How to teach a dog to come when called
Teaching the Dog recall, which is the term for having your dog coming running back to you when you call him or her, is one of the most important things you can teach your dog. Having a good recall can be the difference between life and death. How to teach a dog to come when called can be a frustrating process when the dog doesn’t want to come back!
When your dog lives in the house with you and never goes outside without a leash or is confined to a sturdy dog proof fence for outdoor periods, you might be inclined to think the recall is not all that important. However, humans are prone to making mistakes, yes it’s true 😉 Equipment often fails as in collars slip off, leashes break and dogs find ways to get out of fences.
Imagine this scene… a visitor to your home leaves the door open too long and your dog slips out and won’t come back when you call him. It’s happened to us a few times! Maybe you are always very careful not to let your dog slip outside, but like to use a retractable leash with your dog on walks. Most Retractable leashes have a thin cord attached to a nylon strap on which a snap is afixed. Sometimes the snap breaks or the cord itself suddenly detaches from the hand unit! That too has happened to me!
You might have a dog that has learned to dig under or climb over what you thought was a dog proof fence and now he or she is running circles around the neighbourhood, not paying any attention to you! Yup, that’s happened to me.
I bet you can give me almost any dog related scenario, and I can tell you with complete honesty, it’s happened to me. When you’ve had dogs as long as I have (for 50 years), and have taken care of hundreds of other people’s dogs (for 23 years), you’re bound to have accumulated lots of experience!
To teach a good recall, you will need a long line
You will need a long long line or rope with a sturdy snap on the end of it. Your dog will of course need to be wearing a collar that cannot be slipped off by the dog or by your pulling on the leash.
For training purposes, your dog should be wearing a Front range harness or a martingale collar for safety and control. A regular collar has to be pretty tight on many breeds, especially breeds like Rough collies, in order not to slip off when you pull on it.
A loose collar is useless, and a tight one will be uncomfortable and even un healthy for the dog’s circulation. A Martingale collar hangs comfortably loose with no pressure from the leash, but will tighten up when the leash is pulled. The Martingale has an a huge advantage over a regular chain slip or choke collar, and that it that it can’t be over tightened.
Dogs have choked to death in the slip/choke collars, when they have been left on the dog. A dog can get the choke collar hooked on something in your home or yard, or can even hook onto the teeth of another dog (while playing)!
Here’s a quick video from Youtube explaining how to fit a Martingale collar
For very small dogs, especially if you have a small breed puppy, I recommend a front range harness. Not a regular harness as that actually encourages a dog to pull. When teaching your dog to come when you call, the last thing you want to do is to encourage your dog to pull! Small breeds, especially while very young, are more vulnerable to damage to their throats and spines from pressure caused by collars.
The Front Range Harness has a sturdy ring at the chest, not the back of the neck. By pulling on the front of the dog, at chest level, you are pulling your dog off balance and pulling him or her toward you (which is good). In any training, you want your dog to focus on YOU, not anything or anyone else.
If you’ve read any other articles on training here on my website, I may have recommended a Gentle Leader or Halti type of control, but not for this kind of training. The Gentle Leader or Halti controls the head, like you would use to control a larger animal like a horse or cow. They are great to teach a dog to walk without pulling, especially the really powerful breeds.
For teaching the Recall here, you are going to be leaving the Front Range harness or Martingale collar ON for long periods. This may take months for your dog to have a good recall.The line should be long, like 20 to 30 feet in length. You can use a shorter one for training in your home, but for training outside, longer is better.
STOP! Before you begin the long line training, your dog needs to know his name!! Keep reading…
Your dog’s name should be MUSIC to your dog ears
First you begin in your home (or any enclosed area) Training begins with teaching your dog that he or she has a name. You would be surprised to learn how many dogs really don’t know their names! Your dog should think of his or her name as part of the bond to you. The name should be associated with comfort and safety.
Use your dog’s name often and then give affection or a treat or both. Do NOT scream your dog’s name and then punish him for something he may have done wrong. For example, if your dog is in the process of chewing up your couch, stop him in his tracks by loudly saying ‘HEY! NO!!’, or whatever words you have chosen to use as a discipline phrase.
Do not say….MAX, YOU ARE A BAD DOG!, BAD DOG MAX!, or worse and then proceed to physically punish him. If you do this often enough, your dog will associate his name with un pleasant behaviours from you.
The next time your dog is running away from you down the street, and you are screaming his name and threatening him with punishment… well what motivation is there for your dog to stop, turn around and come back to you? A dog is not a human, a dog is not a child you can reason with and send to a corner for a timeout… a dog is a dog is a dog. I think you get the point.
As a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a video describing some dos and don’t when teaching your dog to come when called.This video also goes into long line training. The video is about 13 minutes long. Below this video, I will continue on with my lesson.
Set the stage for success
Alright, you’ve done your homework in teaching your dog his name, and to willingly come to you in an enclosed space when you call. You’ve got the Martingale collar or Front Range harness, and your long line and are ready to start the long line recall training. You’ll need some treats, preferably healthy treats like dried meats, or top quality dog biscuits, because you’ll be using a LOT of treats! Some trainers use their dog’s own kibble instead of treats, if your dog really loves the food. If your dog is not all that food motivated, you can use a favorite toy or two.
Now for a training area, you can start in your backyard if you have one. If you don’t have a backyard, then choose a park where dogs are welcome. However, for training purposes, you don’t want a lot of other dogs around, as that will defeat the purpose of keeping your dog’s attention on You.
Attach the long line to your dog’s harness or collar and allow him or her to walk or run around freely. The point of the long up to 30 feet line, is so you can step on or grab control of your dog. You don’t necessarily want to bring the dog’s attention to the long line, so as long as your dog is within 20 feet (if you have a 30 foot line) or so, there is no need to hang onto the line.
You want your dog to relax and forget about the line. That Line is your secret weapon in a way. If you’ve watched the above video, you will have a good understanding on how to use the long line. However, the dog in the video is remarkably well behaved and calm.
Your Dog may be more willful
and need a firmer hand than the dog in this video. A front range harness or martingale will give you more control for when you need to pull back on the long line (and you certainly will!) to bring him back to you.
Practice by allowing your dog to move away from you and then calling him back to you. If your dog does not turn when you call his name, you can grab the long line and tug him back to you.Reward with touch, your praise, treats and or toys when your dog is back close to you.
Every time you take your dog to a play area, and every time you take your dog to the back yard, use the long line as insurance. In your home, attach a shorter line or just a longer leash (about 6 feet) and leave it dragging. Practice calling your dog to you IN YOUR HOME, and again use the leash to tug him back to you if necessary.
The reason I say it may take ‘months’ to get a good recall with your dog is because it takes a long time to create a good habit. You don’t want your dog to have to think about it, you want him or her to develop a habit of turning towards you and come willingly, when you say your dog’s name.
Eventually, you will be wanting to test your training by practicing these lessons in a fenced area, WITHOUT a leash or long line. If your dog only comes when you call him, while wearing a leash, his recall needs more time to form into a good habit. How to teach a dog to come when called is positively simple dog training. The young man in the video below, gives you some more examples of teaching a good recall.