OK, we have all heard this. But have you ever heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy? Any dog, at any time, may choose to head merrily in the other direction when you call him (even a golden retriever!) But if we tell ourselves that our dogs won’t come reliably, and fail to work on this exercise, voila!—we have a dog that won’t come when called.
In teaching the recall, you must observe the Four Commandments:
1.Thou shalt NEVER, EVER call thy dog and then do something negative (scold, clean ears, etc.).
2. Thou shalt ALWAYS praise thy dog for coming.
3. Thou shalt NOT chew thy cabbage twice! Use ONE command.
4. Thou shalt NOT call thy dog if thou art not prepared to enforce it.
How to begin? Happily! And you need to KEEP this a happy exercise. The dog is brainwashed to feel that coming to you is always a good and joyful thing, while choosing to head in the other direction is always unpleasant. With a young puppy or with an untrained adult, start on lead with a buckle collar. In a very happy voice, say “Puppy, Come!” (Insert the dog’s name @ Puppy), and either trot backwards, or kneel and open your arms wide in a welcoming gesture, or both. Cheer all the way in as the dog comes to you, and reward like crazy when the dog touches you. Encourage the dog to your middle, looking up to your face. If the pup doesn’t move toward you, a slight tug on the lead should get him moving. But remember to use your voice and body language as the main motivator. Don’t haul the dog in like a sack of potatoes. When you pull, the natural reaction is to pull away.
A great game at this stage is to have two or more family members five feet apart. The first person calls the dog and rewards. Then the leash is tossed to the second person, and the dog is called to that person. Remember, use BIG PRAISE. But only say “Come” ONCE. Once this is working nicely, you are ready for the next step! Have the dog on lead either on a buckle collar or a training collar (if the dog is over six months old). Wander around, letting the dog sniff or whatever. Once attention is not on you, in a happy voice call, “Dog, COME”. Begin to move backwards (on the leash slack), and if the dog is not turning and moving toward you in a second, tug and release. If you need more than one tug, do it again, but DON’T DRAG. The dog must choose to move toward you. Cheer the second the dog moves toward you, and all the way in until he touches you. At this stage, if the dog moves past you, say nothing but issue another tug. Again, praise as the dog moves toward you and touches you.
From here, there are a variety of ways you can build. If you have begun teaching sit, stay, you can put the dog on a stay and then do the recall from there. You can build distance on-lead using a flexilead. (You will need to practice with using your thumb and the trigger to get a pop and release correction. Do it with a family member or a stuffed toy on the other end until you get it right.) Reduce the body language until the dog comes without any movement on your part, but reacts just to the command. (But still do some with you running back- wards or otherwise behaving like a loon.) You can also begin doing off-lead recalls in the house at short distances. Put a tab or a short grab lead on his collar. Make sure that the lead is not so long that he might step on it. If he tramples his lead, he is accidentally correcting himself for a right action! Then call, and if he doesn’t immediately start coming, smile, walk casually in, and correct him into you. Start using recalls for pleasurable daily routines: feeding times, treats, walks, etc. YOU know what your dog loves!
Once you have a reliable recall in the SAME room, you can begin calling him from another room. Same deal. Enforce happily. (And remember, dogs have spectacular hearing. Don’t assume that he didn’t hear you, unless you have a really wispy voice. Lose the wispy voice.)
Once you have an off-lead recall building nicely indoors, do it outdoors in a fenced area. Again, start at a short distance & gradually increase it as you are successful. By this time, if the dog misses a recall because of distraction, he should get an “Uh-oh” look when he sees you coming toward him, & should be correcting himself. If the dog is deliberately waiting to come until he sees you walking toward him, continue to walk in, get his tab, & correct even if he is already moving toward you. Then praise. The message at this stage is, “Honey, you know this stuff. Don’t make me come get you.” But do this ONLY if you are sure that the dog understands.
Proof. Call and enforce when he is distracted by neighborhood activity, or when playing with another dog. Then release him back to the activity he was enjoying. (You don’t want your dog to get into the mindset that whenever he is having a good time, coming to you ends that good time.)
At this stage, you can also begin letting him out into your fenced yard while you remain at the door. Invariably, your dog will choose a snowy or rainy morning to develop selective hearing. So keep those boots handy, and after one “Come”, emerge with that same benign smile, casual stroll, and will to enforce if Fido is ignoring you. The goal of a rock-solid recall is not to allow your dog to roam all over the neighborhood or to eliminate the need for a fenced yard. But if he accidentally gets loose, you will bless the time you spent on this. You will be thankful on a nasty morning for being able to stay inside while your dog relieves himself. And if you have a large, secluded area where you can loose your dog safely, you will have the joy of seeing your Pyr gamboling happily without the anxiety that he will disappear forever. But ONLY if you have done your homework!
P.S.: Don’t skip steps! If Fido ain’t coming reliably from three feet away, what makes you think he’ll come from thirty feet away?