The most important command you can teach your dog

Josh Feeney photography

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Every day I see a handful of lost dog posts pop up on my various newsfeeds, and one of the things I’ve noticed is how many of those notices will say something like “don’t approach or try to call, he will run away”. Most dogs are going to be skittish and fearful in situations like this, but the lack of a recall command will make getting the dog out of a dangerous situation and back to his home even more difficult than it already is.  

So with that in mind, I’m going to give you the basics of teaching your dog a good solid recall. The premise for a recall is for your dog to choose to come to you over all the seemingly better available options: trash on the ground, kids playing with balls, or a dog across a busy street. Once your dog is able to respond reliably to you, you can reduce the likelihood that he will run off in the first place, and it will make it easier for others to approach and leash your dog if he does escape the yard when you aren’t looking.

The components of recall
  • Your dog becomes cognitively aware of your call.
  • His head turns towards you.
  • He makes eye contact.
  • He takes one step toward you (and another, and another).
  • He gets halfway to you.
  • He is almost there!
  • Your dog arrives and stays with you! Yay!
How to teach the recall
  • Have your dog on long leash.
  • Call your dog (“Fido, come!”).
  • Reward after each component of the recall.  Use praise for components like eye contact.

Each time you call your dog, you will reward him. Remember, you want your dog to choose to come to you. This will set your dog up for success by making running away seem like a much less attractive option, and it will also prevent you from having to use force to make your dog come to you.

If your dog still won’t come to you, try the following ideas. Remember that not every tactic will work for every dog, so you may have to try a few different techniques before you find one that works.

  • Run backwards.
  • Make interesting noises like whistles, handclaps, and high-pitched gibberish.
  • Turn around and walk away.
  • Gently reel them in with your leash.
  • Be more interesting and more fun than the environment. If the distraction level goes up, your effort and treat quality must also go up.
  • Use body language like crouching down, turning sideways, and averting your eyes.
  • Practice “watch me.” “Watch me” commands are like mini-recalls, and will keep your dog from getting distracted by interesting things across the street like squirrels, birds, and other dogs.

For example: Your dog is barking and digging outside. You call your dog to come inside the house, and he does! As hard as it may be to offer a reward for digging or barking, in the current moment, when your dog comes, you must reward for the recall. When your dog crosses the threshold of the door, all is forgiven and treats appear. (Make a mental note to train “quiet” on a future date.) Very important: always keep treats near the door.

Remember the basics
  • Reward: The reward must be extra special for recall.
  • Encourage: Verbally reward your dog many times during each component of the recall.
  • Communication: Give lots of feedback and use your knowledge of canine body language.
  • Always good: Recall should ALWAYS end as something good.
  • Lots of praise: It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it!
  • Leash: Use your leash as training wheels to ensure success and rewards.

Keep the sessions short at first, to avoid frustration on both sides. Keep the initial training components to 5 or 10 minutes at a time, and make sure those rewards are high value and utterly compelling.

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Photo courtesy of Josh Feeney (www.joshfeeneyphotography.com).

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