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Recall

All of us want a dog that comes each and every time we call-not only is it convenient, but it can also save your dog's life! The trick to teaching an excellent recall is to build up a history of being the best thing in the environment from your dog's perspective. This means you must understand what your dog finds reinforcing, and how he or she ranks all of the elements in the environment. For example, my dog Osa typically ranks her surroundings from highest reward to lowest reward like this:

1. Chasing the Tennis Ball into the water
2. Chasing the Tennis Ball anywhere else
3. Investigating roadkill
4. Swimming
5. Going running with me
6. Stealing baked goods from the counter
7. Learning new tricks for treats
8. Personal hygiene (Gross, Osa!)
9. Having her coat brushed
10. Getting a bath
11. Getting her ears cleaned
12. Going to the vet

So if I'm out for a walk and I see roadkill ahead, I can offer her a game of fetch with the tennis ball and be fairly certain she will choose to play the game rather than investigate the roadkill. However, if I would like to teach her a new trick, I need to choose an environment where no roadkill is present.

Similarly, your dog may rank Milkbones above your living room furniture but not above sniffing in the yard. So if you train in your living room you can use Milkbones but if you train in the yard you will have to make a better offer to keep your dog motivated.

This is why it is so crucial to train your recall using only the most amazing treats, and to increase the environmental distractions very slowly. Unless your dog is on a long line, he always has a choice on whether he wants to come to you, or continue with his own agenda. You are in competition with the environment-make sure you always win. Practice makes perfect, and you want your dog to practice coming to you at a dead sprint!

Train your recall:

Step 1. Choose your recall cue. Because you don't want to fight past bad habits, be sure to choose a word your dog has never ignored. For most of us, this means "Come" is out. "Here!" "Now!" and "To Me!" are all good examples of recall cues.

Step 2. Protect your recall cue. During the next several months, only use your new recall cue to call your dog when you are 100% certain he will come or it is a matter of life and death. To be sure he will come, use a long line, start out working in a boring (from his perspective) environment, and say the word after he is on his way to you. Say your cue clearly only once each time you practice.

Step 3. Practice in a low distraction environment such as inside your house when other dogs and people are away. Practice three times each day for two weeks, then once each day for as long as it takes to build the reliability of this command in multiple environments. Training an amazing recall takes commitment, but it works!

Step 4. Throw a Party! After you have chosen a cue, set up a training environment low in distraction, called your dog once, and he has come to you, make a huge fuss over him while holding his collar. Tell him he is brilliant, handsome, clever, intelligent, a genius, charming, speedy, and adorable. Shower him with praise and treats for a full 30 seconds. And make the treats out of this world: peanut butter, drippings from roast chicken, leftover pork chops, liverwurst, easy cheese, make this treat so impressive that he won't think twice next time he hears his recall cue, no matter what else is going on. Keep him guessing-use leftover steak one time, and let him lick the frying pan the next time.

Notes:

As a reminder, never call your dog for anything he or she finds unpleasant or even neutral. If you need to leash your dog to take him home from the dog park, clip his nails or give him a bath, go and get him. Likewise, if you call him when he is misbehaving, you still have to praise him wildly when he gets to you-otherwise you will be punishing him for coming. Work on problem behaviors separately.

If you want to call your dog to you in a more relaxed situation, develop a separate cue. "C'mon" and "Let's Go" are cues you can use when it's time for your dog to come in from the yard for a treat, or any other time that instant compliance is not necessary or you are not prepared to throw a truly excellent doggie party.