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You and your puppy are playing in your front yard when suddenly a squirrel runs nearby. The puppy, young and prone to distractions, breaks away from you and chases after the squirrel toward the street. If your puppy is so distracted that he doesn’t listen to you, he could run into the street and place himself--and others --in significant danger. Training your puppy to recall is a critical component to establishing a safe environment for you, your dog, and anyone in the immediate area.
Training for recall can be a time-consuming and challenging process because you are working against a dog’s natural instincts and depending on the breed, prey drive. That’s why it’s helpful to teach your dog to recall while he is young. He will learn to listen to you and understand your expectations when you call him. Recall with distractions will, in turn, teach your puppy to learn quickly and be highly focused.
The key to training your puppy to recall even with distractions around is to make responding to your command more rewarding than ignoring it. Like people, dogs often measure up the benefits and costs of a situation to determine what will benefit them the most. Therefore, incentivized recall training is essential for your dog to master this skill successfully.
Know your puppy well. What does he respond to most? Does he have a favorite kind of toy or treat? How can you potentially use what he loves to help him ignore the multiple distractions that he encounters on a daily basis, and focus on you instead? By following the training guidelines below, you can teach your pup to respond to recall even when there are other people, dogs, animals, and activities happening around him.
Make sure that your puppy knows basic recall training, and that the command you’ve chosen for recall (“come,” “to me,” etc.) is used consistently throughout the process. Start in enclosed areas with minimal distractions and slowly, with each small step of success, work up to large, spacious areas with more activity.
You will need a long lead line for some of these training steps as well as high value treats to help entice your pup to focus on your command. Remember to be patient and consistent at all times. Keep the training limited to short session of ten minutes or so to help prevent boredom for your puppy and frustration for you.
The In the House Method
Start in a quiet area
Begin the recall training in a quieter area of the house with few distractions. Establish that your puppy does respond to the basic recall command.
Move to different spots
Practice the recall process in different areas of the home, preferably ones where other people or animals are present.
Start a few feet away
Once you and your pup are in an area with mild distractions, stand a few feet away from your dog. Give the recall command of your choice ("Come, Fluffy!"). When your puppy responds despite distractions, reward and praise him.
Repeat Step 3 but do so by widening the distance between you and your puppy. Continue to practice recall at increased distances.
When your puppy has successfully mastered the recall indoors in various rooms and from different distances, move outdoors and practice each step all over again.
The Lead to No Lead Method
Make sure there are few to no distractions around for this first step.
Use a long lead line
Place a long lead line on your puppy to secure him until he masters this command outdoors with distractions.
Work in close quarters
Start the training session by practicing the recall command with your dog from very short distances. Repeat this step numerous times.
Progress to longer distances
When your puppy has successfully completed the recall at shorter distances, start to gradually back up and increase the distance between you. Practice recall repeatedly from different distances.
Finally, when your puppy has the recall down with distractions, remove his long lead. Practice the recall with your pup off his lead repeatedly until he is coming when called the first time despite distractions.
The Run and Chase Method
In or out
Take your long lead line and your pup's favorite treats. Choose a location outside in your yard, or inside if you have enough space to move.
Give the recall command
Say "Come!" or "Here!" or whatever term you have chosen as your recall command.
Run for it
Turn and run in the opposite direction from your puppy.
Let him catch you
Let your pup catch up to you after a short distance. Be sure to reward and praise him for following you.
Leave him wanting more
End the practice before your puppy gets bored of chasing you. Practice this style of recall a few times a week, and eventually work in more distractions both in and outside the house.
By Erin Cain
Published: 03/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021