. It is equally natural for them to stop coming when called shortly after that at about the time they hit their Juvenile and Adolescent Period at 4 to 8 months otherwise likened to the terrible two's in children. Puppy's as this age learn they have a choice and its the work you put in now that determines the foundations for later on development.

A good recall is the blueprint for making good choices later in life

It is not uncommon for owners to underestimate their puppy’s first months at home with their natural desire to stick close to us, and confuse this as a lesson mastered, so let your guard down. Things can start to go awry when calling a puppy for something they don't like or calling a puppy when they are very unlikely to come. An example of this would be calling a dog to come away from the fun i.e other dogs, or calling a dog to come so they can have a bath out back with a cold hose (or perhaps they like that), or when they are in mid flight after the neighbors cat.

If you combine the natural adolescent phenomenon of not responding as quickly as before with the unintentional misuse of the cue and you may end up with an unreliable recall as your dog matures. You know the type, your dog could be selectively hearing you and coming back when they are ready rather then when you call them. This is also more likely with some breeds such as a stubborn terrier or a working breed i.e spaniels and their close relatives the cockapoo are notorious for a poor recall due to their breeding hunting instinct being so strong but we can talk about breeding traits another time.

Don't be afraid to go back to basics!

Start As You Mean To Go On.

When teaching a reliable recall be sure you only call your dog for something that he thinks is amazing, Treats. Games. Playtime. Walks. Going to the Park etc... Whatever he loves! and quite often this can just be your Undivided Attention and fuss! You can of course engineer this by ensuring you are always fun and rewarding when they make it to you and if you are aiming to put them in the bath or clip them on the lead you can go get them instead.

In some cases where the dog is older and the problems have continued for some time it might be beneficial to retrain the come command with a different word or if you can whistle.

Remember, if you call your dog to come to you and something amazing happens (every time!), he is far more likely to repeat this behavior regularly and enjoy coming to you so will most likely be thinking "yay! mummy wants to play! i love you! lets play! i'm coming! i'm guna catch you mummy! this is so much fun!!".

If, however, you call and something the pup finds unpleasant happens, they will stop coming when you call and think "sod that! this is much more fun!". The most common example of this is by putting your dog on the lead, there is an exercise you can do to take away the association of a lead going on as a bad thing.

To do this you just need to clip the lead on and continue to play or reward and don't always do this at the end of your walk, do this at random times throughout your walk and while at home away from the act of calling them in and your puppy will disassociate the lead going on and fun stopping.

A behaviour that is rewarded is much more likely to happen again!

Why Recall is Important

The recall is crucial in my eyes! it is taught to keep your dog safe from harm, a solid recall can save your dogs life but the work comes in as a precaution. Think of it as an insurance policy! A good recall is helpful in order for you to be able to take your dog to the park and let him off the lead to play with other dogs nicely, not over stay his welcome and not eat that lovely families picnic on the way round, or run off chasing a cat into a main road or a squirrel across the trees and getting lost.

Be sure to check out games that are specifically designed to teach a solid recall in our other blogs.

So a recall, how do we do it right?

  1. When you call your puppy, shout out ‘Yes!’ as soon as he makes eye contact with you and you have his attention. This will help get your puppy coming to you more quickly and create a sprint rather then a trot.

  2. Bend down or squat and open your arms to look warm and inviting as they start running towards you.

  3. Your voice should never sound angry or uninviting. You can change it depending on whether or not you need to ramp it up a bit with some high-pitched silliness and animation.

  4. When your puppy is running to you, don't loose momentum, don't get complacent, call them until they are in your arms.

  5. Running in the opposite direction away from the puppy, clapping your hands, and acting as silly as possible, will usually get him chasing you!

  6. Avoid chasing your puppy.

Praise, Praise, Praise!!! Make it the best thing to happen since a tennis ball first flew through the air when they get back to you.

If other people or dog owners in the park look at you gone out, YOUR doing it right! Recall training is a license to be all kinds of silly and loud!

Come Away From Distractions

In real life there can be some very persuasive distractions for a dog, A child with sticky fingers, a dead bird or fish (yuck), that families picnic etc... You want your dog to come to you regardless of the distraction and that exact moment you call them for safety.

To train your dog to come away from distractions you must first set them up for success at home with some engineered training games.

  • If there is two of you, one of you can cause a distraction while the other calls, you can swap roles and extend the distance or even go out of sight to call but do make sure your puppy always come to you when you call. If you have to return to basics and go get them to lure them away from the distraction or the person distracting needs to tone it down a little to start with that's advised.

  • With one person you can create a distraction by placing a ball or kibble in their path (out of reach) or throwing something to the side and still asking your puppy to come into you.

Once you have mastered this indoors, take it out to the garden and then to the park and if you need to use a long line training lead to help with your distance control do. check out our other posts on how to use a long line and for more games to strengthen your recall.

Prevention can be better then cure

At times, with some dogs and especially while in training its better to not allow your puppy to run off in the first place, easier said then done for sure! so that's where its helpful to know your breed and your dog, if you think he will likely run off and not return it might be best to pop him on the lead or long line and work with him while you pass a trigger. Asking for a simple 'watch me' or 'sit' & 'down' taking a couple of toys with you on your walks and keep one in reserve with a loud squeaker to help in your recall but aim to pass the trigger while keeping his attention on you and then you can let him off again when its safe to do so. Some working breeds get what i like to call 'A Hunt On' their nose is on the floor tail in the air, frantically sniffing and darting about as if following a trail, anything you do at this point literally falls on def ears! studies have proven dogs have selective hearing or should i say selective deafness, they literally cannot hear you!

The best chance you have of interrupting this behaviour is to intercept their sniff path and clip them on the lead to allow your puppy time to simmer down before releasing them again. While on the lead continue to play and reward keeping them close and you will find the further away from that environment you walk the more control you seem to have again. check out our other blogs for games to play to capture this sniff hunt instinct and by joining in with the sniffing and engineering training this through games you have more hope of harnessing this behaviour and toning down that selective deafness!

Some Points To Remember

  • Always work in an environment that is secure and safe for your puppy, start at home and slowly take it to wider spaces. Employ the use of a long line or work in an empty tennis court for added safety. Always reinforce your puppy with food he loves such as chicken, cheddar, or liver cake (if your into baking)!

  • Never under any circumstances punish your dog for coming to you, no matter how long it may have taken him to get there, he has done as you asked even if it was a day late when he shows up on your front door after hours of worry that he was missing! keep your cool and always praise.

  • When you call your pup to come, shout ‘yes!’ as soon as he makes eye contact with you to mark this behaviour and he will know hes heading for a treat and lots of fuss.

  • Squat down and open your arms to look fun and inviting as they start running towards you and keep calling them in, don't loose momentum, if you can get your dog sprinting back to you, you've done it! well done!!

  • Your voice should never sound angry or uninviting. You can change it depending on whether or not you need to ram it up a bit with some high-pitched silliness and animation.

  • In the beginning, do not be too concerned with other commands coming and sitting directly in front of you. For now you want to be sure to praise for the come. This is something that you can perfect later if it is important to you, just call them in and praise once they return to make sure you are teaching them a recall and not a sit in front.

  • Avoid chasing your puppy.

  • Running in the opposite direction away from the puppy, clapping your hands, and acting as silly as possible, will usually get him chasing you!

  • Quick release: Release your pup quickly and enthusiastically after he has come back to you. “off you go!”

  • Prevention is better then cure

  • Call your puppy to do something fun, not for something that he’s not going to like.

  • And most of all have fun with it, play some recall games like hide and seek!

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