It may just be the most important command your dog learns. In fact, it could even save your dog’s life—”come.” Such a simple concept, yet it’s difficult to teach! Proper recall can keep your dog from getting into something poisonous, running into the street, or getting attacked by a wild animal like a raccoon. It’s also critical for a successful trip to the dog park or any other off-leash experience.
California dog trainer and founder of The Pooch Coach, Beverly Ulbrich, walked us through some mistakes pet parents make when teaching this all-important command, and gives us tips for how to do it right.
Tips for Teaching Recall to Your Dog
1. Use high-value rewards for positive reinforcement
Reinforcement is important. Start your training with high-value treats that your dog may not get on a regular basis. A small baggie of cooked chicken or hot dog bites, or perhaps string cheese or jerky, can be very motivating. If it’s nice and stinky, that helps!
Call your dog to you using your chosen command, and then immediately give the treat when they come all the way to you. Starting with shorter distances helps.
2. Non-food rewards work, too
One of the best ways to make it a fun, positive experience is to make sure there’s a reward, but it doesn’t always have to be food.
“If you grab the leash, the dog knows he’s going for a walk,” Ulbrich explains.”Tell them to come and if he obeys, then get the leash out.”
Even if your dog doesn’t obey immediately, he’ll soon associate “come” with fun rewards if he hears an audible clue—the leash, his ball, etc.—after being called. You can also use verbal praise and petting to reward your dog for obeying. This can work well if your dog is already pretty good with this command.
“Use walks, dinner, toys, and treats as backup to continually reinforce ‘come’ as a positive, happy thing,” Ulbrich adds.
3. Start slow and work your way up
Just as you don’t expect your 5-year-old child to go from Kindergarten to 8th grade in one year, don’t expect your dog to either. Ulbrich says levels of obedience are like grade levels and you can’t expect your dog to start off at high-school level right away.
“If your dog is a C student indoors, he’ll be an F student outdoors.”
“If you want reliable recall at the dog park, you need to have reliable recall in the house first,” Ulbrich says. “If your dog is a C student indoors, he’ll be an F student outdoors.”
Build up slowly to get your dog to come reliably. Work your way to 100% reliable in the house, and then move outdoors where there are more distractions.
4. Keep it a fun experience; don’t punish your dog for obeying
Imagine you’re enjoying a great afternoon at the dog park, but you decide it’s time to leave. You tell your dog to “come” and promptly put him on the leash or in the car.
“It’s like being called to the principal’s office.”
“It’s like being called to the principal’s office—it’s something they don’t like so they don’t want to come,” Ulbrich says. “They learn to stop coming when called because they don’t want to leave the park.”
Other examples of “punishments” for obeying recall commands include:
- Bath time
- Getting groomed—nails clipped, brushed, etc.
- Giving medicine
Make sure you aren’t using the command to call your dog to you if you’re going to do something he doesn’t like.
5. Use “here” or “come” instead of the dog’s name
Pet parents will often call out their dog’s name simply when they want to know where they are—usually to make sure he isn’t getting into too much trouble!
“Indoors, people do not tell their dog to come—they just say the dog’s name,” Ulbrich explains. “Using their name just gets their attention but doesn’t tell them what to do, so it’s not a good way to train your dog.”
You need to clearly use the command “come” or “here” and make sure your dog obeys.
6. Make sure your dog comes all the way to you
Does your dog like to meet you halfway when called? This is not proper recall!
“Offer praise as your dog is coming to you—don’t wait until he makes it all the way to your feet,” Ulbrich says. “By telling him he’s doing the right thing, he’ll be more encouraged to come all the way.”
This mistake usually ties into #2, where pet parents use the command to check on their dog.
“The dog thinks ‘come’ means being able to see them is good enough and they don’t understand they have to come all the way to you,” Ulbrich adds.
The Bottom Line
Recall may just be the most important thing you can teach your dog. Making sure he’s 100% reliable when you call him could even save his life. Take the time to train him right to make sure he’ll obey at the house and outdoors. Be consistent, stay positive, and reinforce the behavior you want, and you’ll see results.