Once upon a time, there was a six pound Papillon named Piper who had developed a problem with “selective hearing”. She also had a bad habit of bolting when her owners make a grab for her. Obviously, with a dog her size, this could become a dangerous situation.
Having a dog ignore you when you call it is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to a pet owner. Teaching a pup to come, or teaching the “recall” as dog trainers know it, is a process. I want my dogs to stop on a dime when I say their name, no matter what they are doing. Knowing that they will come when I call them has led to greater freedom for them and peace of mind for me.
Here are 9 easy rules to preventing, or fixing, the problem.
1) I don’t say my puppy’s name. I want his name to be a magic word, so when I say it, it means something. Therefore, I only use it during formal training sessions.
2) I start out with small recalls, around the house. I have a clicker and piece of chicken ready. I wait until the pup isn’t looking at me, when he is distracted or sniffing around. I say his name. If he looks up, I click, hold the treat out, and let him come and get it. If he does not respond, I wait at least thirty seconds before calling again.
3) After a few repetitions of this, the puppy has learned his name. We are ready to graduate to a greater distance. I wait until he is across the room, and then say his name. He should react instantly. If he doesn’t, I start all over.
4) I never call his name more than once in the thirty second period. If I did, I would be teaching him to ignore me.
5) When the puppy is reliably coming to me from across the room, I call him from out of sight. It isn’t long before his feet are scrambling across the floor to get to me.
6) In Piper’s case, when she comes, as she is given the food with one hand, I reach out with the other and touch her collar and neck, handling her. In this manner, Piper becomes accustomed to the idea that to be touched is part of the reward. During the training process, I have her drag a light lead or string around the house, which is attached to her collar. She needs to be kept safe at all times, so she can’t be left alone or left in a situation where she can get tangled on anything. This way, she doesn’t get the chance to bolt. She can always be caught, and this is the first opportunity to break her habit of fleeing when she is called.
7) When the puppy is reliably coming to the sound of his name, I begin taking him for short walks outside in the yard, where he can be off leash. I carry treats in my fanny pack. It’s helpful for the pup to be hungry, as the outdoors can be really stimulating and I want to make sure I’m more important than anything else. I wait until he is actively sniffing the ground, not watching me, and then I call his name. When he looks up, I click, squat down and hold out the treat.
8) If he doesn’t look up, he’s either not hungry enough, or I haven’t practiced enough indoors. This increase in stimulus is called, “Proofing.” In this manner the dog proves his reliability in more and more difficult circumstances.
9) I do these random recalls as the pup gets older, gradually increasing the amount of stimulus that the dog has to overcome in order to get the treat. I can practice recalls too, on my leash walks in the park. If I say the dog’s name and he looks up at me, I consider that a successful recall.
This method has led to my dogs putting on the brakes when chasing squirrels. If I call them, they will actually stop and come back to me. I can’t reiterate how important it is to not say the dog’s name at other times. If you constantly bombard him with his name, it will become meaningless to him. If you can’t help saying it, then think of another word to use as your recall word.
It’s very important to note that there is no force or punishment in teaching the recall this way. Many times I have watched an owner call the dog over, and then slap it for some perceived misbehavior. This can effectively ruin the chance of the dog ever coming when called again.
Also, if you need to do something unpleasant like give the dog medicine, don’t call him to you. Go to him instead.
The reliable recall is a process that takes days and weeks to teach, but once it is instilled in your dog’s mind, you and your dog can live happily ever after.