Updated: Feb 9
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.