Without question the recall command is the single most important command you need to teach your dog. It can quite literally save their life, stop them from crossing a busy street or getting into something poisonous or dangerous. That should be the first thing you work on with your dog whenever you get them – as a puppy, a 1 year old, or a 8 year old. But if you have had your dog for a while and are still having a problem getting a good response when you call him or her, I have some tips that should be able to help.
First, and I think this is important for all dog owners to understand, a dog does not have the capacity to do a bad thing. They do not think to themselves, “I know this is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway.” Their behaviors are the result of habit, and as an expression for how they’re feeling – whether its stress, anxiety, boredom, whatever. But we’re human and we get mad at our dogs anyway. Whatever you do don’t use your dogs name when yelling at them. It’s okay to say, “don’t,” “stop it“ or “cut it out” – just don’t use their name. Always try to associate their name with a positive thing, “Echo, let’s go for a ride”, or “Echo, I gotta treat for you,” etc. At least your dog will get the idea that when their name is called something good is going to happen.
Secondly, a dog can’t really tell the difference between doing what they were going to do and complying with a command. So if the dog is coming toward you, call them – enthusiastically! This is called “capturing” a behavior, a very common training technique. And whether you call them or not, when they come to you give a big reward, hugs and kisses, treats, pat on the head, a kind word, anything. And when you do call them, don’t bark out a command, “here!” or “come!” Entice them, “come on sweetie, that’s a good dog, come here you good girl/boy” etc. Once your dog shows a high degree of a reliability with the recall command, you may then think about using a single verbal or visual cue. Remember, your dog needs a darn good reason to ignore that lizard in the middle of the road and to come running when you call.
And as always, try to make your recall training fun and enjoyable for your dog. It not only will help him or her learn faster but also strengthen the bond and develop mutual trust and respect.