Something happened yesterday that made me so thankful that Sasha has a responsive recall (i.e., she actually comes to me when I call her). I had just stepped outside to take her on a short walk when, somehow, her leash detached from her collar. I don’t know if it wasn’t completely clipped in the first place or her pulling finally wore down the clip, but all of a sudden Sasha was racing down our alleyway towards a road.
I don’t know about your dog, but Sasha is fast, and I obviously wasn’t going to catch her just by chasing her. This is where her reliable recall came in: in a high-pitched, excited voice I yelled “Sasha, come!” and frantically started waving treats while running the opposite direction. It worked. She came running towards me, and I was able to grab her collar and reattach the leash while giving her a jackpot of treats and praise.
It is crucial for your dog to have a good recall because, in a scenario like mine, it can save your dog’s life: if Sasha had continued running toward the road, she could have easily gotten hit by a car. I recommend beginning to practice (or re-teach, if your dog thinks coming when called is optional) your recalls so that, if something like this happens to you, your dog listens and runs back to you. Below I have listed some tips to encourage a really reliable recall:
- Say it once. You will want to create a cue (most people say “come” or “here”) to say when you call your dog. The key is to only say it one time. If you teach your dog to come by calling them four times, you will have to say it four times every time. So, at the beginning of your recall you will want to say “(dog’s name), come!” in a loud, excited voice. If they seem to need some extra encouragement, rather than repeating the cue you can make some rapidly repeating notes, which have been proven (by Dr. Patricia McConnell in her doctoral thesis) to be used to speed up animals in countries all across the world. Examples of rapidly repeating notes are smooching your lips multiple times, making a trilling sound, or calling “pup pup pup!”
- Be consistent. If your cue is “come”, always say that exact word. Resist the temptation to say “Come! Come here! Come on!”, or something to that effect.
- Create movement. When we are calling dogs to come we often end up leaning forward towards them; dogs are very aware of body language, and although our voices may be telling them to come closer, our body language is saying “go away!” Instead, turn the way you want your dog to go and run a little bit- this movement will encourage your dog to run after you. An added bonus is that dogs love to chase, so it is also a reward for coming when called.
- Give a jackpot. When your dog gets to you, I recommend using lots of praise while giving a succession of 5-7 treats in a row. This will help to reinforce the behavior and make it more likely that your dog will repeat it in the future.
- Set your dog up for success. When you’re beginning to teach (or re-teach, or practice) your recall, don’t do it at the dog park surrounded by 15 other dogs and interesting things to sniff. (This is how many dogs ruin their recall. They tune you out and learn that coming when called = optional.) Instead, start with short recalls inside your house. Then, you can start adding more distractions and practice them outside- maybe just in your yard to start out.
Now that you know the crucial elements of a good recall, here is what it should look like when you are practicing a recall with your dog. I recommend having someone help you by holding your dog and then either letting go when they start to run toward you, or holding onto the leash and following them.
- Wave super smelly treats under your dog’s nose so that he or she knows you have them.
- Take a step away while someone else holds your dog.
- Clearly say “(dog’s name), come!”
- Turn and run in the opposite direction (the other handler should release the dog at this point). Feel free to add some rapidly repeating notes to add a little more spring to their step.
- Give a jackpot when they get to you!
Any time that you put into practicing recalls is time well spent. A reliable recall can save your dog’s life- and even if you never have to use it in a life or death situation, never forget how lucky you are to have a dog that comes when you call him!