If you want to do any kind of sports with your dogs, it usually requires that you have verbal control of your dog. Especially if that sport is done off leash (like my sport of agility), you will need a good recall, so your dog returns immediately on command. Of course, all pet owners would like their dog to come quickly and happily each and every time they call them!
How I use my dog’s name for an effective recall.
I begin by calling their name enthusiastically and watch for them to quickly turn their head and start moving towards me. Once they head towards me, I immediately start praising them. I would like them to come close enough to me that I can easily hand them a treat.
When I am calling my dog in a large open area, such as a field or at the park, I might need to snap on my dog’s leash or at least hold them momentarily for safety reasons. While they are nibbling on the cookies I gently, and sometimes sneakily, reach my hand under their chin and take gentle hold of their collar. (When I want my dog to come to me, I only use their name instead of their name plus the word “come”, but you can decide what words you want to use with your dog’s recall.)
If your dog does not really respond to their name, hold your treat out closely in front of them and take a step backwards while calling. When they move your direction give them the cookie.
Dogs just love the “dine and dash” game! Grab the treat and then take off to do their own favorite activity. For the first couple of days of this recall training, its possible to call my dog hundreds of times. If they are really resistant to coming when I call, I may decide to use a majority of their daily food rations to practice this skill. In that case, I’ll put their daily ration in a container, and I use just this amount of food throughout the day to do recall training. After I call my dog and have gentle collar control of him, I send them off to play with a specific phrase.
In dog training lingo we use the word “release” to mean an end to any behavior. That “release” cue could be “off-ya-go”, “go play”, or ‘all done”. Make up your own fun way to release your dog to go do his own thing. My “all done” release for my dogs is different from the release word of “break”. My release word of “break” usually means you are done but now please come towards me. The “off ya go” means go off and do your own thing.
I use “break” after my dogs are asked to sit, lay down stay, or to remain in their crate. This release word is one of the first words my dog learns. I teach it just like the recall training except that when I say “break” I would like my dog to move towards me until I give them another cue. It sounds and looks like this:
- First, I say sit, then praise and possibly reward in the sit position with a treat.
- Next, I say “break”. The dog is allowed then to get up from position and come towards me for a cookie or toy play.
Dogs are usually quick to learn that “break” means a treat and if you do not say break, they should stay where you left them.
You can play the break game at the door before your dog is allowed to go outside. I use this often on my off-leash walks with my dogs. All my dogs get to play this game. My 11- and 14-year-old dogs think it is great to be included instead of just the youngsters getting all the rewards. Your dogs’ recall to you will remain sharp and fast if you periodically practice recall games throughout their lives.
If you use a crate for your dog, you should also teach this word or another like it, to allow your dog to get out of their crate. I also use it after I teach my dog to go lie down in his bed and continue to use it each time I cue my dog to sit or lie down so they know to stay in position until released. Other popular release words for this are “Ok,” “that’ll do,” or even the word “release.” Make up your own cue for your dog’s release and pass that info on to all the family members so everyone uses the same words with your family dog.
Other Ways to Reward
Tugging is a fun game for your dog that you can use as a reward for recall and also after you give your release command. Every time I present a tug toy, I preface my dog taking it with the cue “get it”. Eventually, I expect my dog to never grab a toy from me unless they hear “get it”. While we should all want our dogs to play with us and enjoy a great game of tug, it is extremely inconvenient or potentially even dangerous if your dog grabs a toy from your hand without your permission. Exuberant dogs will at times grab a toy and instead get your hand or even jump on you or others to get their desired object. And of course, if you want to use a toy as a reward in dog sports, it is important that you have control of that toy.
Only after my dogs learn to enjoy a good game of tug will I start to teach them to release the toy to my hand. There is that release word again!! The end of tugging for my dogs’ is for them to put the toy in my hand, and when I say “give.” At that point, I would like them to immediately stop tugging and let me have the toy. To start this training, whenever I tug with my dogs I also have treats in my pocket. It looks like this:
- My dog has a strong hold of the toy, and my hand is moving to encourage the tug.
- I stop moving my hand abruptly and show the dog a treat really close to the toy or even their mouth.
- I say “give” and praise them as they take the treat which means releasing the toy to me.
I might then immediately say “get it” to restart the game, and after they have tugged for a bit, I will ask them to give it to me and reward them each time. After a while, I will only present the treat randomly to get the toy back. I really like to have my dog put the toy in my hand or to release to my hand. I am lazy😊 I would rather they gave it directly to me, so I don’t have to bend down and pick it up.
Whats your NextMOVE?
Fundamental skills part two coming up in the next blog!
Retrieves, stays, hand targeting, line up cues- so much fun ahead. See you next time!
Photo Credit: Nancy Gyes
Get to know Nancy Gyes
Nancy’s dog training career began over 30 years ago, teaching obedience classes for puppies and adult dogs. She has earned many titles with her dogs and won multiple National Agility Championships, in addition to attending the European Open and World Championships. She is currently the coach of the American Kennel Club’s USA Agility World Team while also running her own agility training business in San Jose, California with her husband. It has been her honor to be named an American Ambassador for YuMOVE, a product she heartily endorses and gives to her own dogs!