So, you know what not to do, you know what to do instead; what else should you do to build a really reliable recall? This is not an exhaustive list of recall tips or tricks–there are many fun games and exercises to do with your pup to improve their recall.
JACKPOTS–This is an obvious but often overlooked aspect of recall training. If your dog makes the awesome choice to stop chasing a deer and recall, and all you reward with is a few pieces of kibble, your pup may decide that chasing the deer is more valuable. When teaching a recall I pretty much jackpot each successful recall with 30 seconds of happy dancing, playing, happy pets, and getting multiple rewards…even on “easy” recalls. I want to build my value up significantly so I can regularly compete with the reinforcement of chasing a deer. Now-a-days, I don’t have to have food on me to recall the dogs successfully, but I do reward with food whenever I have it, will throw a party (minus food) if I don’t have food, and will occasionally jackpot with food, party, exciting play.
Inside recall game–I make a point to play a recall game at least weekly in the house to keep the pups sharp. I will go to one of the house and either my mum or another friend will go to the other end of the house and we will just recall the dogs from one end of the house to the other. To start this we just started on opposite sides of the room and recalled. Dogs have lots of fun and they are being rewarded rapid fire from one recall to the next.
Random Recalls–I do this in the house… when the dogs least expect it I will somewhat quietly recall them and then jackpot. This has become a favorite game in the house. It has resulted in my dogs always keeping an ear out for me and loving any opportunity to recall. I recall loud enough for them to easily hear, but like I would say it outside. Once my dogs were awesome at this game inside, I would play it randomly outside in the yard–it just keeps them on their toes and they get fun jackpots. Now I only recall them periodically outside…I just want to keep them sharp and on their toes. Again it encourages them to keep an ear out for me outside even if they are doing their own thing.
Restrained Recalls–These are lots of fun for most dogs and is and excellent tool to teach the dogs to drive towards you on recalls. They work best with two people, though you can do it with one. I get the dog amped up in a game of tug (for Shayne it’s with a frisbee because that is her ULTIMATE toy) then I have a friend hold her (either with an arm under her belly or both hands in front of her shoulders). My friend pulls back slightly to get Shayne to start shifting her weight forward. At the beginning of this game I start out running away from her as I give the recall word and when she’s about 1/2 way to me, I present the awesome toy for some tugging fun for her to grab when she catches up (for really green dogs this may just be 6ft. If your dog can only drive into you from 6ft, that’s where you start and you increase the distance). In this game you should be the focus of the reward so tossing a reward away from you is counter productive but tugging with a toy, or playing with the toy is perfect. You essentially are building an incredible amount of drive for running to you for fun. There is a process to these recalls so you aren’t always running away from them but that’s the first step to using restrained recalls.
A general consideration is an evaluation of the rewards you are using. Are the rewards something your dog would always want (in that situation), sometimes want, or wouldn’t really want at all. In the dead of winter my dogs would probably not find a dip in the pool very rewarding (since it’s small and would be nearly frozen over) but in the heat of summer, the pool is a very valuable reward and in the summer, I use that as a reward. I know without a doubt Shayne lives for frisbee always… so I use that to my advantage. I know that she sometimes lives for fleece tugs (if the disc is away and I dont have hotdogs) but that she isn’t so keen on rope tugs–you need to evaluate what exactly is rewarding for your dog and make sure what you are using for rewards is on the list.
To me, all of this work using food/toys/games gives your dog plenty of opportunities to build a habit of recalling when you call. You are creating a long history of valuable reinforcement and when the time comes, that the recall is more than an exercise but a cue that may save his/her life, you can be confident he/she will recall even if you don’t have food on your person.