Many of my new clients complain that their dog does not respond when they call them.  The “recall” is the most important cue that any dog should learn.  In training lingo, “recall” means the trained behavior of the dog coming to you when called.

All behavior is contingent upon its consequence.  What happens next?  Dogs are masters of connecting the dots.  Is it safe, is it dangerous and what’s in it for me?  We are all hardwired the same.  Humans are no different.  We do things eagerly that feel good or have some sort of benefit to us, 

Think about the times that most people call their dogs.  Maybe you have to go somewhere and need to put the dog in the house.   You call your dog.  Maybe your dog sees something in the environment that they really want to investigate but you don’t want them to.  You call your dog.  Maybe your dog needs to go into his/her crate.  You call your dog.  Maybe it is time to end a play session.  You call your dog.

While these situations are normal and appropriate times to call your dog, what is the consequence to the dog for coming to you?  Is it safe, is it dangerous and WHAT IS IN IT FOR ME?  All the consequences listed above are negative associations to the dog.  If we only use a recall cue “Fido, COME” at times when the consequence is a negative, we have effectively “poisoned the cue”.  The dog no longer responds to the cue.

In training, I put a huge amount of emphasis on the recall.  But we have to build in ways to get many, many positive repetitions of this important cue so that it begins to hold up under any circumstance.  I make up recall games so that I can get hundreds of mini recalls into my training routine every week.  And every one of those recalls result in something wonderful for my dogs.  Every single one.

This is a good place to insert some information about the use of shock collars.  Many people reach a point of exasperation with their dogs over this recall issue.  They then go to the internet and  are  bombarded with fail safe ways to get your dog to come when called by companies selling electronic shock collars.  

The reviews will be all positive, saying that it changed their dog overnight.  I would like to have a chat with those people about a month after using one of these devices.

Remember. If you call your dog, the dog doesn’t come and then you apply a painful shock, what is the association to the cue?  Dogs end up  simply failing to respond at all because they go into conflict.  While at first they may stop and then return to you because they are so freaked out, eventually they will just give up altogether because they can never be successful.

Dogs have no way of associating the painful stimulation with the behavior of “not coming to you”.  I clean up a lot of messes after the use of shock collars on dogs.

So, call your dog many, many times,  Give them a treat and praise, many, many times….for no reason at all.  Pretty soon you will have a reliable recall under any circumstances.