Wundertraining part 5: teaching the command for basic recall

In the previous four posts of our Wundertraining series, dog trainer Luke Balsam walked you through preparing your home for your new rescue dog and doing some very basic training. In this part, it’s time for the first steps of recall training

Having a good recall can mean the difference between a stressful and a stress-free walk. It is important to be able to exercise your dog and a good recall can make that more possible.

Before you start, it is important to understand what you want your recall to look like so you know what to reward, otherwise, over time your dog may get further and further away from you. Also, if you don’t know what you are looking for then your dog doesn’t have a chance.

I prefer not to use the dog’s name for recall as it is used so often, for so many reasons it can become unreliable. Using a separate word like “come” or “here” only for recall will mean your dog has a better chance of understanding what to do.

Remember, the aim with a recall is for you to say the word and for your dog to immediately stop what they are doing and come back to you.

Step 1: Building Foundation

  • Dogs don’t understand English, so we have to build the association with our recall word. We want the dog to learn that when this word is said, amazing things happen around the human (food, toys, games), and your dog wants to run back to you.
  • Therefore, the first and most important step is to be in your kitchen and simply say the cue “come/here” and put a tasty treat into your dog’s mouth, do this three times a day with about fifteen-twenty repetitions each time.
  • Remember, this stage is purely about association, so when you say your word, regardless what your dog is doing, get the treat into their mouth, it should happen within two seconds; most dogs just start sitting in front of you when this begins.
  • After a while, you should start to see a reaction to you saying the word, like head turn, movement towards you, etc.
  • The more you do of this the better (it should be hundreds of repetitions).

    Goldie vs training treat (all photos: George Baxter)

Step 2: Shaping the recall

  • Start by having your dog in a quiet indoor place so there are minimal distractions when doing this training and so that the dog can’t get too far away from you.
  • Place a treat into your palms and put your hands in between your legs so you are creating a target for your dog to come into.
  • As the dog starts to move towards your hands, say your recall word “come/here”, and when their nose touches your hand (because they are trying to get the treat) say “good” and then give them the treat.
  • Important point: At this stage the recall word is not being used to try and get them to move towards you. Your dog is just hearing it as they are on their way back to you to get the treat; they are responding to your body language.
  • Once you have done this a few times, try taking the food out of your hands so your dog is just working towards your target, everything is the same, but when you say “good” you just get the treat out of your pocket instead.
  • Remember, you say “good” the moment the dog has done what you want (touch your hands) then you get the reward out. The word “good” is giving you extra time to get the reward; don’t wait or delay saying the word “good”.
  • Once your dog is responding to the body language, we want to start moving onto the next stage, so when they touch your hand lightly touch their collar for a couple of seconds before saying “good”. This is to represent putting a lead on.
    • Your dog starts to learn the reward comes after the lead goes on.
  • You can then also start to build up the time before saying “good”, so your dog come back, touches your hands, you bring your hands up and wait a couple of seconds, then say “good” and reward. If you keep adding seconds then your dog will learn to come back, and wait with you for longer and longer and longer.
    • You don’t want your dog to come back to you and then immediately shoot off again.
  • Once your dog is responding to the body language really well, add your recall word “come/here” at the beginning and then do the body language.
  • Eventually, the word will replace the body language and this is the start of building your recall.
  • Start practising this in other rooms, garden, maybe have someone else in the room and slowly build up your dog passing all of these distractions and coming straight towards you.
  • You can use toys instead of food if you dog prefers them.

Top Tips

  • You can use your dog’s normal food if they like it and are motivated by it. You can always put it in a bag with some chicken for an hour to make it much more appealing. If you use extra treats then take away some of their regular food.
  • Move at the dog’s own pace and don’t be afraid to go back a step or two to where the dog was getting it right.
  • Keep training sessions to a few minutes so you can always end on a success.
  • Many short training sessions trump one long session.
  • The beauty of having a word separate from the dog’s name to come back to you is that this word will be used much less often, therefore should remain very strong with the dog.
  • Only say your recall word once or they will just start ignoring the word. You want them to react to it first time. If they don’t, then either the environment they are in is too stimulating or what you are using for a reward is not good enough.

Look out for part two where we talk about taking the recall outside and around other dogs.

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