The biggest problem people run into with teaching a recall (the come command) is that they tell their dog to come only when it means the end of all the dog’s fun—after they finish doing their business outside, when it’s time to leave the dog park, when it’s time to cut their nails, etc.
So teaching a good recall is all about using fun games to teach the dog that a saying “come” can be the start of a fun game, instead of the end of whatever they’re enjoying.
I use chase games as a fun way of teaching a dog this.
Sample video of an excellent recall!
How to Play…
Prepare by picking out a couple of really exciting treats and one or two less exciting treats.
Start the game by tossing a boring treat roughly a foot or so away from you and tell your dog to get it. As they finish eating the treat off the floor, turn around and run away from them, calling their name.
Most dogs immediately give chase!
When they “catch” you, reward them with several of the exciting treats, fed one after the other. Make sure to hand them each of the exciting treats one at a time though—this helps teach them to “stick around” after the recall, rather than taking one treat and dashing back off to their own games.
Then you can start the game over!
Two of my students demonstrate the chase game
Playing with Toy Motivated Dogs
If you have a dog that loves to play tug or fetch, you can also play this game with a toy reward when the dog “catches” its person—just keep in mind that if you play fetch, it’s sending the dog back away from you after the recall, so you’ll want to balance that out with some rewards that keep the dog nearby after you call them too.
Problem Solving in the Classroom
If you’re teaching this in a classroom setting and you get one of those dogs who doesn’t immediately give chase, and instead decides to go sniff stuff or gets distracted by their environment, make sure to play the game on leash where you hold the leash while the dog’s owner runs away—this prevents the dog from self rewarding, and if the dog makes the right choice (to chase mom or dad!) then you can follow along behind them.
If this still doesn’t work, I have them switch from chase to the get it game—the owner holds their own leash, tosses out a treat, and then simply backs up while calling their dog, staying nice and close. Some dogs, especially small dogs, are just scared of being stepped on so they don’t go close while their owners are running.
Playing the get it game instead helps teach the same thing—when mom calls me, fun stuff happens (in this case, just really yummy treats).