Everyone wants a dog with a perfect recall. The dog who listens the moment you call them and comes running towards you, leaving behind any number of distractions. Everyone wants that dog. However the truth is that most people don’t put in the work required to get that kind of recall, yet expect their dog to perform it.
If you’re feeling attacked, that’s not the point of this post. There is no judgment from me, it’s easy to get off-track with recall training and make common mistakes that will hurt your recall training. The important point I’m trying to make here is that most people think they have put in more work into recall than they actually have.
Let’s compare recall and sit. If you’ve got an adult dog, your dog can probably sit anywhere reliably. You’ve likely been working on that skill since you brought your dog home and it’s been reinforced heavily. Your dog got lots of treats for sit inside your home, then sit outside on a leash in all kinds of environments. Sit next to other dogs, sit when out on a trail, sit everywhere. You get the idea. You have trained your dog to sit anywhere and around a lot of distractions.
How many times have you trained your dog’s recall vs your dog’s sit?
See what I’m getting at? You don’t necessarily have to have repeated as many successful recall exercises as you have sit’s but you probably haven’t trained your recall even close to as many times as a sit and recall is a much more difficult skill. It’s important to acknowledge this and adjust expectations for your dog with recall.
The good news is that you can train a reliable recall without repeating your recall drills as many times as you’ve worked on sit. You just have to be smart about where you put your work in and be realistic about your dog’s recall reliability.
Recall is a tough skill. We’re asking our dogs, who spend most of their time with us on-leash or contained in some way (yard, crate, house, etc) to give up moments of freedom and come to us. We’re often asking that when they are playing with friends, chasing critters, and just being silly goofy dogs. That’s a lot of distractions and that is a LOT of environmental rewards to tempt your dog. This is why the best way to work on recall is to tailor the training to your dog.
What does that look like? It starts with figuring out what motivates them (food or play are the most common motivators). This allows you start building a foundation of reinforcement history that is successful and positive. You’re starting to teach your dog the value of coming back to you when they call.
The other important piece to identify for your dog is what are the most difficult distractions for them. This is important for two reasons. The first, is so that you can work up to the most difficult distractions rather than trying to start there. The second reason is that once you are aware of the distractions, you can make the choice to go get your dog instead of recalling them when you think they aren’t yet ready to recall well around that distraction. This is a critical point since calling our dog back to us unsuccessfully will hurt the long-term progress on the skill. It’s always better to go get your dog when they aren’t ready to handle a distraction than it is to hurt your training by trying a recall and failing.
For those who are local, there are still a couple spots (as of publishing this) in the July recall clinic. An online recall class will hopefully be posted this fall. As always, work with a trainer if you’re not making progress on this skill. You can get there!