Teaching Your Dog To Come: Emergency Recall

If you think about it, there are levels to teaching your dog to come.  Most of us, who live in suburbia and, uh, urbia, do not expect much from our dogs in this regard.  We need our dogs to come in from the back yard.  We need them to come to us in the house.  Teaching your dog to come at that level is quite different from teaching your dog to come from a half mile away in unfamiliar territory.

I've recently heard from a couple of folks who have learned that the level of recall trained into their dog is not quite at a level they might have wished for.  Their stories are too good to not share.

The first story comes from a poor soul who is a friend on Facebook.  Her status told of her *white* dog getting out during a snowstorm (emphasis on white) on New Year's Day.  This woman proceeded to switch between a game of tag with the dog and wiping out in the snow in her pajamas.

Snow_PlowThe second story comes from Zeke.  He has developed some new hobbies: snowplows.  Apparently, these creatures are beautiful and strange and they must be chased with great zeal.  Ordinarily, this is a simply amusing event to watch Zeke tear around the back yard.  But, Zeke has learned that snowdrifts allow him to clear the fence and gain closer access to all that is mysterious and wonderful in a snowplow.  Zeke engages in this new hobby early in the morning as Zeke's owner is getting ready to go to work.  Here too, after the investigation of the plows is complete, it turns into a game of keep-away in the neighborhood.

I'm not above enjoying a laugh at someone else's expense.  Don't judge me.  But after I wiped the tears from my eyes, I needed to write this post, if for no other reason than as a repayment for a good belly laugh.

The problem is one of distraction.  A dog who is well trained to come in the house or backyard has not been trained to deal with the distractions that can occur in the neighborhood when exploring off leash.  Leashes and leash laws have allowed all of us to accept a lower level of dog recall.

Teaching a dog to come in the backyard or in the house is easy.  These are non-distracting environments.  The dog knows all there is to know in these areas.  There is nothing new here.  There is no reason to not come when called, as affection, food, or play may be offered.  But, running free in the neighborhood?  That is just delicious.  New smells, new territories.  Freedom!  And, perhaps best of all, a new game:  keep-away.  All of these games and distractions are better than any promise that the owner can offer.

How do we train our suburban leash dogs to come, after they bolt out the front door and are exploring the neighborhood?  Let me explain a technique that is easy to train, then I'll give you some related thoughts that will help.

The Emergency Dog Recall

The trick to developing an emergency dog recall is a promise of very good things.  You communicate to the dog that good things are waiting for him, if only he will return. With this training, we will be rewarding the dog big time.  Not with tiny morsels and pieces of hot dog.  Rather, we are going to be dealing with large chunks of raw meat.  Size them according to the size of your dog, but the reward ought to be the size of a regular meal for the dog, consisting entirely of fresh meat.

Yes your dog will experience intestinal difficulties, but this is better than a dog hit by a car, no?

steaksWhat you will need:

  1. Meat.  Lots of it.  I like raw beef, but if you are concerned, it can be cooked.
  2. A whistle.  This should sound different than any other whistle that Phydeaux has ever heard.  This whistle will be reserved for this purpose and be able  to be heard long distances.  One can find calls and whistles that sound like hawks, quail, crows, and rabbits.
  3. A partner for longer-distance training.

Start with Spot next to you in the back yard.  Blow your whistle and give the dog a generous portion of raw meat.  You are done for the day.  Just let it sink in what has just happened.

On your next training day, when Rover is a few steps away, blow your whistle.  While blowing, show him (at his level), the generous portion of meat.  Let him eat.  Again, you are done for the day.

On each subsequent training day, double the distance you are recalling the dog.  Keep blowing the whistle until he arrives for the meat.

running dogPretty quick, you will be beyond the confines of your yard.  Here is where you get a friend.  Have the friend take pup out the front door and down the sidewalk a bit.  Blow your whistle and reward when pup comes running up to you.

That's it.  When the time comes that you need to actually use this skill, be prepared to throw open the refrigerator and toss all sorts of leftovers for the dog.  Maybe open a can of soup for him.  Whatever you can find that is safe for pup to eat, that is what you will give.

Some Things To Help The Training

  1. Vary the reward.  Don't let it always be raw ground beef.  Maybe sometimes it is a whole cooked chicken breast.  Or a big chunk of liver.  Vary it.  Don't let the dog get used to the same reward.  Have him wondering what the jackpot will be.
  2. Once in a great while, during training, but after he seems to be getting it, do not reward.  Do this if the dog is trotting back rather than running.  Reward the best of efforts.  Don't do this often, but once in a while, withhold, especially if his effort seems weak.  On this day, give him another chance, at a closer distance.  Reward that effort unless he flat-out refuses to come.
  3. Practice in other locations.  Your dog may get away in other places than just at home.  Drill this in parks and beaches too.
  4. Dogs can take Immodium and Pepto tablets.  Look online or talk to your vet for the proper dosage.
  5. Once pup has the skill mastered, you will still have to practice this every so often.  The goal is to remind the dog that this whistle always means an abundance of good food.  If you never practice, the behavior will go away.

Other General Things That Will Help All Dog Recall

1. Never Punish A Dog For Coming

After screaming your lungs out trying to get the dog to come back, and pup strolls in, tired and ragged, you really, really want to be mad at that dog.  You want to scold.  You want to hit.  Choose not do it, because it teaches the dog that coming in means trouble.Next time, he'll be less likely to come in.

2. Don't Chase The Dog

You are out there chasing the dog, trying to collar him.  What does he do?  He prances about, just out of reach.  He seems so, well, smug.  He is smug, because he is winning the game.  He wants to show off to you how he is beating you.  You can use this arrogance to your advantage.

The trick?  Just walk away.  If you are not looking at the dog, the dog cannot demonstrate to you that he is winning.  That will bug him, and he'll follow you so he can gloat.  As he tries to zip past you, collar him.

Give it a try.  Let me know how it works for you.

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    Rick Bohning

    I do a lot of things. Most of them take my money. The only thing I do that earns me any money is writing software. All the other things I do are funded by said software gig. A short list: Husband, hunter, angler, worshipper, philanthropist, dog trainer, falconer, gardener, kayaker, and scuba diver (just certified).

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