Training a Recall is one of the most important commands you can spend time on with your dog. This is a life saving command in extreme cases and a must in off leash control. The key is to teach and build up the dog to having a recall under any distraction, but you NEED the dog to WANT to come to you every time. For a recall to be the most effective in any environment, the dog should not feel that they HAVE TO come to you. If the dog is FORCED to come to the owner, this will either create a conflict in the relationship, or is a sign that there already is an underlying conflict.
One of the most disheartening things I see when it comes to a recall is when a dog is performing a recall with their head down and/or an unsure body posture as they come towards the owner. Many times the owner is actually proud of this, especially in bigger, “independant” breed dogs and say that the dog KNOWS who’s boss or that the dog KNOWS they did something wrong when a recall is used basically as a punishment (which should never be used for this). A dog should NEVER show signs of stress as they are coming towards you. If you are seeing signs of this, you should go back in your training schedule and figure out why the dog is stressed. A recall should be the direct opposite of stressful for the dog. If the relationship is built properly throughout the training, a recall should mean they are coming towards a place of security and predictable leadership, not a place of reprimand or punishment.
In the video you can see that the dog comes running towards the owner as fast as he can. There are no signs of stress or hesitation when he is asked to come to the owner. He truly wants to come and spend time in the same space with his owner. Even for a dog like this who really enjoys and wants the freedom to roam, there still is no need to have a conflict when asked to perform a recall. A properly trained recall should in fact compliment a dog’s freedom…the better the recall is proofed to a high distraction level, the more freedom in different environments the dog has. It is based on the simple principle of PREMACK. This allows an owner to get amazing speed and reliability out of their dog in very high distraction environments without compromising the relationship because of the reliance on corrections.
This dog is still in the beginning stages of proofing, but we are adding layers of distraction every session until we reach the level that the owner wants. This is the first time we have had the dog outside without a leash. With that being said, one has to keep in mind that we have already laid the groundwork to get to this stage. We have worked on recalls with a 6′ leash, on a long line, with a 26′ flexi-leash, performed all of these under high distraction, and off-leash recalls in the house.
We are on the owner’s property in this video for several reasons. The first is we want to give the owner and the dog the greatest chance to be set up for success. Being on the property allows for less distractions, and hopefully less stress, so both the dog and the owner can work through any issues in the mechanics they might have. The second reason for doing sessions like this at the beginning is to find a baseline for where the dog is mentally and his understanding of what is being asked of him. If we had seen any confidence issues or confusion in this environment, it would have been very easy to trace back where the issue was stemming from because we have limited the variables.
Now that we know that the mechanics or a lack of understanding is not an issue, we can now progress to higher distraction environments with the confidence that he knows what to do when asked to recall. Should we see stress or confusion in later sessions, we can be confident that it probably has to do with the actual threshold for the distraction and not something wrong with the understanding of what to do. Many owners and trainers mistakenly confuse a dog’s lack of compliance as disobedience when a lot of times it is an actual lack of understanding and exposure to what they should do in that particular environment with that particular stressor in front of them. It is the job of the trainer and the owner to properly build a dog to be able to successfully handle the stress in front of them while performing obedience. It is not fair to ask a dog to perform an obedience command if you have not properly given them the tools to mentally handle the environment or distraction.
A recall can be taught as a perpetual command just like any other command we teach. Having a very clear beginning and end to a recall makes it crystal clear to the dog what is expected from them. During the training process, this allows the dog to learn faster and will actually build confidence in the dog and owner because the owner can consistently mark the good behavior at the proper time which in turn gives the dog a consistent reward marker that they can trust every time. Another huge advantage to teaching a recall with a very clear release command is that you do not get a dog that only comes within range of you and then does what we call a “drive-by”. This is where a dog comes close, but just loops out by and goes about their business.
I know I sound like a broken record, but the mind influences the body, and the body influences the mind. This is such a misunderstood concept when it comes to our relationships with our dogs. In the video, you see that the owner calls the dog over and begins praising the second the dog starts to make movement towards her. This is very important because we want the dog to know they are performing what we asked which is to come towards us. A “Good Boy” at the proper time can make the difference between a dog recalling or shutting down when presented with a high distraction. The dog runs towards his owner and comes completely into her space and is given a lot of praise and the ultimate reward…AFFECTION!!! This is an important point to highlight, the dog came into the owner’s space!! She did not have to reach out or move to where the dog was. You can hear that I tell the owner to take her hands off of the dog, but not to release him, yes there is a release command for a recall. The dog does not try to move away after the owner stops giving physical contact which is telling us that he understands that a recall means to come into mom’s space and do not leave until he is told to. A lot of times owners think the dog understands a concept, but in actuality are cuing in on other things such as the physical contact and not what the command truly means. He calmly sits and looks to the owner for direction instead of trying to move away. At this point you hear her give the dog a release command of “FREE” and without hesitation he gets up and moves away to do whatever it is he wants to do. As with other commands like “SIT” or “DOWN”, the dog should stay in the owner’s space indefinitely until he is released. This is a very powerful aspect of a perpetual recall because depending on the environment, you may need to get a leash on your dog or just give them a second to calm down. Without this step in the recall, you run a greater risk of the dog not mentally being with you even though they physically may be.