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Training the Recall

The Recall is the single most important command that every dog must know. In the vast majority of cases, a dog coming solely on his own to receive a reward is not a reliable recall as you can't predict when the dog will decide to not come. For this reason we almost always use eCollars for training the Recall. A dog must run towards the handler when called, immediately and without hesitation. We have illustrated how to accomplish this in the article below.

The length of time needed to get a reliable recall is dependent on a dog's drive, temperament and age. You might have to enforce for some time and be very consistent in order to create a muscle-memory reaction with some dogs. Of course other dogs pick it up very quickly.

The dog's seen on the right belong to Laura Kandall, a respected member of our forums.

The Method (The "180 Game")

The diagram below illustrates an exercise in which dog will learn to come when called. We call this concept the “180 game” because it revolves around intentionally creating a training scenario by moving away from the dog as opposed to waiting for the dog to move away from us. As soon as the dog starts leading or gets distracted, you will turn around and start walking in the opposite direction.

  • Your dog needs to have at least a basic understanding of the recall command.
  • This method also works on a dog that already has a very good recall (you don’t have to re-train it).
Recall Flowchart

During this exercise, your dog will learn to associate leash pressure with eCollar stimulation and then learn how to turn the stimulation off. By “walk the dog” we mean doing a brisk, purposeful, confident, athletic march, perhaps several miles long.

  • A big component that this flow chart cannot convey is the energy, emotion and attitude behind the training. If you do monotonous drills in a robot-like fashion and your training will look like you're at a funeral – this isn't what you want. Your posture and energy alone should give your dog a sense of excitement.

As you go marching along, sooner or later your dog should happily be bouncing way ahead of you. You will turn around 180 degrees and stimulate until you feel the tension on the long-line relax. Continue to march the other way. Your dog will initially lag, then catch up, heel for a while and then lead again (time for another 180). After a few repetitions, you should add your recall cue into the equation. As you stimulate and pull, you will say “HERE” (or whatever command you choose).

  • You should not end up with an unmotivated dog that looks like a flood survivor clinging onto a tree. If your dog is afraid to leave your side, he’s acquired a superstitious belief that moving away will translate into punishment – this isn’t what you want. To prevent this, keep sessions happy and fun – your dog should understand that the game is fun but one with rules that must be adhered to.

At some point, once your dog understands that coming after a recall is what turns off the stimulation ( this should only take one or two sessions), you should throw in praise and rewards into the equation. You can pump the dog up by talking, petting and being very excited. Jog with your dog to fire him up! Try using food to motivate your dog. With a more drivey dog, play a game of tug with him or throw him a ball – discover what makes him tick.

Once you are confident that your training is successful, you can take the leash off and just stimulate the dog once in a while to guide him. You will also, sooner or later, have to increase the level of stimulation as you work with greater distractions. Your dog may be tempted to simply ignore the stimulation in which case you should amp it up.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if your dog doesn't respond to the stimulation?

If this happens, often the stimulation level is either too low or you haven’t done the “180 game” exercise long enough. However, this lack of compliance will often happen even with the best of training if the challenges put forth are too great. In other words, you might have great reliability under low distraction but things might fall apart under higher distraction. Don't rush training because you will pay the price later. Success breeds success and failure breeds failure. If you are seeing a pattern of failed recalls, take a few steps backwards and revert to putting a long-line on your dog until you are seeing consistent reliability.

At some point you might notice that you are "stimming" at higher and higher levels. You can avoid this to some degree by varying the type of stimulation that you are giving. Most of the training so far has revolved around giving continuous "stims". What we often do is bounce on the button so as to create an action as though we are rapidly tapping the dog. By varying between continuous and rapid stims done in different patterns, we can keep the dog from becoming desensitized.

  • Remember always to fit your eCollar properly so that the pins are in good contact with the dog’s skin. The collar must be set up so that it always delivers electrical stimulation regardless of dog’s neck position.
  • Remember that the dog won’t detect any electrical stimulation if the dog is immersed into sniffing. Raising the stimulation level won’t help when this is the case.

How long should I keep the long leash on a dog?

As long as you deem necessary for your dog. Test your dog by occasionally dropping the leash so it drags on the ground. You can always pick it up if you need it. Even if you are into the proofing phase (working off leash), have a leash nearby in case you find a very challenging training scenario that you could use – the dog can’t fail if you have him on both eCollar and a leash.

How long should I use continuous stimulation?

Whenever the dog doesn't come or is hesitant to come you should turn the pressure on. This of course assumes that you are 100 After a while, as soon as the dog feels the stimulation, he will start running and at that point you can just nick the dog for disobedience. If the dog still, once in a while decides to ignore the nick, raise the stimulation level rather significantly and deliver another nick. Something most trainers won’t tell you, is that you will sooner or later have to use quite sharp nicks to finalize your training and prevent a sloppy recall. Don’t worry though, because most dogs will only "test the waters" once or twice in a given scenario.

Example Video

Mike Loesche of Homeland K9 (Ohio)

Mike demonstrates in the video below an approach similar to our method.

This example is great in that it demonstrates marker training and the use of eCollar in combination. Anyone that knows me understands that I am a huge fan of combining methods. In other words, when it comes to dog training I don’t subscribe to any particular rule book or dog training religion. It is always about the best combination of methods that will give me the best result for the dog in question. When I say the best result, I am indicating the most reliable behavior with the least amount of secondary side effects. There are side effects to every method. Please do not be fooled by those trying to sell you on "their system".

Daniel Audet