Recall is the most difficult yet important command. Good recall allows dogs the freedom to play explore, keeping them bonded to you with your words, which act as an invisible leash. Without recall, dogs wander into traffic, confront unfriendly creatures and get lost. Dogs don’t see our modern day dangers. It is our job to keep them from harm.
How to Earn a Dog’s Trust
Your relationship with a dog isn’t measured by how well they sit. It is measured by how much you trust each other.
Your dog is very lucky to have you care so well for them, but do they know that? When you have no leash to rely on, you need trust to keep you together. Your dog needs to know that you are the safest place to be. They trust predictable people. Never lose your cool when they return to you. If you do, they will see you as mentally unstable and lose trust in your ability to act sensibly. So always be calm and consistent.
Eye contact is an imperative means of communication. Most people don’t realize how little their dog makes eye contact with them. Dogs look past us, or even to us, but not “into our eyes”. Dogs are clever creatures. They will avoid eye contact when they don’t want to listen. So acknowledge them when they look at you.
Only give a dog the freedom they can handle.
Pick the command you will use to call them. It could be as simple as “come” or “touch” or “here” or even using their name along with clapping, snapping, whistling or patting your leg. What is important is you both know what it means. Be sure to use the same command each and every time. Being consistent and insisting they return will set you both up for a win.
Dogs can tell if there is hesitation in your voice. Call them as though you are convinced it is a brilliant idea. They can sense your confidence.
- Get to their level, crouch down to welcome them
- Call them (convincingly)
- Praise as they approach
- Touch their collar
Start on Leash
If your dog’s recall is nonexistent, start by using their leash or, better yet, a long leash. A rope or two leashes clipped together will also do. Let the dog walk to the end of the leash, experience a bit of freedom, and then call them back to you. If they don’t respond, tug the leash as you call them again.
Work on this before you start off leash. Be positive when they come to you. Remind them that being with you is the best place in the world.
Be consistent! If you call them and they do not come, stay calm. Call again. This time if they don’t respond, pull them in. Rub their collar and congratulate them, even if done with a strong sense of sarcasm.
Be smarter! If you see something for which you know they will leave you, say a handsome poodle or a discarded cheeseburger, call them before they see it. Keep their attention on you and move on.
When they have perfected recall on leash, start with a few distractions. This is a good time to think about allowing them more freedom.
If their recall still isn’t 100%, perhaps practice in an enclosed area like a hallway, a vacant tennis court or, even better, a fenced-in dog park.
Dog training doesn’t just happen when we click on the leash. It is always happening.
Going off Leash
Dogs end up associating being called back to going home. No more smelling pee on trees. No more chasing that flirtatious doodle from down the street. Now they know they will be going back to that boring box we call home. Home lacks the freedom and adventure of the outside world. So call them back to you regularly just to check in, not only when you’re going home. Use a pleasing voice. Kneel down playfully so you aren’t a tower of intimidation. Touch the collar playfully. Add a little neck rub. This will make clicking on the leash a much easier endeavor. Tell your dog how rad they are. Get eye contact and then release them to return to their dog-like activities. Returning to you now means being complimented, massaged and admired. They now understand that you are merely calling them for an opportunity to praise them. Win-win.
What if they don’t come? The number 1 reason dogs don’t come back is because someone or something else smells better or is more fun. If you know you can’t win, wait. As long as it is safe (not on a road), it may be best to wait a minute. Approach your dog calmly. If you can grab them, just clip on the leash and walk away. Scolding your dog for not coming the first time makes you look crazy.
If you know your dog won’t come, don’t call them (it will happen). Wait for a pause. Stay calm. It isn’t personal. Emotionally remove yourself from the next 10 minutes of your life.
If they are chasing another dog, running in circles or playing tag they will not hear you. Wait for a pause and call them, with the same happy tone and knee slapping. If they don’t return you, calmly approach them. No matter how angry you feel don’t scold them. Rub the collar, click on the leash and take them straight home. Although you may want to ring your dog’s neck, it is far more effective to avoid speaking to them or making eye contact. The silent treatment is very effective in the dog world.
When Dogs Still Don’t Come
DO NOT CHASE THEM! Going after a dog may initiate a game of tag. They may think you are playing, when really you are getting frustrated. Try one (or all) of these proven tips:
- REWARD: have a special toy they only get for the way home. Usually squeaky toys work best.
- WALK AWAY as dogs instinctively follow the leader
- PLAY ALONE with a stick/ball/toy pretending it is awesome and you don’t want to share.
- ASK SOMEONE to grab your dog as they approach (a drop lead is very handy for this)
- TREATS: while I do avoid training with food, if all else fails offer a snack.
ARE YOU ANGRY? We have all been there! Even the best dogs have had days where they don’t listen. Remember not looking at or speaking to your dog will make a bigger difference then yelling.
A Final Note
Think about how much time your dog needs off leash. What do they love to do? Sometimes they would rather a leisurely stroll than a romp at the park or vice versa. If your dog is under 3 years of age, they may need up to two hours a day of exercise. Without it, they can become destructive, anxious and generally a less-pleasing companion.
Don’t just work on recall at the park when it is time to go home. Call your dog back throughout the day. Have them check in for a hug or a tummy rub. When you walk on leash with them, call them, make eye contact, give them a rub and smile because you are both doing an awesome job.
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