Secrets To Getting A Great Come-Recall
We’ve now reached the top rung of our obedience ladder: come when called. It’s the tenth step in our ten-step program because it demands the most from our dogs in the way of self-control. Therefore, our friend needs the buildup of energy control, handler deference, and distraction management the first nine rungs of the ladder give him in order to meet the necessary challenges and reach the tenth step in our program.
Here is why with the majority of dogs, the recall command (come) is the most demanding when considering self-control. We assume by the nature of the exercise (come back to us) our dog must be some distance away doing his own thing. I would also say that by the time the average dog reaches the age of sixteen to twenty weeks old, he has learned to appreciate his autonomy and has gained enough confidence (by virtue of maturing this far) that striking out on his own in pursuit of happiness (when the opportunity presents itself) can seem like a capital idea, oftentimes at the least convenient moment for the handler. And if you have a dog (young or old) who will bolt away from family and home when given the chance, it usually does not mean he’s repulsed by his pack or den. Instead, he probably possesses a confident, curious, excitable personality and has learned that speed and opportunity equal stimulation and satisfaction (in other words, FUN).
When we assess the challenges of training a dog to come when called, we must factor into the assessment these realities: the dog is out of our reach; he is at least a little stimulated; he is faster than we are and even if he has only followed through with this come idea once before, our good buddy knows that some kind of control or confinement is usually waiting for him when he gets to us. So, in essence, when we command our dog to come, we’re asking him to give up his cherished autonomy and give up his free world of abundant stimulation for some form of restriction when he knows we can’t possibly catch him if he doesn’t want us to! The next time you see a dog run to his handler when called and sit in front waiting for instruction, think to yourself, “WOW. That’s self-control.”
There are reasons we need nine steps of drive control, handler deference, and distraction management under the dog’s belt before we tackle this command.
I used to find it irritating early in my career when a new client, after hearing my explanation of the basic obedience process, would tell me he didn’t need any of that staying or heeling malarkey. He just wanted his dog to come! Now, years and many gray hairs later, I genuinely smile at a naïve client like that and then present him with this analogy. Imagine coaching a young teenager to be an Olympic high platform diver. Rather than start out on the side of the pool working on foot placement and basic water entry techniques, you decide as the teenager’s coach that you will skip the fundamentals along the poolside. In addition, you decide that springboard training has nothing to offer your student. For that matter, it’s a waste of time to dive from the lower platform when it is the high dive you’re really after. It doesn’t take Olympic diving experience to quickly realize that this coach has his student on the fast track to failure with this training approach.
So it is with the recall exercise. A handler is asking for frustration and failure if he doesn’t thoroughly prepare his dog for this high platform event. Having a dog prepared to look through distractions and focus on his handler is a definite must for this exercise. And having a dog in control of his energy is a must before you begin this exercise. Assuming you began reading this book somewhere near the front and assuming that you have worked with your dog with at least limited success through the first nine training exercises, then you and your dog are ready for the “big dive.”
For starters, I want every handler to look at the recall exercise as a position obligation for the dog (sit in front looking at the handler). This will keep everyone (handlers and dogs) zeroed in on what’s really important: a controlled, focused dog within easy reach of his handler.
I teach come with no real distance between the dog and me at first. I begin with the dog’s name (to get his attention) because up to this point, he’s just been hanging out with me on leash. I immediately follow the dog’s name with the designated command (come) or signal for his new obligation.
I then place him in a sitting position directly in front of me, using my leash in the left hand, directing his head toward my belt buckle. At the same time, I use my right hand over his spine gripping his loin to place his rump on the floor in one fluid motion.
As soon as I have him in this sitting position looking up at me, I instantly reward him with praise and/or food. Telling your dog to sit during the placement process is really not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt anything as long as there is a quiet pause after placement before the come command is given. We want the emphasis of this exercise to rest on the command or signal to come, not to sit.
Before you deliver any praise, make sure your canine friend is sitting freely (no leash tension or grip on the loin) and looking up at you while you’re standing erect. We want to make a clear association between the dog’s sitting closely in front of the handler with his attention focused on the handler (who is standing quietly upright) and the appropriate signal and/or command. That’s when our buddy receives his reward—after he fulfills his new obligation.
As you did in all the other preceding placement commands, don’t hurry your dog out of this position once you get him there. Definitely don’t allow your dog to release himself. Remember, we’re teaching our dog that come means to sit in front focused on the handler until the dog is released. During the teaching aspect of this command, like with the previous exercises, we only expect a very brief hold on the dog’s part at first, but we need to insist on a little commitment even the first time we place him.
When I release the dog from these early recall exercises, I don’t allow him to go far. I will continue to hold the leash after I tell him “all done” because I intend simply to pivot away from the dog after a brief moment and repeat the command, the placement, and the praise. Each time I practice this recall exercise, I’ll run through this series of repetitions. Our goal is to drive home during teaching exactly where come is, just as we did with the other placement commands. When we get to the reinforcement aspect of this training, we will accept nothing less.
I typically don’t muddy the waters around this command by calling the dog from a stay position until the dog shows me, while working with the come command, that I can pivot in any direction I want to any degree and back away (with the dog on leash and leash in hand) as far as I want, and he will work to sit in front of me. The dog’s response doesn’t have to be exact before I call him from a stay (with a little distance), but the dog needs to be comfortable with his new come obligation before I complicate it with stay.
Since dogs seem to tend to think in mental images, with enough repetitions of sit placement in front of the handler in association with the command come, the command or signal given prior to placement will eventually conjure up in our friend’s mind the idea that he’s supposed to sit in front of the handler. This association between signal and position and reward is what the teaching phase of training is all about for all formal commands. And you know the teaching is finished when you give the command and your dog is already working into correct posture or position before you have had a chance to place him.”
— Ten Natural Steps To Training The Family Dog
Written by Matthew Duffy, Owner of Duffy’s Dog Training
The “come” command is such a fun exercise, perhaps one of my favorites. A few more tips that I would like to add that may help a handler with their canine in training. Food is often a great help, I like to keep the treat close to me when I’m working on the recall. The goal is to encourage your dog to get as close to you as possible when the command “come” is given. Depending on the size of the dog I try to keep the treat close to my belt buckle or my leg.
Don’t pull your dog into you, rather try to encourage them with micro steps backwards or an encouraging repeat of the command. It’s important that we get our dog to come to us on their own free will (of course if needed we still can use leash and collar corrections if our canine has ignored our command, especially when they’ve become advanced). If we pull them into us or force them to come to us we find that it has the opposite effect of making the dog resist you more, oftentimes putting the breaks on.
Concerning voice and tone; like all of the other exercises, the command must be given in a clear and pleasant tone, never harshly nor in a rapidly repeating fashion. As soon as you see any movement on your dog’s behalf toward you warmly praise them. Upon reaching the correct position (sitting directly in front of you, facing you) give them your release command, like “all done” then give a little play as the ultimate reward. The goal is always to make the command the best game possible while decreasing the value of all other distractions.
— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer