The perfect recall can be broken down into 3 sections. Every good recall has a beginning, a middle and an ending. Each component will present its own unique challenges and should be taught individually first. We talked about the ending of the recall in a recent blog post:
Should I Stay or Should I Go? Perfecting the Recall: The Ending.
If you missed it, take the time to read through it now.
Today, I'm going to talk about the beginning. The perfect recall beginning would consist of your dog turning from any distraction the instant you call, whether it's a running squirrel or a giant steak! So how do you achieve this result?
First, we need to start with baby steps. Without the right history and repetition, expecting a dog to turn from a tough distraction is unlikely to yield success. You have to put in the time and the repetition if you want a great recall. This means starting with no distractions to teach your dog what their recall cue is all about! Remember that every great journey starts with a single step. Your first task is to teach your dog that your recall cue brings wonderful things. That means creating an association with your recall cue to start.
Step 1 - Creating a Positive Association
- Make a list of your dog's top 5 favourite rewards
- Starting in a quiet location, give your recall cue and feed your dog something from the top of their favourites list
- Repeat several times over several sessions doing 3 or 4 repetitions per session
Next, we want to teach our dog to move towards us quickly when they hear their recall cue. We accomplish that by using restraint and building drive.
Step 2 - Restrained Recalls
- Start with your dog on leash in a quiet location
- You'll either need someone to physically restrain your dog using the leash or you'll need to find a stationary object that you can use to restrain your dog. If you're working alone, wrap the leash around a stationary object that will NOT fall over so that you can safely restrain your dog without a helper. In the image below, the leash is attached to Reggie's collar, wrapped around a pole and I am holding the loop in my left hand as I tease him with food in my right hand.
- Tease and excite your dog with a reward that they love (food or toys will both work depending on what your dog likes)
- Give your recall cue and release the dog by dropping the leash (or having your helper drop it)
- Run away and let them chase you
Make a big deal out of them reaching you. When I'm working with a young dog, I make sure I'm well stocked with a variety of amazing rewards that I know they'll love. This is not the exercise you want to break out the kibble with. Teaching your dog to LOVE coming to you means you want to use things that are very high value. This is where you'll need chunks of roast beef, cheese or steak, as well as their favourite toys and play as well.
Another consideration is the environment you're training in. We want to spend time teaching in a quiet environment first, but once we've cemented the idea, it's important to take the show on the road. When I'm working with a young dog, I always carry 2 leashes with me on walks. One leash is the restraint leash and the other is there to keep my dog safe in the event of a mistake. I hold the second leash or attach it to my belt. That way, I always have control of my dog. Whenever I come to an object that I can use to safely restrain my dog, like a light post, a tree at the park or a fence, I put in a repetition or two. You truly can't do enough restrained recalls and the more you practise them, the more responsive your dog will become to the recall cue.
One last thought on building your dog's recall and this is a very important point: NO TESTING ALLOWED! That means, your young dog who is still unreliable when it comes to listening should never be off leash. Until you feel like you have achieved a 99% success rate with your recall training, it's still got to be leash on so you have control over your dog. Every time your dog is afforded the opportunity to ignore a command, that command gets watered down. You run the risk of negating all of your hard work by allowing them freedom too early in the game.
Building your dog's drive and desire on your recall cue will get you started creating the perfect recall. Spending time teaching your dog to have a quick and pleasant response to the recall cue will always be time well spent.
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.