How to Train a Dog to Come When Called – The Recall Game

Dog running to owner when called.

                                                        Schutzhund Club Training the Recall

Teaching your dog to come when they are called, also known as training the recall, is the most important obedience command you can teach. It can literally save your dog’s life. There are many ways to train this command, but let’s start with a fun one. This article will show you how to train a dog to come when called by playing The Recall Game.

First, one important note for families. Everybody has to agree on the word that will be used to tell the dog to come to you. It could be “Come!”, “Here!”, “Hier!” or “Pear!”. Dogs don’t really speak English so you can use whatever word in whatever language you want. But EVERYONE in the family has to use the same word or this won’t work.

The Goal: A Bomb-proof Recall

Bomb-proof is a term dog trainers and handlers use to describe a command that has been trained to a level where your dog will immediately obey, no matter the distraction. If your dog is off leash in a park, spots another dog, is on the way to that dog to say “Hi”, is closer to that dog than they are to you and still immediately spins and runs to you when you yell “Here!”, then you have a bomb-proof recall with that dog.

Though that is the goal, it takes a long time to get there. You’ll want to start slow in a place with a maximum likelihood of success.

Border Collie herding flock of geese.

    Would Your Dog Come if You Called?

Remember, you always want to set your dog up for success. I recommend that you start playing this game somewhere that does not have a flock of geese!

On that note, if you have a high energy puppy or dog, then you will want to get rid of some of that energy before you ask them to focus. When we used to train for canine search and rescue, we would frequently let one dog off leash at a time to “Blow their yah yahs.” We’d unleash them, give the release and let them run around like a demon for a while.

We’d do that with each dog that needed it. Then we’d gather all the dogs and handlers and do a group obedience training session. This gets the dogs used to listening to their owners and responding to basic commands. Only then would we start training them for search. This was practically every weekend.

You will want to structure your training session similarly. First let your dog release their energy. Then, if your dog already knows how to “sit” and “down”, have them do that a few times, rewarding as necessary. THEN you can start playing the Recall Game.

Play the Game

I don’t know that this is any sort of formal game, but it is something my friends and I use to introduce our dogs to the recall. It is also a natural starting point if you want to train your dog for area search and rescue, but that’s another topic.

For this game, you will need two people that your dog likes. Both of you should have treats. I recommend that you each let the dog know that you have treats and give them one before you start.

Golden Retriever running towards camera.

 Golden Retriever Running Towards You

One person takes the dog and the other person stands 20 feet or so away. There should be room behind both people. Try not to have any major distractions (balls, ropes, other dogs, etc.) anywhere near you. The second person calls the dog to them and gives a treat when they do it. Praise the dog.

Now the first person gets a treat ready and calls the dog. While the dog is running to the first person, the second person takes a step back. And that’s the basic game!

The two people keep taking turns calling the dog to them and giving them a treat when they arrive. The two of you keep taking steps backwards until the dog no longer comes when called. Mentally note that distance.

Move a bit closer and do a couple successful recalls and then quit. You should always quit training on a success.

Make It Fun!

Coming to you ALWAYS has to be a fun time for your dog. You should always reward with a treat, a toy and/or praise. Make it a party!

The dumbest thing we trainers see people do (God forbid we are the person we see doing this!) is to scream at a dog, “You come here right now or I will . . . !” Who wants to go to a person like that? Your dog doesn’t want to either.

I’ve always said the hardest part of dog training is the emotional self-control required. For example, suppose you have house guests on the way. It’s raining outside. You send your dog out to go potty before crating them during the party. You want your dog to just go out, do their business and come back in before they get too wet. Their 4 years old and you’ve done this before.

But this time your dog finds an interesting smell. Maybe they roll around in it. It is so tempting to yell, “Get in here! Don’t you known I have plans?” But you will be more successful if you can find your inner happy place and joyfully call to your dog while taking a step backwards away from them.

Along the same lines, don’t tell your dog to “Come” when you want to give him or her a bath, scold them, crate them and leave the house, etc. In those situations, it is better to walk over to the dog, take them by the collar and guide them to where you want them to be.

Mix It Up

Once you’ve played the basic game, you need to work towards bomb-proof. Obviously distance is your first test. Once you have your dog reliably coming to both of you at distance, add some other distractions.

German Shepherd Dog looking at ball.

                        Ball Distraction

Try throwing some tennis balls and/or toys on the ground near where you’re training. If the smallest distraction seems to be too much for your dog, then up the value of your treats. Treats are usually divided into either low value, medium value or high value. These categories vary by dog, but generally things like diced boiled chicken breast or bacon will be high value treats. String cheese and store bought treats might be medium value. And their kibble might be low value. Training with distractions frequently requires using more appealing treats.

Another trick might be for the two people to have squeaky toys. When you call the dog, start squeaking the toy to get them to come to you. Then slowly reduce the times that you use the toy until they no longer need it.

Another level of distraction might be feeding the dog. Have the first person hold kibble in their closed hand and have the second person call the dog. If that works, try feeding the dog kibble and having the other person call. From there, use your imagination!

Conclusion

If you’re playing ball with your dog and the ball hits a sharp rock that launches it into the busy street nearby, a solid recall can save your dog’s life. It is by far the most important basic obedience command. You can’t spend too much time making this command as solid as possible.

The recall game is a fun way to start training the recall. And it should be fun for the whole family! Everyone should take turns playing this game with the dog. The more you all play together, the better!

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Pierre Smith

    What a great article! Thanks for the useful info! I so do agree with you on not raising your voice to a dog that just gets scared and confused at that point anyway. I believe a dog will never listen to a person acting aggressively. A friendly and peaceful manner will always get you the extra mile with your fur babies.

    • Matthew

      Glad you like the article, Pierre. Especially with the recall, you want to make yourself attractive to come to. For example, my current dog comes to me MUCH more reliably when I excitedly call her in falsetto than if I use my natural bass voice!

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