Kawa Farms K9 Training

Training Blog

Recall - Why is it so important

Friday, September 2, 2022 12:57 PM

“Come/Here” is the most important command you can teach your dog. It could save your dog’s life

Dogs can be easily distracted by things like traffic, other dogs, or to chase other animals, which can lead to life-threatening situations. When your dog is charging towards danger, you need them to respond to you no matter what. You MUST have the ability to recall them before they arrive at the danger point.

“Come or Here” are lifesaving commands/cues. Although people consider it a basic command, many dog owners struggle with this.

Most people I speak with love that their puppy follows them around, and they don’t think much of teaching come/here until the pup has grown a little and is now interested in other things, like smells, and other animals. But by this time, it may be too late. It’s important for handlers to teach their dog the come/here command before you lose the ability to keep your dog’s attention.

See, young puppies follow us because we are big and they think that we will protect them (and we do), this is when you need to start building a reliable recall, not when the adolescent dog at 5+ months old has started giving you the paw.

One of the mistakes we make as humans is to let our puppies out to play (in the yard, or in the house), then finish the playtime with a recall to us without reinforcing it. We top that off by bringing them directly into the house or putting them up in their crate. They begin to associate “come/here” with “playtime is over.” You will start to see active avoidance to recall. “Come” begins to mean all the play stops. Another mistake is to call your dog to you, then punish them for something they were doing wrong before you recalled them. You will also see active avoidance in this situation. And finally, we repeat ourselves way too many times. Frankie come, come, come here, Frankie come, COME, I said come!!!!! Poor Frankie. We are setting ourselves up for failure when we do this, because it teaches our dogs to ignore us. We end up poisoning the cue and have to teach Frankie a different word to mean “come”.

Now, Let’s talk about some ways to teach recall:

1. Use high-value reinforcers for positive motivation to return to you (food as a reinforcer)

All dogs need reinforcement and repetition to learn; it is essential. For Recall use the highest value treats that your pup absolutely LOVES! A small baggie of cooked chicken/beef/deer or hot dog bites, maybe cheese or jerky, or frozen peanut butter can be very motivating. If it’s nice and stinky, that helps!


2. Non-food rewards work, too


Food rewards are great, but you can use other types of rewards as well.

Most retrievers love to fetch, use a game of fetch to reward them for coming to you. Some dogs love to tug, use a good game of tug as a reward and motivation for coming to you when you ask. Some dogs love to chase, use a good game with the flirt pole so they can chase a bit for coming. There are all sorts of things you can do with toys, to help reinforce your dog's recall. You want, No - you NEED your dog to recall. You WANT them to do it happily and consistently.

3. Start practicing in a non-distracting environment first (i.e., inside your house)

Just as you don’t expect your 13-year-old child to go from 8th grade to college in one year, don’t expect your dog to either. Teaching must be done in steps that are age appropriate. You cannot take a 4-month-old puppy and expect them to be perfect in everything that you teach them immediately (they are not robots that we can program for you). You must shape and teach the behavior that you want, reinforce that behavior, then proof the behavior in slightly more distracting environments.

“If your dog is a C student indoors, he’ll be an F student outdoors.”

Build up slowly to get your dog to come reliably. Work your way to 100% reliable in the house, and then move outdoors where there are more distractions and temptations.

4. Don’t unintentionally punish your dog for obeying

Dogs generally don’t want to stop sniffing or foraging in the dirt or carpet., so calling your dog to come, while they are doing this (before it is reliably trained) could accidentally create a negative association with the come command.

“They learn to stop coming when called because they don’t want to stop doing what they are doing.”

Other examples of “punishments” for obeying recall commands include:

Getting crated

Bath time

Getting groomed, nails clipped, brushed, etc.

Giving medicine

Make sure you aren’t using the command to call your dog to you if you’re going to do something he doesn’t like. For situations like these, it’s best to go to your dog, put them on a leash, and gently guide them toward the car, bath, or crate.

5. Make sure your dog comes all the way to you


Dog owners sometimes use the come command simply to get their dog’s attention, but this can be confusing if you’re using “come” inconsistently. To be an effective recall command, “come” should always mean “come all the way to me”. Avoid rewarding your dog for only coming part of the way to you because it may give them the wrong idea of what you are asking them to do.

6. Play recall Games


Playing games with your dog that includes coming to you and sitting, laying down, or standing in front of you is a great way to reinforce the desired behavior. There are multiple recall games that you can play with your dog. We can teach you many of them or you can research them online.

Why does this Matter:


Recall IS the most important thing you can teach your dog. Ensuring they are 100% reliable when you call them could save their life. Take the time to train them right so they will ALWAYS recall no matter the location. Be consistent, stay positive, and reinforce the behavior you want, and you’ll see results.

For training assistance and coaching for both human and dog, call Kawa Farms K9 Training.

J Hirakawa