Total recall: You can teach your dog that coming when you call is so worth it

CINCINNATI - Having your dog play the "Don’t Want To/Don’t Have To," game when being called to come is pretty frustrating, and can even be an issue of safety in an emergency. Last week I shared some insight as to why your dog may be making that decision.

READ MORE: Doggone it! If your pooch is turning a deaf ear to your commands, there are at least 5 reasons why

This week I want to help you begin your journey toward teaching your dog that coming when called is well worth his effort.

The first thing to keep in mind is that awesome, fluent recalls are first and foremost learned behaviors that are taught and strengthened one reinforced practice at a time.

Just as with any other lesson, it should be your goal as your pet’s teacher to do all that you can to set him up for success by beginning in an environment where you know he can focus, using super high value reinforcers as immediate and continuous consequences to the behavior, teaching and progressing in small (or large) enough steps that your pet can understand, and practicing – literally hundreds of positive repetitions.

When you think about it, our dogs give us so many opportunities to build value for their decision to come to us every day. We fail to capitalize on those when we forget to give positive feedback on that behavior. Puppies especially naturally want to be by our side. What a great time to systematically reinforcement your puppy or dog with valued food, play or attention!

8 ways to teach recall

1. Never set your dog up for failure. That means do not call your dog when you know he will not come, do not scold your dog for coming even when you were calling him off of an unwanted behavior, do not call your dog to come when you can not guarantee a positive outcome. If you need your dog to come so that you can confine him, go and get him but do not call him.

2. Practice the collar grab game often. To teach your dog to associate positive things with your touching his collar and even applying pressure. You never know when an emergency may occur that would cause you to have to hold onto it. MORE

3. Practice teaching your dog the value of his name by saying his name and when he turns to look at you, marking that behavior and giving him reinforcement. Practice this in a variety of settings.

4. Start fresh. You may have already weakened your recall cue: "Come now," means to your dog, "I’ll get there when there is nothing better to do." So, consider beginning with a new cue. It may be easier than having to teach new meaning to your original cue.

5. Be consistent. Whatever cue you come up with, keep it sacred and only use it when you can give your dog an over-the-top great reason to come.

6. Know what is on your dog’s "Awesome List." Have super reinforcers available during training. This is not a time to be stingy. 

RELATED: You like having options and so does your pet, which can mean a win-win situation for everyone

7. That being said, be a little unpredictable. When you mix up your reinforcers so that your dog can not anticipate what he will be receiving, it makes learning that much more exciting.

8. Always begin practicing with minimum distractions, and add difficulty in distance and distractions as your dog tells you (from his continuing to come when called) that he has the skills to succeed. Practice five minutes every day on different recall games that are fun for you and your dog.

Practice having your dog come when you call. Here are three ideas to get you started:

1. Back and forth. With another person in a secure space with no distraction, stand a short distance apart. With a high value treat, one person will call your dog ONCE. When he gets there, that person will grab his collar and hold it while giving him a treat. The other person will call the dog when the dog is not looking and repeat. As your dog gets better at this (after about 10 perfect recalls), you can practice moving further apart and continue to increase distance and adding distractions.

2. Catch me if you can. (Again, in a secure environment with minimum distractions). If you have two people, one person will hold your dog back while you are a short distance away. Get in your ready position, call your dog and then run. When your dog gets to you, give him a huge value reinforce. If you have only one person, you can very gently push him back from the chest area, call him and run.

3. Everyday life. Call your dog to come before you feed him or anytime that you know you are going to do something he really likes.

How do you practice recall with your dog? I’d love to hear.

About Lisa Desatnik

Lisa is always looking for opportunities to strengthen her skills--both for her own pets and to help other animal caregivers through in-home dog training consultations, speaking engagements, written work. Check out her blog and website.  You can also connect with her via the So Much PETential Facebook Page,  and follow her on Twitter  and Google+.

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