When I first sat down to write this post, I thought I would write about the technique of how to teach your dog to come when called on a consistent basis. But then I started to think about all the little pieces that have to come together in order for my dog to WANT to come to me each and every time I call. There are so many more parts to a solid recall than just teaching the recall. And those pieces have to be a part of my everyday life with my dog in order for that recall to happen when I need it most.
I thought first about relationship. Do I need to have a relationship with a dog to get it to come when called in a single moment? Not necessarily. The dogs I work with at the shelter often come to me the first time I meet them and call them to me. So what makes them feel compelled to come to me even when there are other things happening in their environment that draw their attention? I will talk about excitement and motivation first, as I think they are important in getting a dog to come to you.
To get a dog to come to me, I first give that dog my complete attention. If I’m distracted with other things when I call, the dog will most likely glance at me and see that I’m not “in the game” and go back to whatever he was doing. I have to commit to the dog in order to get the dog to commit to me.
I must show excitement. Dogs love excitement!! It’s easier to show excitement when you are by yourself. Many people find it hard to show excitement when there are other people around for fear of being judged. I wonder if that’s why I hear so many people say that their dog has a great recall, except … at the dog park, at the beach, etc. Is it that they are able to show excitement to their dog when they are alone, but not when they are with others? Dogs know the difference, you know!
If there are distractions around, I must be more interesting to the dog than the distractions. Sometimes this takes some work on my part, but if I am exciting, I can usually get the dog’s attention long enough to get him to come running to me. Dogs love motion and silly noises and people rolling on the ground. Are you willing to do all of these things to get a great recall?
That brings me to motivation. Yes, the things I mentioned may get the dog to come to you in that moment, but what about a reliable recall each and every time you call, even if you’re not feeling up to rolling around on the ground? The way to get that kind of recall is to create a relationship with your dog where he WANTS to be with you – really and truly, every moment of the day. Every time you interact with your dog it should mean that you will both be doing wonderful things together! Your attention should be on your dog in that moment. Give him your all if you expect him to give you all he has in return.
Does motivation mean great treats? Does it mean a favorite Frisbee or ball? It could mean these things, but it could mean a whole lot more. Everything your dog loves should in some way be connected to you. These things should be things you and your dog do together! Build your recall practice into each of these exciting things. A ride in the car, a hike, a snuggle on the couch, a belly rub, a game of catch, a special treat, etc. Use all the things that your dog really LOVES!! Rewards are great and will keep your dog’s motivation high. But sometimes there won’t be an outside reward. Sometimes it will be just you and your dog.
Play with your dog with just you (no toys). How happy can you and your dog be together just the two of you? That is the feeling you want to create and utilize in your day to day life and with your recalls. When you call your dog, it becomes all about one dog and one person in that one moment. It is that moment when he looks at you and you look at him, and you connect to each other. Think of the movie scene when the dog and person see each other after an absence, their eyes meet and they have only eyes for each other as they run (usually in slow motion with emotional music playing) to greet each other.
It is about the connection and the partnership between you and your dog that means that he will leave whatever he is doing at that moment to come see what you want. Because he knows that when you call him, something amazing is going to happen that you and he will share together. How does he know that? Because each and every time you call your dog, you make it an absolutely amazing time for you and him to connect and have fun together – whatever means FUN to your dog!
THAT is how to create a solid reliable recall.