Everyone has that dream of being able to take their pup off leash at a park or the beach, but that dream can frequently turn into a nightmare if your dog does not have a reliable recall. Because the outside world can be SO stimulating for most dogs, this can be a very difficult command to build since distractions are more than prevalent. Fundamental skills should be developed to help build consistency for a solid recall.
First, always remember that when you call your dog to you, that they should be reinforced! Very often we will call our dogs away from something naughty they may be doing, and this can create conflict in the command since they think they may get in trouble when they return to you. Set yourself up for success by ensuring that every time you ask your dog to “come” to you, you reinforce them positively, be it with food, a play session, or a ton of praise. If you need to get your dog away from something they shouldn’t be doing, go to them and get them, at least while you are still building this command.
Start small – deal with training the basic behavior in home first. Have your dog at a distance from you (either in a stay or while they’re engaged in something else), and using a leash to ensure their success, ask your dog to come. Walk backwards as they approach to help increase their speed and make coming to you more enticing. When they reach you, lure them into a seated position and reinforce the behavior with “good come”. Have them hold that position in front of you until you are ready to release them and then give them permission to move with your release command. Conditioning this settling in front of you will help you to be able to grab them comfortably if the situation calls for it.
“Conditioning this settling in front of you will help you to be able to grab them comfortably if the situation calls for it.“
Once your dog begins to understand this basic recall, begin to increase your distraction level BEFORE you worry about distance! Train at the park or in your yard and build reliability up close before you increase how far you expect your dog to recall. When you are ready to build distance, I highly encourage the use of a long line (20-40 ft of rope will suit just fine) so as you begin to practice from farther away, you can reel your dog in should they get distracted. You always want to set your dog up for success, and this is a great intermediary step that many people bypass. They will begin to learn that there is no option but to return to you. Use the recall randomly, not just when you are ready to return home, and then release your dog back out to play again.
These are beginning tips and tricks for helping your dog to build the basic understanding of what it means to come back to you. If you find that this is still a problematic area for you, please seek the help of a professional trainer to ensure your dog understands this concept if you are going to be letting them off the leash. A good, solid recall can be a life saving command for your dog and, in my opinion, is THE most important skill to teach your dog!
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