Well, there are a few common mistakes that people make with recalls that make a reliable recall next to impossible. 1) Not truly teaching it in the first place. 2) Only calling the dog when it's for something negative (i.e. coming in from outside, putting him in the crate, clipping his toenails, ending fun in general). 3) Repeating the cue over & over with no result, henceforth teaching the dog to IGNORE IT.
Let's discuss #1. First things first, you have to actually teach your dog what "come" ("here!" "front!" choose your word) means. Here is a start: put your dog on a leash, so she can't wander or blow you off. Have a surprise treat on you, (treat doesn't have to = food. There is nothing better to my dog than a tug toy!). Wait until your dog is looking away from you, then call "[Dog's name], here!" and trot (yes, I said trot!) excitedly backwards while holding the leash. As soon as your dog commits to coming toward you, "GOOD GIRL!! YAY for you!!" and BIG party when she gets to you, including giving her the reward. Repeat this exercise over and over again with your dog on a longer lead, go outside, add distractions, always rewarding her for coming to you. **Hint** Try to SURPRISE her with the reward, and vary them. IF your dog doesn't come to you when you call, trot backwards while holding the leash so she has no choice but to come into you. Reward her when she gets there, even if you had to help in the beginning.
.... and #2. People have this habit of not teaching the cue in the first place, or teaching it 50%, and then only calling the dog when it's a convenience to the human, but sucky for the dog, i.e. if the only time you call your dog is when you want him to come in from playing outside, he's eventually going to equate that call with the ending of a good time WITH the added bonus that he's off leash and you can't enforce what you're saying. I call my dogs periodically when they're outside, give them an AWESOME treat, and send 'em back out again. Only 1 out of every maybe 10 times am I calling them to end the fun for good, and even then, I try to reward their compliance with something when we get back in the house. I want to keep their recalls enthusiastic! If you have to do something like trim his nails, put him in the tub, pick a tick off him, or any other unpleasant task, get up and GO GET HIM. If you call him for things that suck, eventually he is NOT (at the very least) going to be in a hurry to get to you, (and at worst, he's going to start running the other way when you call him).
#3: Repeating, repeating, repeating... There is a somewhat unwritten rule around here that you shouldn't GIVE a cue that you CANNOT or ARE NOT WILLING to enforce. For example, I had an ex-boyfriend who used to stand on the porch and call Spark Plug over and over, while standing on the porch nonetheless, while Spark was gallivanting off leash in the backyard. He called him repeatedly so many times that eventually Spark didn't respond to the word "come" anymore at all. He had effectively been trained to ignore it. (I call this phenomenon "anti-trained!") So what did I do? Started all the way back at step one and retrained my recall with a NEW cue; (now it's "here!"). If you recognize yourself here and have effectively trained your dog to ignore you calling him with "come," start over with a different cue like I did.
**Your dog should be wearing a long lead to practice this (supervised only with the leads, please) even in his own backyard until you are feeling SUPER confident and getting lightening-fast responses. What I did with my first dog, Caruso, was go from the 20 foot lead, to the 10, to the 6, to the 2, to the... you get the idea. If you call your dog to you someday AFTER YOU'VE SPENT A BUNCH OF TIME actually teaching him what "here" means before using the cue off leash, that is, and he doesn't respond, RESIST the urge to call him again. I've caught loose dogs by picking up a stick (or even an imaginary object) and waltz off acting like I'm having the time of my life with it, paying NO attention to the dog, except for out of the corner of my eye. Dog comes up to see what you're having so much fun with, and wa-la! There he is. Easiest way to get a loose dog to come to you is to get his attention and dash off in the opposite direction. They almost always follow.
**Continue to reward a good recall throughout your dog's life. I'm always saying, just because you KNOW how to do your job doesn't mean you're going to work for free. PAY the kid! Keep the reinforcement level high.
**HINT** Do NOT ask your dog to sit BEFORE you call him. You don't want to make his recall contingent on a sit (or a down) first. Simply wait for him to be doing something else (typically doesn't take too long!) and then spring it on 'im!
**This is by no means a completely comprehensive description of teaching a reliable come when called. Dogs vary a LOT in their motivations and what works and what doesn't and how difficult it is. Reach out to a fabulous professional trainer in your area to help you get a handle on the specifics, as this is a safety cue that could save your dog's life someday!
**One final thing, not for nothin', but I truly believe a good recall has a lot more to do with your RELATIONSHIP than it does a conditioned response to a cue ("come"). My dogs would never run away from me because they totally don't want to... We're best friends, we spend a ton of time together, they trust in my leadership, and they WANT to be with me.. I sure want to be with them ;)
THANK YOU for this great question, Nev! Tune in next Wednesday for our Training Q&A on www.facebook.com/hexdogs! Submit your question and it could be answered here next week! Feel free to share, and reach out to Higher Expectations Dog Training & Behavior Modification anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit our ACTUAL webpage at www.hexdogs.com. Thanks for reading!
Cassie-Leigh Stock, ABCDT, CTDI, AKC-CGC, CDT