how not to train a recall

How NOT to train a recall.

Some people might think I’m crazy but training a dog to recall , or come when called, is one of my favorite things to train and trouble shoot. In my opinion it is one of the most pinnacle skills a dog parent should teach. First it should be fun. Second, a recall could be a lifesaver for your dog.

As you can tell I hope that you prioritize training a recall to that new puppy or rehomed adult dog after you bring them home. Not only is it an amazing skill but through the process you will have built an incredible bond with your dog. Two programs that I really love are Fenzi Dog Sports Calling All Dogs and Susan Garret’s Recallers. Either one of these programs will lead you on your way to training success.

There are some definite “don’ts” when you are trying to train that rock solid recall. Practicing these “don’ts” too often and you will diminish any future success and probably your relationship with your dog as well. This might also leach into other training success. Lets jump in so you understand these straight away and can avoid them.

Calling your dog without first training them.

First off, most dogs do not come preprogrammed with a stellar recall. You might get lucky for a while and your dog will come to you when called but my assumption is if you don’t train your dog and build the value to coming to you step-by-step you both will fail in the site of something highly distracting.

The more failures the weaker the recall will get. Grab a book, find a local trainer or check out either of the two programs I mentioned earlier so that you can put a training plan together to slay the recall training dragon.

Calling your dog when you know they won’t be successful.

This “don’t” is a lot like calling your dog without training. If you haven’t sufficiently been successful at training a recall first with low distractions and then slowing added greater distractions – you will fail. A recall is not something that is easily generalized.

If you are new to this term in training that means that you can repeat the trained behavior in all environments. For example you trained a sit at home in your kitchen. Can you repeat that snappy fast sit on the first command in the yard? On a walk around town? At the dog park? The answer is probably not until you’ve practiced this and had a longer history of reinforcing the behavior in these different situations.

The message here is don’t try and recall your dog if you know that there is a slim chance they will be successful. I’ll repeat what I said before, failures to recall will only weaken your training more and more each time. You know the saying “one step forward, ten steps back.

Calling your dog but not rewarding them.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves and I’m sure your dog will agree.

How can I put this in terms you will understand? Ok here you go, what if after a week your employer said thanks but didn’t hand you a pay check. This went on for two weeks. Then a month. Would you show up for work? Probably not.

Same goes for your dog. Pay often. Pay always. EVERYTIME your dog comes to you when called you better throw a party with anything your dog finds rewarding. A tastey treat. A game of tug. A toss of the ball. Don’t forget verbal praise “good dog”. That will come from your heart and they will feel the love of what the two of you just accomplished.

Punishing your dog when they do finally come.

Big fat no-no. You should have already read that I’m a positive reinforcement or force free trainer. This is surely a way to destroy any forward progress you’ve made training a recall and will total put the relationship with your dog at a different level of low.

If you dog fails a recall and you either have to go get your dog or they didn’t come until the 20th time you called there name….there is a reason. Could be any or all of the previous reason. But surely punishing your dogs when you finally do get a recall or you’ve retrieved your dog is not going to strength any future recall.

Lets use that work analogy again. If you continue to go to work, aren’t getting paid, and one day after you finished a task your boss came up and smacked you up side the head what would you do? Would you repeat what you just did? Would you try harder next time. We both not the answer to that. HECK NO!

No matter how frustrated or freaked out you are when you finally are able to releash your dog take a deep breath. And instead of taking it out on your dog use your time and energy to figure out how your training, if any, broke down. Figure out a training plan. And don’t continue to let your dog practice not coming when called. This would be considered “management” in training.

Only calling your dog to end the fun

So what would you think if you friend only called you when they needed to vent or needed a favor. You would probably not answer their calls anymore.

Same is true for your dog. And this might be a “don’t do” that not many people think about when building reinforcement for the recall.

If you only call your dog to put them back on a leash and end the fun they are going to learn that chain of events very quickly. So the recall eventually always ends with negative reinforcement or removing something that is rewarding – their freedom. So instead of always recalling your dog to put them on leash, leave the fun, or be crated in the car release them again and start the game all over again. Don’t be predictable and I can’t say this enough – KEEP IT FUN.

Repeatedly calling your dog, teaching them to ignore you.

Have you ever witnessed this? I get a little crazy when I hear the person that calling their dog name or their recall cue over, and over, and over. Usually after that they start calling out all kind of commands hoping one of them will actually happen. And then my favorite thing happens I hear them get desperate and yell (wait for it) “cookie”. This is desperation and the person doen’t even realize they have poisoned all those other commands at this point and changed their dogs recall cue to “cookie”. Don’t be this person.

If you call your dog and they don’t make an effort to come to you, or worse yet completely ignores you, don’t have verbal diareah and repeat yourself over and over. Instead take notice and remember this is information. Could be a lot of things. Maybe they didn’t understand what you were asking because you haven’t trained a recall (first don’t). Or the situation you are trying to recall them in is way over their pay grade, too distracting.

Never think “one and done”. Training and maintaining the value for a recall is a lifelong journey. Every step of the recall needs rewards in the “bank”. If you can remember that and turn these don’ts into dos you will have a happy relationship with your dog and enjoy a long history of recalls.

Lets turn those don’ts into Dos

  • Invest in your training and relationship by enlisting in a tried and true step by step program that will help you train a rock solid recall.
  • Learn how to rank your dogs distractions so you can be sure to proof your recall trainig and be successful every time.
  • Always, always reward your dogs each and every time they come when called. PERIOD!
  • Punishment will only break down your relationship and any behavior you are trying to train.
  • Catch and release. Recall your dog, have a party, and release to start the game all over again.
  • Call once and done. Don’t be a mocking bird.

Have fun and there is no greater reward for you to have your dog return when called with excitement and a smile on their face.

Leave a comment below sharing with us your recall win and challenges.