When “come” means “run”! 3 ways to make your recall meaningful.

In the twilight of the last few evenings while taking Zac out to stretch his legs I’ve bumped into a lovely 12-month old Kelpie X, Flash, and his owner. I know the dog’s name is Flash because it gets called a lot across the oval. Everybody knows his name, except apparently for Flash himself.

The owner loves his dog, there’s no doubt about that, but is exasperated by the fact that he won’t come when called or bring the Frisbee back that has been thrown.

Personally, I think that two of the hardest things to teach your dog is to come when called or to walk on a loose lead. I say this not to make people give up teaching this – but to realise that these behaviours are a lot harder to teach than a sit or a down and therefore require a different approach.

When your dog is off lead your intrinsic value as their guardian, friend and feeder immediately diminishes. There’s interesting things to sniff, other dogs to meet up with and hey, the mere freedom of being able to run around acting a little bit silly just because they can. So the human standing there shouting their name or to come suddenly is as appealing as if you were to offer them a lemon to eat.

I’ve included some links to longer articles below, but my top 3 tips for making a recall (come when called) meaningful and which you dog responds to are:

  • Start without distraction. Start in your hallway our your house. Practice without distraction. Slowly graduate to busier areas (where you are able to safely – or get a long piece of rope if you are concerned about the dog running away) and only graduate to the dog park when they are ready to move to the next level by consistently coming back.
  • Make it rewarding. Really make it worth your dog’s while to come back to you. E.g. practice close to dinner time when the dog is more likely to be hungry and work for treats – high value treats and food that’s only received when training, not kibble – than sniff or play which could be far more rewarding.
  • Don’t punish / always reward. No matter how frustrated you are, do not shout or show any disappointment or anger in your body language. Even the smallest come should be rewarded initially. Let them know when they’re moving in the right direction. I’ve seen dogs checking in with their humans and this goes unnoticed and unrewarded. I’d run away too!

Here are some other articles, with more insights about teaching a reliable recall:

And remember, no matter how hard it gets, keep it positive people!

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