My dogs LOVE to play recall games, and consequently, they enjoy a great deal of freedom because I trust they’ll come when I call them. They keep coming when I call because I keep practicing when it isn’t needed… And I “pay” very, very well when distractions have occurred and they choose to obey anyway!
In the last few blogs, I wrote about common mistakes people make when teaching their dog the “come” command and shared an easy game to try. Now here are some additional foundational recall games I play with my own dogs—and still do play to maintain their great recalls skills:
Come Away Darling
This leashed game works really well when you can guarantee that distractions will always move away or at least remain in the same place. Start with your dog on a loose leash and bring a big pocketful of treats your dog finds irresistible. Wait for your dog to be a little distracted—head alert, looking away. Say your dog’s name and his recall word, “Come.”
Begin walking backward, letting your leash get snug and then keep walking backward as tension increases on your dog’s collar. The second your dog turns to look at you, say: “YES!.” Then produce the very irresistible treats. She should hurry to you to gobble them up. Praise her (and do a happy dance if you like), then go about your walk until the next distraction happens.
SUCCESS TIP#1: Be sure you call her BEFORE adding any tension on the leash!
You can set up distractions for this with an easy-to-direct helper. Make sure the helper knows to STOP BEING DISTRACTING the second you call your dog. This will encourage your dog to look back at you sooner.
You may still need to keep up the tension and steady backward walk (no jerking!) until the distance has increased enough to allow your dog’s brain to engage. Simply reward her and then set up the distraction a little farther away next time. Keep going until your dog is ready for more difficulty.
Soon, you won’t be able to create a distraction that your dog stays alert to when you call. At that point, you can begin using a longer line—up to 20 or 30 feet!
SUCCESS TIP #2: Be sure all leash tension disappears when your dog comes to you, before feeding treats!
This game is a lot of fun for owners with hard-to-engage dogs, such as hounds and very socially motivated dogs who believe EVERYONE ELSE is more fun than the person holding the leash. Remember that this game by itself is not enough; You’ll have to use it in combination with other primarily off-leash games to get a solid off-leash recall. You can even try it with a friend and her dog, using each others’ dogs for the distraction, so long as everyone gets along.
This is a super-fun family game. Sit the whole family in a circle, big enough that, with the dog in the middle. Each person should be able to reach the dog, but the dog shouldn’t be able to leave the circle. The first person says the dog’s name and says the command (“come”), offering a great treat. He feeds the dog and then puts his treat hands behind him, ignoring the dog.
Next, the second person calls the dog and offers the food, and following the same pattern, feeds the dog and then ignores her. After a few repetitions, the dog should start to see the pattern and begin alerting toward whomever is calling. At that point, stop luring with the food and wait for the dog to actively approach the caller. Then bring the food out to reward the behavior.
When the dog starts to get faster, you can make the circle bigger and bigger. When the dog is getting really good at it, the family members can split apart, even go into different rooms as long as their calling voices are big enough to carry to the dog’s ears!
Round Robins “Go To” Version
When I was a kid, I grew up in a family of search and rescue dog trainers. We modified this game with a “go to” cue which ultimately allowed us to send the dogs to any particular family member. It’s a great party trick and huge fun to send messages back and forth and find hiding family members!
Start with the same circle. The first person simply says, “Go to Rita.” Then Rita calls the dog, feeding and praising him when he comes. Then Rita says, “Go to Danny,” ignoring the dog after that. Then Danny calls the dog and the pattern continues.
Remember to start with the small circle, spreading out a little at a time. Within a few rounds of practice, most dogs delight in this game and eagerly start hunting for various family members by name. If you get stuck or the dog gets confused, simply bring the circle smaller for a while.
Next week, we’ll cover two more great recall games that I think you’ll find fun for the whole family. If you are enjoying learning how to train your dog together, please take a look at our dog training small group classes. Your whole family is welcome to participate in these courses! As always, we are here to help you enjoy your dog more, so don’t hesitate to contact us.
Latest posts by Catherine Comden, CPDT-KA (see all)
- Second Chances: How WHS and OSCI are Working Together - May 3, 2017
- Come to Me: 3 Easy Recall Games for Dogs - March 23, 2017
- Come to Me: Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching the “Come” Command - March 2, 2017