Does your entire neighborhood know your dog’s name?
Yup, mine too. It’s extremely frustrating when you call your dog, and she completely ignores you. It’s even more frustrating when, the closer you get, the farther away she runs.
All dogs would rather play outside and sniff than go back to their owners. Being outside unleashes the wild beast inside them. Even so, you can teach a very reliable recall with lots of practice.
You really can get your dog to be truly happy to come to you, even if she’s in the middle of a good sniff.
I’ve complied my very best recall training knowledge into 10 easy tips. Follow these steps, and your dog will become better at recall – if not near-perfect.
1. Practice using a recall word.
Begin recall training indoors. When your dog is already coming to you, say, “Come!” or your recall word. Be consistent, using the same, single word each time. Treat your dog, even if they’re coming from a foot away.
Practice getting farther and farther away from your dog when you call her. Sometimes, practice “come” with “stay,” but not always. Get your dog really good at coming to you indoors, then start practicing outdoors.
2. Don’t let your dog loose just yet.
Until your dog is very reliable at recall, don’t let her loose in public places, or unenclosed areas. Letting your dog loose too soon is dangerous, and sets her up for failure.
You can get a really long, 30-foot leash to use in wide, open areas to give your dog freedom without losing control. The leash eliminates the possibility of error. If your dog does not come, shorten the leash, and praise her when she comes near.
3. Have smelly pockets.
If you’re practicing recall with your dog, always make sure you have lots of tasty treats. Don’t skimp, dry biscuits or kibble are not exciting enough to reinforce recall. Use meat, hot dogs, eggs, freeze dried duck treats from Stella & Chewy’s – something really yummy.
4. Don’t wear it out.
The more you repeat yourself, the more your dog will learn to tune you out. If you call her ten times before she comes back, she’ll notice that she doesn’t really have to come the first time you call her.
Don’t give her the option to ignore you. Only call her when you think there’s a good chance she’ll come back. Don’t call her if she’s sniffing, or running after a bird. But, do call her if she’s about to dash into the road.
If your dog won’t come, just go get her. Or, wait until she finishes sniffing or running after birds. Just don’t let yourself become a broken record.
5. Keep your tone happy.
Avoid panicking or getting angry when your dog refuses to come to you. This is very easy to detect in your voice, and no dog wants to go near an angry person. Keep calm, and use the same tone every time you call your dog. Call your dog in a way that makes them want to come to you.
This is even easier with a recall whistle. A recall whistle never sounds angry, and it always sounds the same. It also makes it easier to call your dog without disturbing other people.
6. Reward your dog with more freedom.
If you only call your dog when it’s time to inside, she’ll realize that coming to you means playtime is over. She might not come if she thinks you’re a buzz-kill. That’s why it’s important to teach them to check-in with you every few minutes.
Call your dog, and praise and treat them. Then, say a release word, and let her go back to playing or sniffing.
If your dog checks in with you of their own accord, reward them and release them. Checking in with you is always a good thing, and it does not mean the fun is done.
7. Stop making so many friends.
A huge myth about puppy training: the idea that your dog needs lots and lots of socialization. Or else they’ll be anti-social and totally awkward at parties.
During leashed walks, don’t allow your dog to just run up to every stranger, dog or human, who passes you.
I made this mistake when Matilda was a pup. She was so tiny, and I didn’t want her to be afraid of anyone. I wanted her to grow up to be a strong, independent woman-dog who ain’t afraid of nobody. So I used to let her say hello to everyone who came near us.
Now, she assumes any person or dog she sees is a new best friend. Socializing makes her very happy, and takes all of her attention. If she were loose and saw another dog, or a new human friend, she probably won’t come back at my first call.
You can safely socialize your dog, but you should be total control of every encounter. Don’t let the leash slack so your dog can approach on her own. Only let your dog socialize after you’ve given her permission. That way, she’ll be less likely to be impulsively friendly with strangers, and may be more reliable if you’re trying to call her away from someone.
Keep socialization brief on walks, and continue on. Get your dog’s attention back ASAP. Socializing is fun, but it’s not more important than you. Once your dog realizes this, they’ll be less likely to dash off when they see a new friend across the road.
8. Never, ever, ever scold her for getting back to you.
Scolding just doesn’t work well with dogs. It just scares and confuses them. Don’t hit her. Don’t tell her “no.”
Praise your dog, even if you have to catch her and pick her up. Even if she didn’t look up once. Even if she just embarrassed the hell out of you.
When your dog is safe in your arms, tell her she’s good, fuss over her, tell her how worried you were about her.
I know that’s the last thing you want to do when your dog has been so naughty, running away from you and ignoring your call. But if your dog picks up on your anger or annoyance, or even gets a spanking when they return to your arms, they’re not going to come back next time.
9. Be the Chasee, Not The Chaser
Some dogs think it’s hilarious when you chase them down the street. It’s probably because they know they’re faster than us. Dogs have seen us run. They’re not impressed.
Avoid chasing your dog whenever possible. Don’t even chase after her around the house. If you never chase your dog, she’ll never notice how bad you are at it!
Always make sure you’re the chasee when you play games with your dog. Run around the house, and reward your dog when they catch you. That way, when your dog is refusing your recall, you can just stop, turn around, and start running – hopefully, your dog will chase you.
10. Play hide and seek.
One way to be the chasee is to play Hide and Seek.
Dogs love to play hide and seek. It’s amazing to watch from your hiding spot as she looks for you. You can almost see the gears turning in her head. And it’s hilarious when she can’t find you, and walks right past you – and then she finally finds you yayyyy!!!!
Start playing in your house. Have your dog stay, hide, and then call her using your recall word. When she finds you, lavish her with praise and treats. The game is highly rewarding in itself, and makes your dog realize that finding you is awesome.
Once you get the hang of Hide and Seek indoors, try it outside. Make sure you don’t lose your dog while you’re hiding. Have a friend hold your dog back while you hide if she can’t be trusted yet.
You can also randomly hide and see how long it takes your dog to notice you’re gone. Praise her lavishly when she finds you – you should always be on her mind when she’s off-leash, and she should find it really fun to check in with you.
No dog has perfect recall!
No matter how much you train, no matter how tasty your treats, there’s a chance that your dog will not come. Dogs are not perfect, and their acute hearing and sense of smell makes distractions very hard to ignore. Some dogs can never be trusted off-leash.
It’s up to you to keep your dog safe. It’s up to you to know when it’s okay to let her off the leash, and when you need to keep her close. One mistake, and your dog is gone forever. When in doubt, leash your dog!