This blog is for Marija, who sent in a request hoping to teach her dog recall. It's a great subject, a phenomenal skill to learn with your dog, and her request immediately inspired me to write this post. Thank you Marija!
Teaching recall is quite simple. You want it to work anywhere and everywhere you might need it, so first you'll want to choose a cue word that you will remember in a pinch. Make it easy to remember and ideally, short. You'll want it to be a cue that you and your dog don't use for anything else.
Next, choose a treat you know your dog will do somersaults over. Something really high value works here. Make sure it's a treat your dog doesn't often receive. It's rarity will establish a more powerful reinforcing function in your recall work with your dog.
Begin the actual work of recall by saying the cue word and feeding your dog the high value treat reward. Don't try to incorporate any distance, distraction, or unusual environments at this stage. All you want to do is pair the sound of the cue with the reward. This will help to motivate the dog to come to you when you utter the word from a distance. Do this at least 10-15 times with your dog, and not all at once. You'll want to do it many times throughout the day.
After a week of steadily and regularly rewarding your dog when you say the recall cue word, you can start to test your dog's understanding and association with the cue.
When you're elsewhere in the home, say the recall cue loudly enough that your dog can hear it. If he comes to you in a great big hurry, tail wagging, nearly tripping over himself to arrive at your side, make it rain those same high value treats for your dog. Really have fun with it, and make sure your dog knows how delighted you are with his efforts.
Continue to condition this word inside the house with generous treat rewards over another week or so of practice. And if your dog wasn't quite over the moon to get to you the first time you tried it out, you may want to reconsider your choice of high-value food motivator. Maybe the one you're using isn't quite valuable enough to get that big reaction you want from a rock-solid recall.
Once your dog is responding reliably to this cue every time, you can test it out-of-doors. Start in your backyard, if you have one, and if not, try the exercise on a long line in a dog park, ideally at a quieter time of day, or at the beach.
Even once your dog has learned a solid recall, be sure to revisit the exercise a few times each week. This will keep the cue fresh and the response snappy.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.