Most people have a harder time teacher their dogs to come when called than they do with most other basic cues. Why does this happen? Many reasons… To start, we have a poor habit of only asking our dogs to come when they are already distracted by something. This is similar to ignoring the well behaved dog laying in the corner and giving attention to the hyper dog who is mouthing you and jumping on you. Then we wonder why they do that more often than lay in the corner?!
We need to work on things at a level the our dog is ready and able to comprehend. After all, we can’t expect a musician to play Mozart in their first year of learning! Equally as important is not asking for something when we know it isn’t going to happen! Remember, if you call your dog to come when they are chasing a squirrel, you’re asking your dog to give up the reward of chasing a squirrel. A dog who has practiced this cue enough times and been rewarded with treats or praise may very well oblige knowing how rewarding it can be. However, a dog still working on this skill is more likely to ignore your cue. Why ask when you know that the word will lose meaning?
Another mistake we often make is to get frustrated at the lack of response and immediately show how angry or upset we are as soon as we get our dog’s attention. What message does this send? Well, to a dog, this reaction would likely feel like a punishment for coming to you. If we punish our dog when they eventually come, are we convincing them to do it quicker next time? NO!
So how do we successfully work on a recall? We start small, just like everything else. In the house with no distractions, call your dog’s name or use exciting noises or movements to entice your dog to come. The second they start moving towards you, say the word “come” and then “good” followed by a treat upon arrival. Why don’t we say “come” before they start moving towards you? Because we don’t want to lose the meaning of the word. This prevents us from using the word “come” over and over without the response we are looking for. In fact, if your dog is already very selective of when they choose to respond to the cue, you should actually start over with a new word such as “here”.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of things with no distraction indoors, move outside when there is little to no distraction and work out there. Remember to slightly increase only one of three factors (distance, duration or distraction) as you continue to move forward in training. Eventually, you can have a dog that will come from across the park right in the middle of a squirrel chase.