Dogs aren’t robots, so to think that they will respond to you 100% of the time no matter what is, let’s be real, a pipe dream. That said, training a reliable recall can get you to a good 99%.
Like anything else we train with our dogs, a recall is only as good as the bond you share with your dog. While I think that a recall, or coming when called, is possibly the most important cue to teach your dog, it also required lots and lots of reinforcement that will span the lifetime of your dog.
It amazes me that people still think that you can teach a dog a cue and they will just automatically know it forever and ever amen. Hat tip to Randy Travis there. No, desired behaviors need reinforcement. An added layer that the recall cue specifically needs is for you to be incredibly interesting to your dog. Have you heard of being sexier than a squirrel? While I didn’t coin the phrase, it is the best one I’ve heard to describe how you need to position yourself in your dogs’ life.
Here’s a real-life example. My dog Kim is pretty darn good. Like she was born this way. She wants to always do the right thing and looks to us for direction often. I spend so much time helping other people train their dogs that Kim doesn’t get a ton of training, and for the most part, she doesn’t need a ton of training. Her recall was pretty good when we lived in California, but when we moved to Texas a whole new world opened up in front of her eyes.
SQUIRRELS! Yes, she had never really interacted with a squirrel in San Diego, but here in Texas, we have them by the boatload! She is obsessed and has learned to tree them. According to her Embark DNA results, she is mostly Chihuahua and Poodle and we know that Poodles are hunting dogs, so it’s not a stretch that she’d pick up on treeing an animal really quickly. So, we’ve had to work on recall a lot more since moving. I’m still not sexier than a squirrel, but I’m getting closer!
One trick I’m using to help Kim understand when I mean business is the two-name trick. Did your mom ever call you by your first and middle name? It’s pretty much the same thing, but I’m not mad when I call Kim “Kimberly” in a very solid voice. I almost never call her Kimberly and I have a very soft voice, so when I pull out the full Kimberly and use a more stern voice, she is learning that I mean business.
Of course, using a second name doesn’t have to be so literal, you can use a pet name as well, just make sure you reserve it for the most serious of situations in real life and train using very high reward treats when using this name. In a regular training session, I might use chicken hearts or turkey giblets, but when I pull out the full “Kimberly” I will use some freeze-dried green tripe.
A recall is a serious business when you think about it. It could literally be life and death in certain circumstances, so your training and reward structure should mirror that.
Let me know if you have any special names for your dogs when you train a recall, or even in these circumstances when you need your dog to know that you mean business!