Puppies and recall

I’ve been thinking about recall a lot. This may be due to the fact that I’m working on a recall focused class. Either way, this is one of the top skills that clients ask me for advice on.

Recall is a potentially life saving skill. Having a reliable (or bomber as I like to call it) recall can save your dog from running into a street, disappearing in the woods as they chase wildlife or even calling them off a dog that they are headed for that will not be friendly. Suffice it to say, recall is important.

So what’s the deal with recall and puppies? Well, when most of my clients come to me with puppies, they identify recall as a skill they want to work on, but then I inevitably hear a version of “but my puppy is already pretty good at recall”. True enough, your under 6 months old puppy probably does have a good recall. They tend to want to stay close and if you put in just a bit of work on recall, you see HUGE returns. All of the sudden, you’re thinking “my puppy is a recall super star! This is going to be awesome!” and you go on fantasizing about off leash adventures you’ll be able to do because your dog will always listen to you. Then you usually stop training recall, or train it only every now and then.

If you’re a dog trainer, you’re probably chuckling as you read this. Because we know what’s coming. After 6 months of age, your puppy is going to become a teenager. I know we say that dog’s are not people and we shouldn’t treat them like people. That still stands. But an adolescent dog is going to start pushing boundaries, not dissimilar to human teenagers.

It likely won’t happen right at 6 months. Probably closer to 8-9. But one day, you’ll go to recall that puppy and they will not come back like they used to. Or worse, they will have wondered off much further away. In adolescence, dogs will be gaining confidence and will literally push the boundary of how far to wonder from you (when off leash). They are also full or hormones and their perception of the world is evolving as they are. Somethings may become more distracting than they were as a puppy. These are all things that will work against you for recall. Unless, you’ve prepared.

How do you prepare your puppy for a life-long solid/bomber/reliable recall?

  1. Train recall regularly. Recall training will take a bit more effort than skills such as sit/down. You have to go outside (after you’ve worked up to this) and practice regularly.
  2. Use insanely high value food rewards for recall training. Your dog should think that your recall cue = the most delicious thing ever. When you know you’re going to have your dog off leash, have this food with you.
  3. Reward ALL check ins that your puppy offers. This is a skill you WANT to build. Your puppy should think that choosing to come check in with you will always pay out. This will raise your puppy with the concept that they should stay near you and should check in regularly, unprompted.
  4. Never ever ever ever ever recall your puppy to something bad. This is great way to ruin your recall.
  5. Make recall training a part of your puppy’s training journey. Work with a trainer to get the skills you need so that you can learn how to train your puppy to eventually recall off of wildlife and even out of play.
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