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Updated: Jan 27, 2020

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Recall. One of the most important (dare I say most important?) dog training cues you can teach your dog. For those of you unfamiliar with the word “recall” it goes a little bit like this:

“Charlie come!! Come puppy!!!”

A-ha! Yes you know this cue. It’s the cue “come”. Now why don’t so many dogs have this cue ingrained when it is often trained when they are young pups? It’s simple. It has become poisoned.

A poisoned cue is a cue that has been associated with something unpleasant. Recall is one of the most poisoned cues in dog training as it is often used in association with taking away a dog from a stimulus they find more rewarding. For example, when we let our best friend out in the backyard to play we are giving them the enriching experience of using their senses to explore. They love the backyard: running around, playing with toys, perhaps chasing each other if you have more than one dog, and overall sniffing out the area (hmm, was a squirrel here? Let me sniff out their last locations here!). We as humans have schedules to follow, which means at one point or another during their fun outside time we let out a loud “CHARLIE COME INSIDE!”

And then it happens.

We see Charlie, standing there on all fours staring at us, not budging.

We as humans get annoyed and approach Charlie, but ah, Charlie knows this game well. His next move? RUN.

What happened here? Charlie was taught to recall at a very young age and does it PERFECTLY indoors and used to come to the door when asked, so what happened?

Essentially you have taught Charlie that “come” means freedom over (and if your dog books every time you approach them, they have further learned that recall leads to a game of chase.) No your dog is not being stubborn. Every single time Charlie was asked to “come” he saw his outdoor time taken away from him with a door slam and a door lock.

Let’s picture this with humans. This is very similar to a kid leaving a fun play date – they simply do not want to go home. However, if you reward that child with something they love (a trip to the toy store, tv time, etc.) every single time they leave their friend’s house, they will begin to learn that leaving a friend’s house isn’t necessarily evil and that fun things CAN happen outside of play dates. Similarly with dogs, if they learn that equally fun things happen inside the house, recall suddenly becomes easier.

Has “come” become a poisoned cue in your household? Try these steps to get your dog back to tip top recall shape:

1. Call your dog over (if the word “come” has completely been poisoned use a new word such as “here”) and show them the stinkiest piece of cheese or chicken you have from your fridge (or something equally reinforcing to them)

2. When they come, let out a huge exciting “yes” and give them their reward. You should be JUST as excited as you were when you were potty training your dog.

3. Instead of forcing them indoors tell them “Go have fun” or any variation of that and toss a toy outdoors. If you have a cue that means “freedom!” use this word!

4. Repeat steps 1 & 2 until your dog is super excited to come to the door.

5. When you have decided the exercise is over (end on a good note when your dog happily comes to the door!) give them their FAVORITE treat or stuffed Kong when they come indoors. This teaches them that the end result of coming inside is wonderful for them. If your dog is reinforced by a great game of Tug or Chase include this!

You must practice this daily! Of course there are going to be days where you just need your dog to come in and those days go straight from 1, 2, to 5 but I urge you to try not to teach too quickly. Remember that children are in school until they are about 18. Dogs cannot fully learn cues overnight just as people cannot learn calculus overnight. Dedicate the time to this and you will have a dog that recalls beautifully.

Having said that, this is just one scenario! If you are generally working on the cue “come” begin working on the cue in a low distraction environment. Make sure you only work on the cue when you know your dog will come to you to truly reinforce the cue. Do not begin teaching this cue when someone new and exciting is in the room or you have enticing chicken on the table. After you have the basics, add criteria whether that is a more distracting environment or adding elements to your starting environment.

Need more help? Contact us today to discuss private training lessons.

Michelle Elea Belio BA Psychology, MA Animal Behavior & Conservation (2020), Fear Free Certified Trainer, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator

Pawsitively Waggin’ Academy LLC

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