There is an article on the WDJ website right now about recalls that is available to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. I’m glad it’s available to anyone who is interested, because it contains information that I wish every dog owner would read and embrace. It’s by trainer Lisa Lyle Waggoner, and it’s about how to build a consistent “rocket recall” response in from your dog. I’ve used the exercises described in the article over the years with my dogs, and I can honestly say that their response to the recall cue is pretty darn sharp.
The exercises are great – but you have to practice them daily. On some days, I might give my dogs a cue for a recall ony once, but if I ask just the one time, I make sure I’ve got a pretty terrific reward for their instantaneous and enthusiastic response. Sometimes the reward is a special treat, but more often it’s dinner, or a chance to join me on a quick walk to a nearby park, or the opportunity to hop into the car (which often results in an off-leash run at a local open space).
I admit that it really helps to have more than one dog with a great recall – because if one dog responds to your cue and starts running toward you, the fast movement toward you tends to draw less-enthused dogs into the first dog’s wake. Fast action often proves irresistible to action-oriented dogs – or is it the concern that they might miss out on their share of something yummy that brings dogs running who, when cued at a moment with no other dogs around, tend to be poky and disinterested in the training exercise? Either way, when I have a foster dog or guest dog around, there is nothing like a number of “pack recalls” led by my reliable recall stalwarts Otto and Tito to deliver the less-experienced or formerly unenthused or uneducated dogs to my feet, where I can make sure they are treated to something really divine for their efforts.
Lisa mentions this in the article, but I’m going to repeat it because it’s so important: When you are training the recall, don’t always end the session with your captured dog on leash or taken indoors. Cueing your dog to “go play!” and turning him loose to resume doing whatever fun thing he was doing before you called him is a powerful reward for coming to you when called, especially for dogs who weren’t all that wild about coming to you in the first place. I’ve known many dogs whose best opportunities to run free came only when they refused to come to their owners, and, in fact, actively evaded their owners. Clearly, they wanted more time to run and play. If they never get enough exercise, and you use a recall to end the fun every time, who can blame them for running away when called?
I appreciated my dogs’ recall just the other day when I spotted a large rattlesnake as I was walking with my two dogs and my little foster dog. It doesn’t happen all that often, but I was in front, with all three dogs sniffing things and lagging behind me out in a local open space. I turned around to see where the dogs were, and saw motion in the grass just a few feet behind me. My body responded to the sight of the fat snake before my brain even really registered what I was seeing. I leaped in the air, then started running backward and in an angle that would lead the trailing dogs away from the snake, and said urgently, “Dogs, HERE!” (“Come” is the word I use for casual “conversation” with my dogs; “Here” is the cue I use for the “I really need you here right now!” recall.) Actually, I think I really said, “DOGS HERE HERE HERE!” – not because the cue should be repeated (it shouldn’t), but because my heart was pounding, the size of that snake finally sinking in to ALL the cells in my body and brain. All three dogs immediately left what they were doing and dashed toward me right past the snake, who obligingly rattled a loud and unmistakable warning. Whew! I felt like I had stuck a fork into a light socket, so the “party” I threw for the dogs when they ran to my feet was full of excitement and heavy on the treats.
Check out the article, and the links to some demonstration videos in the article! And feel free to share your favorite games for keeping your dog’s recall fast and happy.