One of the most pressing questions for anyone who lives with a dog can be “how do I train my dog to come when called?”. Often this is asked when there has been a recall collapse. It’s also a question we see a lot in our Free Dog Training Facebook Group.
I wrote an article called “Deposits Into the Perfect Recall Account” many years ago, and it’s frequently used as a resource for the question, but we have never had it here on my blog. That changes today, and the article is below for you in full. Anyone who has registered for our Recallers program will know the article, and we have also turned it into an eBook that we send to you when you register for our Recallers notification list. If you would like the eBook, just fill in the form for Recallers that’s here on my blog.
Deposits Into The Perfect Recall Account
To increase the probability that your dog will come to you, each and every time you call.
This is achieved by building a solid foundation of them doing just that. You must be diligent, and make sure that the number of times your dog comes to you when you call, is far, far greater than the number of times your dog chooses not to come when called (ideally you don’t ever want that to happen!).
Here is a strategic approach to help you shape a more reliable response each and every time you call your dog:
Make up a list of situations, people, toys, places, other animals, food, objects or odours that your dog finds distracting, to the point of not listening to you. Refer to the list below of possible distractions for your recall if you need ideas.
Rate these distractions on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most distracting to your dog. Now, for the next week, make a point of having your dog on lead at all times when they are around any distractions that are “2” or greater.
You are going to avoid any “10” distractions for the next 2 months. This means you are not going to allow your dog freedom to choose not to come to you, when number “10” distractions are in their environment. This may mean keeping your dog on leash for the duration of this program or until you are confident in the reliability of his recall.
In order to have success with recalls, you must put in the groundwork. Make a plan of doing recalls with your dog, three sessions a day — 5 minutes per session.
Use different motivators to reward your dog when he comes to you. Your motivators may be toys, different types of food or anything else your dog goes gaga over. Choose a word that you want your dog to understand means “come to me”. It may be “come”, “here”, “com’ere”, “front” or anything else you choose. Try to pick a word you haven’t already attached meaning to (ie, if you choose “come” and you have been using “come” with your dog and your dog comes sometimes but not always, this word already means, “I have a choice” to your dog).
Do not use your dog’s name before the cue “come” when playing the recall game. In two months, once they fully understand their new cue “come”, adding their name will be a bonus.
Be sure the motivator is being used as a reward and not as a bribe. Call the dog, celebrate verbally with them for coming and then present the reward. Do not hold the motivator out like a lure in front of their nose as then you are teaching your dog to come to you only if they can see the toy or food first.
In your five-minute training sessions you should be able to get in between 15 and 25 recalls with your dog. In your initial training sessions, make certain there are no distractions around so your dog will want to come to you. You may even have someone help you by restraining your dog. Walk a short distance away and call out your cue “come” and run away. When your dog chases you celebrate verbally and reward. Be sure you vary your body position. Some times call your dog and when he starts to come, you will run away so he can chase you. Sometimes start to run away but then stop and let him come to your while you are standing still. Occasionally don’t run at all. Be unpredictable.
As the week progresses add a few of the distractions that rate a “1” on the distraction scale. Remember to only call your dog once, if your dog chooses the distraction over you, score one for them, minus 20 for you. You then need to execute at least 20 additional recalls before you can progress with your homework. By the end of the week your dog should be doing a successful recall with distractions of “2” or lower.
If your dog does not come with one cue at any time during the program lower your criteria. You may need to lower the rank of the distractions, if you are working with distractions. You may need to move closer to your dog or get more attractive rewards.
Progress up the distraction chart as your dog allows you to, but not too fast. You want to try to work your dog in the presence of their number 10 distractors, but not until you have diligently done your homework of at least 8 weeks of recalls. After eight weeks you should have put in an average of 20 recalls per training session, 3 times per day, 7 days per week. Over the two months of work you would have done at least 3360 successful recalls with your dog.
If your dog has a long history of not coming when he is called you may need to extend this program. It may be more difficult for you to work up your distraction list, be patient and only move forward with success. Rather then 8 weeks your schedule may be 16 or more. The program will work if you are methodical and DO NOT let your dog have his freedom to ignore a recall at any other time.
You may not have thought of every possible distraction your dog may encounter but if you have worked through as many distractions as you can think of in as many different locations available to you, your dog will start to generalize his recall to all locations.
Following through with daily reinforcements for coming will give you a solid foundation of shaping your dog to want to run to you, each and every time you call, regardless of what distractions are in their environment.
Enjoy the training! Remember we are all about fun for your dog and fun for you!
For some inspiration, there are two very short videos of mine on Facebook to see what a “real world” recall looks like. You can watch even if you are not on Facebook. Check out a Tater-Salad recall … okay, he might need some work on ‘stopping’ but if you have been following along with Tater, you will know he is a rescue dog who had a long history of not coming when called. The next is Feature recalling off a squirrel. Recalls like this are possible if you keep the deposits in your recall account high.
Today I am grateful for everyone who has shared “Deposits Into The Perfect Recall Account” with friends, family, training buddies and students over the years.