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Old 01-29-2007, 07:06 PM   #1
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Default How to: Train a reliable recall

Coming when called is probably the single most important thing most of us want to teach our dogs. If they are ever to be allowed to exercise off lead they will need a reliable recall, and if a dog is hurtling towards a road or other danger the ability to call him to you can even save his life or prevent serious injury.

So how do you teach a good recall?
1) Decide on a cue, and make sure everybody in the household uses it consistently. Some people like to use a whistle, others will use a word like 'come' or 'here'.

It is a bad idea to use only the dogs name as we will tend to use this several times a day in many different contexts so he may become confused. The name should mean 'hello, pay attention I am about to tell you something important', so if you wanted to call him back you might say 'Fido, come' or if you wanted him to sit say 'Fido, sit'.

If you have a dog who does not always come when called at the moment, try changing the cue to something entirely new, don't persist with a cue he has already learned to ignore when it suits him.

2) Make recalls a positive experience during training. This means when your dog comes to you (albeit 20 mins later than you had hoped for) you must never ever punish him or shout at him. He won't understand that he is being punished for ignoring you earlier, he will associate the bad things with coming to you. Get into the habbit of rewarding recalls with yummy treats, a walk, his dinner, a game with a favourite toy. Use your cue word in a happy upbeat tone, avoid using a growly cross voice. Don't use your new cue word when you know the consequences won't be nice for the dog. If you need to give him a bath, a worming tablet, or put him back on the lead don't recall him, go and get him without saying anything.

3) Add distractions slowly and systematically. Start training (or retraining) by using your cue round the house eg before you feed the dog or before you have a game with a toy. Only use the recall cue WHEN YOU KNOW HE WILL SUCCEED in coming to you. You want to build up a 100% track record so don't give him the chance to ignore your cue. If he is engrossed in a new smell in the back garden and paying you no attention, don't cue him. Wait until he tires of the sniff, and is looking a bit bored. Make sure he knows you have a great toy or treats, and that you are the best game in town. Only say your cue word ONCE! If you get into the habbit of calling more than once you are training him to ignore the cue word selectively. If he doesn't come when you use your cue do something exciting, run away from him squeeking his toy for example - he will be likely to follow you at which point you can praise him for coming.

Don't rush - when he is 100% at recalling around the house and garden (and not before) you are ready to add minor distractions. Initially this could perhaps be having another family member eating near him, or bouncing a ball. You could then try adding perhaps a child jumping up and down or running around.

You might then progress to a very quiet area of a boring park or field perhaps, with no other dogs in sight. Don't feed your dog before the walk, and let him know you have garlic chicken or liver in your pocket. Allow him off lead briefly (or on a long lead if you are unsure that he will respond) then recall and make a huge fuss of him (release him to run free again after he recalls as putting him back on a short lead would be seen as a punishment by him). As he becomes conditioned to responding every single time you use the cue, eventually you should be able to cue him successfully near other dogs, people, interesting smells etc. This process can take several months, rushing the process and allowing him to fail will ruin all your hard work. If in doubt, use a long lead - this way he can't fail. Hopefully he will respond willingly, but as a last resort you can gently reel him in towards you and still praise him when he arrives. If you have had to reel him in, you probably need to go back to lower level distractions for a while.

Joining a training class is an excellent chance to practice proofing your recall around other people and dogs.

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