Clicking With Canines

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A reliable recall (coming when called) is a critical behavior since it can quite literally save your dog’s life.   Coming when called should be one of the first behaviors to teach your dog.  When young, dogs naturally follow their owners around and run to catch them when they run away from the puppy.  By building on this natural instinct in puppies, dogs will grow up having a recall that is reliable under the most distracting of conditions. 

With respect to recalls, the following are important remember:

  • The dog always has a choice:  it can continue to chase the squirrel OR, it can return to you.  To have a very reliable recall, your dog must perceive that you are ALWAYS more rewarding than the rest of the environment, including squirrels.
  • Never call your dog to you for something the dog considers “bad.”  This includes calling him to trim nails, give medication, or take something away from him.  If you must do something the dog perceives as unpleasant, go to the dog.
  • Remember that the way you are facing is the way the dog PERCEIVES you want him to go.  In addition, dogs naturally chase something moving away from them (the prey instinct).  At first, encourage your dog to come to you by turning your body away from him.  As the dog understands the cue, you can start rotating around so that you eventually can face him and call him.  Many people try to teach the dog to come to them by standing still, facing the dog, and calling his name.  For dogs, body language nearly always trumps our words, even when we are sure the dog “knows” what the word means.

Steps to teach recall:


             1.  Start by CLICK/TREAT (C/T) whenever the dog comes to you (not called) in a confined area like inside your house.  Work on this as much as possible.  Also, use a highly valued treat and consider a treat that your dog ONLY gets when he comes to you.  Another way to start is to click/treat your dog for touching its nose to the palm of your hand.  This is called "targeting."  Your hand then becomes an easily recognizable and unique "body cue" to come to you (you can add a verbal cue later).  Dogs respond more quickly to body cues than voice since body language is the natural "language" of dogs.


             2.  Next do the same thing in an outside fenced in area where it is safe to let your dog off leash.  Simply allow him to roam and ‘be a dog’.  Whenever he looks your way you can CLICK and show him a treat or even toss it to him.  Toss the treats closer and closer to you as you progress.  Anytime your dog heads in your direction, without being called, C/T.


             3.  Your dog should start to ‘check in’ with you more and more as he realizes that any time he comes your way he gets a C/T.  When you feel he is beginning to ‘get it’, you can begin saying his name followed by “come,” or some other verbal cue.  Remember to turn your body away from him as you call so it reinforces for him the direction you want him to go.


             4.  Next, work with your dog on a long leash at least 15 ft. in length.  This is so you can practice recall without being in a confined area, such as when you are on a walk, and where there are distractions.  C/T your dog anytime he returns to you WITHOUT having called him to you.


             5.  PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE….it takes a very long time, it can be as much as three years in some dogs, to teach a strong and reliable recall.  Remember you are always competing with the rest of the world for your dog’s attention.  Do not become discouraged or frustrated as this is one of the most difficult things to teach, especially if your dog has had a bad experience as a puppy or young dog as result of coming when called.  Simply have patience, practice and be consistent with your CLICKS and TREATS.

Steve Benjamin, KPA CTP
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Karen Pryor Academy Faculty Member
P.O. Box 5715
Endicott, New York 13763