Teaching the Recall

by Trevor Stevens

If you have your dog to a standard where he will sit, heel and stay then you can move on to teach him to "come", initially without a retrieving dummy and then with one. 

You should have taken your young dog to at least basic obedience level at the local obedience club in which case he should already be coming to you on recall.  Just in case you haven't, here are some basics:

Make your dog 'stay' or 'wait', (depending on your command routine), and move in front of him several steps.  Turn to face the dog. If he moves off the 'stay', gently but firmly take him back to the same spot and reinforce the 'stay' command.  Crouch down and open your arms in an inviting way and call 'come' in a light easy voice.  As the dog runs to you, calmly gather him in, so he sits in front of you.  Don't be too strict or formal with a young dog - the formal structure of recalls can fall in to place later.  Give him lots of pats and praise as you calm him down.

You use the same routine teaching your dog to 'come' with a retrieving dummy.  You should already have played games with dummies quite separately - in front of the TV, on the patio etc - the game of, 'take', 'hold', 'give'.  Put your dog in a 'stay' with the dummy in its mouth with the 'take' command and make the recall command with voice or whistle.  The dog should come straight in to you.

Sometimes a dog (particularly Goldens) will not run to you as keenly or strongly with a dummy, as they do for a normal recall. It is important that they learn to do this from the start and they may need extra encouragement.  In Retrieving Trials style is important.

Some tips;  raise the pitch of voice and level of excitement, run backwards until the dog breaks in to a run.  Also, only occasionally take the dummy from the dog straight after the recall.  Let him hold it for 10-20 seconds and he will usually just give it up, without him even being aware, as he is lavished with praise for doing a good recall.  Sometimes, step back and repeat the exercise without taking the dummy.  Sometimes after the recall, play the game of give, hold, and take.  Don't make him go to the heel position.  This can come later.  Mix up the routine as much as possible.  Apart from making it fun for the dog, if you are too predictable the dog may develop bad habits such as dropping the dummy when he gets to you because he expects that you want it, or not running to you because you will take the dummy.  If the dog does drop the dummy don't scold him.  He may interpret that the reprimand is for doing the retrieve.  Pick up the dummy, place it in the dog’s mouth with the 'hold' instruction and encourage him to you.

Sometimes dogs do not want to come with the dummy.  They may be confused about what is required, so reduce the distance.  Some dogs think it’s a game of keepings off and will try to make you chase them.  Try to avoid this at all costs, although with an older or dominant dog it may be necessary to chase and scold it.  Alternatively, tie some light cord around his neck and as you call him in reel in the cord so that the dog comes to you.  

If you have problems, which are not solved by the above techniques, it is recommended that you seek advice from a member of the working dog subcommittee.

Once your dog is doing the 'come' with the dummy, the next move is to have the dog at heel and either you or someone else throws the dummy.  Wait until the dummy comes to a complete stop before you tell the dog to 'fetch'.  As the dog comes to you with the dummy, remember to use all the techniques you used with the 'come' exercise.  If the dog goes before he is sent (breaks), don't scold him.  Once again, he may think you don't want him to retrieve and will become confused, slow or disinterested.  If this occurs kneel down and gently hold the dog around the shoulders and have someone else throw the dummy.  The dog may struggle for a few seconds.  The instant you feel him relax, let him go with the 'fetch' command.  It generally won't take long to correct this fault.  Also, try to vary the time period before you send the dog so he doesn't anticipate your instruction.  Don't worry too much about this fault with a young dog - enthusiasm is a wonderful attribute, which should not be discouraged.