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If you have a German Shepherd puppy, you probably do not need to be told she is incredibly bright, curious to learn, and eager to please. Training her to come when called, also known as “recall,” is something that even a novice trainer can do with some basic training tips.
German Shepherds are a very reliable breed once properly trained to come when called. They are frequently used in police, rescue, and military work where a leash is impractical. With some patience and practice, you can expect to come to trust that your GSD will always come when called.
You can start training your puppy to come as early as 8 weeks old. Progress through the different training methods we have offered in this guide as she grows and gains skills. By the time she has reached adulthood, you will be able to rely on her recall in almost any situation.
There are some basic guidelines to follow for training your German Shepherd puppy to come when called. Here are some tips to keep in mind at all times when working on recall:
Never chase your dog when working on recall. Puppies think chase is a fun game. If you reward him for not coming when you call him with a game of chase, you are literally breaking your recall command.
Make coming to you rewarding. Do not ever call your dog and then punish him, immediately crate him, or take away something he enjoys unless you can give him something better. For example, if you call him in from outside, make sure you have a toy to play a quick game of tug before crating him.
Practice often and everywhere. You will practice recall 10,000 times to make sure it is there that one time when it can save your dog’s life.
Add distractions gradually. As we will discuss in more detail in each method, you always start training a new behavior in a low distraction environment. You will gradually add distraction once he is ready to “proof” a strong recall.
Identify Rewards: What is it that makes your German Shepherd puppy happy? Food, tug, praise or all of the above? You want to use a variety of rewards for recall training. Make sure they are easy to repeat and very exciting for your pup to keep her attention while you train.
Keep Sessions Short: Puppies have a short attention span that will increase over time with regular training. Make sure to keep your training sessions short enough that they are over before he is tired or bored.
Keep Sessions Fun: Your German Shepherd puppy will look forward to a lifetime of training if you keep training fun and rewarding. If you make it a chore, expect a dog that will grow up to be hard-headed about learning new things.
Long Line: The only equipment you will need for training a sturdy recall is a long line. This is a 25’-50’ leash or rope that you can use to give your puppy some distance safely, while not losing the ability to enforce a recall.
The Basic Recall Method
This is the first method you should use to give your German Shepherd puppy the basic skill to come when called. Start inside in a familiar environment where distractions such as toys, food, or other people are minimal. Have your rewards ready.
With your puppy nearby, run away from him in an excited way. Almost every puppy on the planet will chase you. As he starts to run towards you, say his name followed by the command “Come!” in an excited voice. When he catches up to you, put your hand on his collar, followed by praise and a reward. Repeat 10-20 times.
Start to repeat the last step, but from a little farther away. Remember to only say the command when she is already running towards you. Always touch her collar and let go before giving her a reward. You can stop running away every time, but keep your tone exciting, and heavily reward, every time. Only call her when you feel sure she will come, that is, don’t try to call her away from the dinner bowl!
Once your German Shepherd puppy is about 4 months old, take him outside with his long line attached. When he has paused from sniffing around, call him, run away if necessary, and reward when he comes running to you, remembering to touch his collar before rewarding. If he does not come, reel him in to you using the long line, do not punish or reward him, just start over. Never repeat your recall command. Repeat this procedure raising the distance gradually over time. Practice at least 5-10 times, a few times each day.
Once your German Shepherd puppy has plenty of experience with the above steps, it is time to add some real consequence to not coming when called. Continue using the above training techniques, but start making it “cost” when she does not come when called. For most pups, a short 3 minute “time out” every time she does not come when called will be sufficient. See the 'Advanced Proofing' method for tips on taking your dog’s recall to the next level.
The Recall Game Method
This is a great game to play with a few people to help reinforce your German Shepherd’s recall. Use it in combination with the other methods given here. Start with a few friends sitting or standing in a circle. Make sure each person has a small bag of high value treats.
Alternate calling the dog by saying her name, followed by the recall command “Come!” said in a playful tone. If necessary, have the person calling her lure her in with the treat the first few times.
When she gets to the person that called her, have them reward then hold her so that she is facing the next caller. Hold her back for just a few seconds until she is pulling a bit to go to the next person. This builds some excitement around the recall command.
Continue to play this game, increasing the length of the run between the people. Keep it fun and exciting.
Using a long line for safety, take this fun game outdoors for even more fun, distance and exercise!
The Advanced Proofing Method
Why proofing is key
Each of the steps in this method are designed to be used after your German Shepherd puppy has practiced his recall over the course of many sessions. He knows what the command means, and he is excited to come when called. The following four steps can be added to your training program to get his recall totally bullet-proof so he will come when called every single time, no matter what the circumstance.
Take your German Shepherd puppy to as many new places as you can to practice their recall. Use a long line for safety in unsecured areas. Try empty parking lots, open fields, in the woods, or in your friend’s backyard. The more places you practice training your German Shepherd to come, the stronger his recall will be.
Slowly but surely, deliberately add some common distractions to the environment where you choose to train. This may include other dogs, kids, toys or food. Use your long line to reel your dog in if she tries to break the recall to go towards the distraction. Make sure your rewards are always a higher value than the distraction for best results.
If you want your German Shepherd puppy to come to specific people, make sure you practice doing recall drills with other members of your family and friends.
Select the best
You can start to become selective about which recalls you will reward. Once the behavior is learned and proofed with some distractions, start heavily rewarding only the fastest recalls to get this behavior sharp and instant.
When NOT to recall
Finally, when teaching your dog to have a reliable recall, it is important that you assess the situation before you use your recall word. If you know darn well your dog won’t come when called because she is into something too good to walk away from, don’t use your recall word. Only use your recall command when you are prepared to back it up by physically retrieving your pup from a distraction.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 01/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021