Train Your Dog To Come To You Regardless Of Distractions
Getting your dog to understand that coming to you is better than whatever distraction they may encounter is an exercise in patience and practice. However, teaching a reliable recall is one of the most important and live-saving commands you can teach your dog. You can use this recall to get them out of harm’s way as they will learn that returning to you will net them the most delectable reward they can imagine.
To teach your dog a reliable recall, you must select a specific phrase or word to attach to your recall. Then, you can begin to link a high-value reward to that word for your dog to begin associating a treat with that command. From there, you can say your selected word from a very short distance and immediately reward your dog for coming to you.
There are a couple of rules of thumb to adhere to while teaching a recall that will ultimately get you a dog that will come right back to you, no matter what. You must learn what motivates your dog above all else, what is especially distracting to them, and remember only to practice this recall when you can reward them with their high-value currency. I will discuss all of these steps below and cover how this command differs from a traditional “come” you may have already taught.
Setting Up Your Recall
The key to establishing a foolproof recall with your dog is first to understand the “currency” that motivates them the most. Each dog is different and therefore have their own ideas for what is the tastiest or rewarding food. I use cooked or rotisserie chicken that I can throw in the fridge for a couple of days for my pups. You can also use freeze-dried treats as these travel a bit better than fresh chicken. No matter which food or reward you end up with, try only to use this food when working on a recall as it will maintain its “high-value” status. Remember, your goal here is for your dog to associate coming to as being the best thing in the entire world.
Now that you have your high-value currency, it is time to establish what word or phrase you would like to use for your recall. Stay away from words that you frequently use, such as “Come,” “Here,” “Treat,” etc. You want this word to stand out to your dog and be very specific to the task you are asking. We use “Cookie” since that is a word we hardly ever use in our house. Pick whatever word or phrase works best for you; just be sure only to use it with your dog during their recall exercises.
The absolute most important aspect of recall training is to have your dog always have a successful return to you. To achieve this, be careful with your distance and distractions early on in training. Every “failure” your dog has will decrease the weight that is placed on the recall. This frequently happens with the “Come” command, which is why having an emergency recall is highly valuable. Always have your high-value treat of choice will training to instill that coming back to you is the most awesome, important task your dog could ever accomplish.
Teaching Your Recall
To begin working on a recall, give your dog a piece of the treat or food you are using. Say the word you will use as your recall word while you give them the treat. Then, step a pace or two back and say the word again. When they come towards you, praise them and reward them with the treat. Move back a step farther and repeat this process a couple of times. Your goal is to have your dog whip around and come to you the moment they hear that selected word.
When working on increasing your distance, make sure to encourage your dog the entire way when they are running to you. The moment they turn their head away from whatever is distracting them is the moment you are looking to enforce. Use a lot of “Yes!” and “Good girl/boy!” as they are approaching you. Once they reach you, give them the treat or reward immediately.
Another aspect you can add to this recall is a collar or harness grab. During the recall training, I always have my dog come to me, grab their collar for a brief moment, and then reward them with the treat. This gets them used to not running away the moment they receive the treat and can negate some negative association with having their collar touched. For most dogs, being leashed can be the end of freedom from whatever environment they are in, as they are now tethered to you. Adding the collar grab to the recall ensures your dog is comfortable with being put back under your control in a situation where they may be in danger.
Recall Practice Games
To instill a strong recall, you need to practice this in numerous practice sessions, situations, and environments. So, to make it more fun, add a bit of a game aspect to it. Stand on one side of your yard and have someone else from your household stands opposite of you. Take turns calling your dog with your recall phrase and increase the distance between you. I’ll even practice this when I’m by myself doing yard work. I’ll move around to different areas and call my dog when they are sniffing around, watching a squirrel, or just laying down to enjoy the sun.
Another way to practice your recall is to throw a low-value treat or kibble across the room from you. When your dog goes to get it, use your recall word to bring their attention back to you. Reward them with praise while they are walking back to you and give them the high-value treat. This teaches your dog that you are still the most rewarding thing to pay attention to, even with an edible distraction.
Keep in mind the key points of fool-proof recall training: choosing a good command word, finding the right high-value reward, and practicing this recall in various situations. Always gauge your dogs’ progress, and don’t hesitate to take a couple of steps back before you advance to more difficult challenges. I start recall training by being just a few feet away before advancing on to being across the house/yard/etc. Keep at it, and before you know it, you will have a dog that will come right to you, no matter what distractions they may face.