Can you imagine wanting your dog to come to you and NOT calling him? The easiest way to have a consistent recall with your dog is to be sure that you only call him when you know he will come. I go so far as to tell people to only say the word “come” when you are willing to bet $5 that your dog will get it right.
How can you even live like that? It’s not forever, you know. It’s while you are training your dog. You want to be sure that he develops the right habits, like always coming when you call. If you call him in a lot in situations that are too hard, too distracting for him to succeed, or when he is doing something wrong, your dog will simply learn to not listen to you when you call him. If you set your dog up for success and call him only when you are pretty sure he will come, your dog will develop the habit of coming when you call him. Wouldn’t that be nice?
So what does that mean, exactly? Yesterday I was in the back yard with a 6 month old puppy. I was ready to go inside and looked to see what she was doing. At that moment, she was following a scent with her nose to the grass heading away from me. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if I called her right then, she most likely would not come. Since I did not have any way to follow through with her if she did not come, I chose not to call her at that moment. (That’s super important so don’t miss that… I’ll say it again) Since I did not have any way to follow through with her if she did not come, I chose not to call her at that moment. If she had been on a leash, I could have called her whenever I wanted. But she was not. She was loose in a back yard that is 3/4 of an acre where I never would have been able to get her if she didn’t want me to! So I watched her and she followed the scent. She found the scent in the grass, sniffed it for a few moments, and then, after about 45 seconds, started to calmly walk away. It was at that moment that I chose to call her. I was animated, fun, and interesting (more interesting that the other things in the grass). I called her and then went to go walk inside. When she heard me, she looked up and saw me walking back towards the house. She trotted along beside me and inside. No big deal. No games. No frustration. Easy. Simple. I waited less than a minute to have an opportunity where I was confident that she would come. If I had not been paying attention or thinking about training, I am sure that I would have called her a minute earlier and she would not have come, which would have taken away from our track record of success.
Don’t ask your dog to come when he is doing something wrong. Why? Unless your dog is really well-trained, he won’t stop doing something wrong and come to you. If you call him and he does not come, now you have a dog that is doing two things wrong instead of one! And if he is well trained and stops doing something wrong and comes to you, are you going to reinforce him? It’s pretty great that he stopped doing something wrong and came over to you, but the reinforcement you give him for coming would be somewhat related to the thing he was doing wrong. It’s a slippery slope that is best avoided.
Train your dog on a recall every day of his life. This is the one behavior that you will never stop training. As long as you own a dog, you should be investing energy into training a solid recall. Your goal is that he keeps getting it right and it keeps getting harder. Forever. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and you don’t have to make this hard. Just set up scenarios where you call your dog, he comes, reinforce him in a variety of different ways, and then do it again the next day!
Have fun with this! This can be such a fun game for your dog and you can have some fun with it too. A dog coming when his owner calls him is a window into the relationship between the two. What have you done to teach your dog to come? Have you done anything interesting or unique? Have you ever decided NOT to call your dog before? Share in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!