I made a Recall highlight on the Kono's Kitchen Instagram the other day and it sent me on a trip down memory lane reminiscing about all the steps it took for us to get to where we are in our recall journey.
Having a dog with a reliable recall has always been important to me. Not only is it important because I don't want a dog who will run away from me when I call him, but I want to be respectful of people when we're in a public space. I have family members who are afraid of dogs, and I never assume that people want a strange dog in their space.
Also, if we were in an off-leash area, I would want Kono's recall to be strong enough for me to call him off of other dogs or people. So we work on it. Constantly.
While we "started" working on recall around January 2021, I didn't really work on it consistently with Kono until around July 2021. And by consistently, I mean several times a week initially, to now nearly every day.
It probably took about 5 months before I really started seeing results. Results, to me, was not necessarily a robot dog who would come when called. Results meant seeing a change in our relationship.
Last December, we rented a Sniffspot with private hiking trails (which we've returned to again and again!) and Kono blew my mind. He checked in with me constantly, waited for me to catch up, and came when I called him. It was the first time I truly felt like we were on our way to a reliable recall.
As I was going through my recall highlight and re-watching old stories on Instagram, I noticed patterns—things I did that, over time, helped develop his recall. Here are some of those tips!
1. Don't Get Rid of the Leash Too Early
Leashes are one of the most valuable tools in your toolbox! They provide guidance when verbal guidance isn't good enough. I started working with Kono on recall at home, both inside my house and in my backyard. Even then, I was working with a leash. If he didn't come, I could use leash pressure to get him moving in my direction until he understood the assignment.
When I started working on recall at parks, I used (and still use) a long line. The one that I use is typically a 20 ft BioThane line, because BioThane is easier to clean when it drags through the grass.
Does your dog refuse to come when called when you're out in public? Use a leash 😉
2. Reward For Random Check-Ins
One thing I started making a habit of doing was bringing a treat pouch filled with Kono's Kitchen treats with me to my backyard when we were just hanging out. Whenever Kono checked in with me randomly, I said "Yes!" and rewarded him with treats.
This is a way of capturing behavior, or waiting until he does something on his own and then rewarding him for it.
I did this spontaneously when we were out and about as well. When he came back to me on his own, I rewarded him, so he learned that checking in = yummy treats. Over time, that built a habit of him coming back to me, which I saw when we went on our first off-leash private hike.
3. Don't Repeat Yourself
This is something I keep in mind in all aspects of training Kono. If I say a cue or command more than once, such as "Kono, come! Come! Come!", how does he know whether to come the first time I say it or the third? Clarity in communication is super important to me, and I want to be able to say something once and for him to understand what I mean.
What if he doesn't come the first time? Then I ask myself if he truly knows what it means. If your dog doesn't understand the cue "Come" (or whatever your recall word is), then you might need to take a step back and continue using the leash to guide them.
If it is a known cue, like in Kono's case, I typically will say it once, and if he's distracted, I say "Ah-ah, come" with the "ah-ah" breaking up the words so I'm not saying "come" twice in a row.
4. Reward With High-Value Treats
Because I want an enthusiastic recall, I use rewards Kono is enthusiastic about.
Shameless plug—with Kono's endless supply of treats, I have no shortage of high-value rewards. I also freeze his raw meals into cubes and use that to make recalling back to me incredibly valuable.
The important thing is figuring out what your dog finds rewarding. Kono's incredibly food-motivated, but some dogs are more motivated by their toy or a game of tug. Even the environment can be used as a reward!
5. Make Recalling to You Exciting!
Movement is exciting to Kono, so I made it a habit of running backwards when he was recalling back to me. In the same way he gets excited when a squirrel moves because it triggers his prey drive, I make sure to add movement into my recall to make it fun.
Basically, I trick him into thinking he's the one chasing me when he comes back. And with many dogs, their tendency is to run away when being chased, so often a better way to draw them towards us is by running away from them.
Standing in one place is boring, and Kono's much less likely to come back to me if I'm being boring. I also get excited and make it a big deal when he comes, so it becomes almost like a game to him.
6. Set Your Dog Up For Success
I say this all the time, because it means different things in different contexts. When working on recall, I make sure to call Kono when he's not distracted. Which means if his head is buried in a good smell, I wait until he lifts his head to call him.
If I recall him when he's distracted, I run the risk of having to repeat myself or ruining the command. If he doesn't come when I know he knows what it means, I ask myself:
- Is he too distracted in this environment? If it's the environment that's too distracting, we move to an area that's more private and quiet.
- Is he too far from me? If so, I work on recall from a shorter distance.
- Is he done with the session? Knowing when to end the training session is important. If I can tell that Kono's losing steam and may likely stop coming when I call, then I end the session before he does, so to speak.
- Are my rewards motivating enough? If my rewards can't compete with the environment, then I may need to get higher-level rewards.
Recall is something we'll be working on forever. Even if a dog has a "reliable" recall, they're still animals and can be unpredictable. The friendliest of people will encounter other people they don't like or who throw them off, and the same can be said of friendly dogs as well.
To me, what's more important than a "friendly" dog is having a dog who values me over other things in the environment, who can be neutral in the face of other dogs and people, and who will reliably recall 99% of the time.
After all, there's nothing greater than seeing your dog run back happily to you as if you're their favorite thing in the world ❤️
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