Puppies are clean slates of fluff. They don’t know what it is to be a good dog—ahem, an obedient dog—but they’re eager to learn and ugh, do they have to be so cute? One of the most important (perhaps the most important) commands you will teach your puppy will be recall, and it’s important to maintain a positive training regimen for your recall command throughout your dog’s life.
Archer’s new best friend, Sirius, just started puppy school a few weeks ago. Due to scheduling with the classes, and his vaccination schedule, this was the earliest he could enroll—at nearly six months old. In this time, his training has been done at home with focus given to various different commands—specifically, recall.
Being a vizsla (a Hungarian hunting dog), it was important that Sirius learned good behaviour on offleash trail walks, and Archer has made for a great teacher in this respect. As a hunting dog, we’re already seeing that he is prone to chase small game and get over-fixated on scent trails—because of this, it was crucial that he be familiar and responsive to recall.
So how do you teach a puppy good recall, and ensure they are always responsive to your cues? Well, puppy school is absolutely great for a focused training environment, but good recall should start early, with continuous training and reinforcement throughout the dog’s life.
When first starting good recall, start your training in a quiet, distraction-less room. You want the bulk of your puppy’s attention on you. Starting brand new commands with puppies can be difficult, so it’s important to associate the exercise with nothing but positive experiences. In a quiet room, there are very few chances for your puppy to “fail” or become so distracted he doesn’t notice you. Be patient and be positive.
- Wait until your puppy is coming toward you on his own.
- When he is close (within a few feet), say the word “come” (or whatever you wish your recall word to be).
- Praise your puppy when he reaches you.
Regardless of how long it took for your puppy to come to you, the reward should always be the same. High praise and lots of affection. You can also up the ante with a treat, toy, getting excited, or even running away from your puppy (their instinct will be to chase after you) to help reinforce that coming back to you is a good, positive experience for them.
Reinforcing Your Recall Cue
A great way to reinforce your recall cue (the word “come,” for example) is to play a sort of game with your dog and another person. We did this in puppy school, which was always a little interesting. Some dogs became distracted by the other puppies in the class, while other dogs knew exactly what to do and charged to their owners with a full head of steam. Don’t be discouraged if your pup becomes distracted, just remember to always praise them when they eventually (even if it takes a really, really long time!) come to you.
This training exercise requires two people. Both people should be someone your puppy is familiar with and trusts.
- One person sits with the puppy at one end of a room (or yard, depending on how difficult/distracting you want to make this!) and the other stands or kneels a fair distance across from them.
- The person with the puppy holds them by the collar to prevent them from moving.
- The other person begins to get excited (can use toys, slap their legs to make sounds, etc.) and draws the puppy’s attention to them, without saying their name or recall cue.
- When the person holding the puppy is satisfied they are focused on the other person, it’s time to finally say their recall cue. For us, it would be “Archer, come.”
- The person with the puppy will release the puppy. With all the excitement, the puppy should run right to the other person.
This is how you reinforce your recall cue. Try 20 feet and grow the distance as your puppy gets better and better with the command. Remember: more distance means a greater risk of distraction! Start small, then gradually increase your distance. If your puppy falters and becomes distracted, close the distance and start over again.
Vocal Cue + Hand Signal
We always encourage building hand signals into your vocal commands. Dogs are visual creatures, they react to our body language more than we realize. It’s good to incorporate hand gestures in combination with vocal commands. Once your dog is familiar with their verbal recall command, you can start including a hand signal along with the verbal command in your training.
As with the verbal recall command, begin their training in a quiet, distraction-less environment and keep a short distance between you and your dog. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog to increase the difficulty and possibility for distraction.
When you start your training, remember to use their name + recall command + hand gesture. Make sure your hand signal cannot be confused with another hand signal you’ve already used with your dog for another command.
Give Them Foolproof Opportunities
When outside and offleash (whether it’s in the yard, an offleash trail, etc.) and there are limited distractions, give a recall command when your puppy is relatively close. These are situations where he is most likely to succeed, so it helps reinforce the command in a one-on-one environment, even if though there is some wiggle room to fail.
Be patient. If he take a little time to sniff a tree before returning to you, that’s okay! If your puppy does ten things before returning to you, or takes a few minutes, just remember that one key aspect: he came back. Praise him for coming back to you, always.
You Are Not More Interesting Than Other Dogs
One recurring theme with puppy training, is that it’s easy to get discouraged. Puppies are just bubbling with excitement, and are terribly curious—which can make training difficult. Instead, remember to have patience and to embrace the distractions as they come. Use them to enhance your puppy’s learning experience.
Don’t set your puppy up for failure by attempting a recall command when he is clearly distracted/overwhelmed by another situation. Typically, this means playing with other dogs (or people!). Odds are, your puppy will not respond to your recall command. Does that mean your training is slipping? No! It just means that you’ve put your puppy in an almost-impossible situation where he just can’t succeed (other dogs are way cooler than you are, and you know it).
Wait for a lull in the action, then attempt a recall command when you know you can get your puppy’s attention.
This makes for a tricky but rewarding exercise for your puppy. It can be a difficult exercise to master, and in this situation, treats are a great reward.
Things to Avoid
I don’t mean to sound like a hippie with my peace, love, and happiness mentality, but it really is vital when dealing with recall. It needs to be a positive experience for your puppy, and patience is key.
- DO NOT chase your puppy. Your dog will think it’s a game, and the inclination is to run further away from you.
- DO NOT reprimand your puppy or be negative in any way. You want to reinforce the idea that coming back to you is always (always!) a good, positive experience. Is it annoying when your dog ignores you? Sure. But to reprimand him for being tardy in returning is sending the wrong message to your dog. Simply put: if he returns to you, no matter how long it took, he’s a good dog.