Total Recall

A question I often get asked by students is, “How do I get my dog to come back to me reliably?”  Often the dog will come some of the time, but when there is something more interesting going on, the Fido’s ears seem to close.  This is a problem I struggle with myself.  My own dog is reasonably obedient.  He’s no angel, but on the whole he listens when I speak.  That is, until he gets an interesting scent…


Well, lets start with the basics, because that is usually when it all goes wrong. To start recall training, put your dog on a leash.  Walk backwards (or run) and call your dog in a happy, excited voice using the cue you have chosen (come, here boy etc).  If your puppy or dog comes to you, reward with food, a toy or attention, whichever works best for your dog. Crouch down and open your arms wide when you call him. If he doesn’t come immediately, use you leash to gently “reel” him in.  Don’t jerk him or pull too hard, because that will cause him to not want to come to you.


Once he is responding to the cue, start lengthening the leash.  You can either purchase a special long leash (10m to 15m), or you can string some regular leashes together. Washing line rope works well too.  Increase the distance gradually, until your dog will respond from the maximum length of your long leash.


Now start distraction training.  Take your dog and the long leash outside to a new area, or just after the monkeys have been about.  Let your dog wander around and get interested in the scents.  Once he is engrossed in the scents, call him.  If he doesn’t respond immediately, go back to “reeling” him in as you did before.  Continue with this process, proofing your dog against all sorts of distractions.


Throughout this process, arm yourself with some “jackpot” doggie treats.  Step it up here with the goodies.  Your dog needs to realize that coming to you means he has won the jackpot.  Use raw liver, smoked chicken, cheese (the stinkier, the better), whatever your dog considers the best treat ever.  Remember that each time you call your dog, he makes a choice to come to you or not.  Make sure there is an incentive for your dog to come to you.


It is tempting when your dog doesn’t come immediately to scold him or even hit him when he does eventually come.  This is the one of the major reasons why dogs don’t come when they are called.  Would you come running if you thought there was a chance you were going to get smacked?  It starts at housetraining time, when we find an accident, call the dog and yell at him.  He quickly learns to run in the opposite direction when he is called!


Back to my dog, well he’s a Beagle, so there is some genetic basis for his sudden hearing loss (or so I tell myself repeatedly). Beagles are scenthounds.  Their purpose in life is to smell a scent and to follow it.  That’s why they are often used as sniffer dogs at airports and such like.  That doesn’t mean that he can’t be trained to come when I call him though.  What it means is that I have to out a lot more work into training him and when he gets an interesting scent in his nose, I had better be sure I have something more interesting to motivate him to come to me!