Teaching your dog to come when called is the most important skill you can give your dog. A good recall will keep your dog safe and it will allow your dog to enjoy the freedom of running and interacting with their environment and other dogs.
The best way to teach any new skill is to break it down, then put it back together again. The recall is made up of three components, name recognition, running towards you and the release. Each of these skills should be practiced on their own before being put together.
Name recognition is all about teaching your dog to look at you when you say her name. It is a great skill for people who are too afraid to let their dog off lead because you can practice it when your dog is on lead. Simply say your dogs name and when she looks at you give her a high value treat. Over time use her name to get her to turn away from distractions. Your dog must be looking at you before she can run towards you so name recognition is vital to a good recall.
Teaching your dog to run towards you is the second component of a good recall. The best way to teach it is to have someone hold your dog while you run away from her. Your dog will be desperate to catch you so you can turn and call her to ‘come’, then give her a high value treat. You can also practice this on your own by always moving away from your dog when they are off lead, perhaps in an enclosed area or on a very long trailing line for safety. When you move away from your dog they will have to run to catch up to you, this is where you can call them to ‘come’ and reward them.
A good recall is only as good as the release. Many dogs come to their owner grab the treat and run off again, this defeats the purpose of a good recall. Always vary the amount of treats you give your dog when she comes to you, this ensures that she will remain with you for the next piece. When you wish to let her go free again give her a release word such as ‘all done’, ‘finished’, ‘go free’. This is your safety net following a good recall and she will start to watch for this cue before she runs off again.
Once all of these skills are working on their own, put them together and start to add some distractions. A good recall can take months to develop but it is the most rewarding of all skills. Happy walking!