What exactly is a reliable recall? It’s when you call your dog once, no matter what she is doing, and she immediately begins running straight toward you as fast as she can, and then stops within touching distance. She must be close enough for you to comfortably grab hold of her collar and attach a leash, without any squirming or wriggling or biting the leash.
Build your reliable recall step by step.
Marvellous recalls do not happen overnight, but are taught like any other behaviour – gradually, one rewarded repetition at a time. Your goal should be to brainwash your dog into believing that your “Come” means that wonderful things are going to happen NOW. You want to be a “dog magnet”. The secret of reliable recalls is rewarded repetitions as many times a day as you can manage. You want recalls to become a habit.
Introduce Distractions and Distance
Introduce Distractions and add Distance gradually. Your dog might be brilliant at home or in a place where there are few distractions and you are close, but add distance, other dogs and lots of activity, and you are setting yourself up to fail. Rather go to the dog park when it is quiet and there are not many dogs around. Do not allow your dog to get too far away from you before calling him. If you build distractions and distance one step at a time you are more likely to succeed.
The Cue Must Predict Wonderful Things are About to Happen.
Use your recall cue not as a command but rather as a predictor that wonderful things are about to happen. Be outrageously generous with rewards. Training the recall is no time to be stingy! Use meat-based treats, a large portion of your dog’s daily kibble, a game of tug, a ball – anything your dog loves. Never show her the food or toy before you call her, though. Use these as rewards after correct behaviour, not as bribes to encourage it.
Use your recall cue with care.
Initially, say it only when you are sure your dog will respond correctly by moving immediately toward you. You should be able to bet someone R100 that your dog will move towards you after hearing your cue within a few seconds. If you’re not prepared to make such a bet, don’t say the cue; instead just go fetch your dog (go up to her and gently lead her by the collar). You don’t want to repeat your cue. Chanting “Come, Come! COME!!” is not only frustrating, it’s sloppy training. Go back and practise your recall with at least ten very easy heavily rewarded repetitions.
If your dog can predict what reward you have up your sleeve, she can also calculate when it’s in her best interest to ignore your recall cue. So make a point of being variable with your rewards. Give her a pat on her side for a correct response sometimes, and a huge handful of chicken for a good recall at other times.