Sounds too good to be true? While it may take months (or, depending on the breed, age, and individual dog), even longer to develop a really reliable recall, the steps involved in training this behavior are not actually that time-intensive and are generally so easy a five year old could teach a dog to come reliably when called. Training a reliable recall only takes commitment and practice, requiring rather little time or money to get started.
Today, we’ll talk about preparing for training. Next time, we’ll talk about beginning training steps.
I like to use a whistle for my recall signal. I like my whistle (which is exactly like this one for the same reasons I like a clicker as an event marker. It is:
- Consistent sounding – sounds the same no matter who uses it. You could call my dogs if you knew the signal, and it would sound exactly the same as if I whistled for them.
- Unemotional – never angry, sad, happy
- Unique – never heard in conversation or any context other than recall
While I have a number of whistles (attached to lanyards, my key chain, my treat bag, etc.), I followed these same steps to condition a verbal recall signal in case I happened not to have my whistle with me. If you use a verbal signal, you should try to make sure that it meets all three criteria listed above. You should pick a short (one or two syllable) word or phrase with strong, staccato, consonant sounds, something you can say loudly and clearly, even when your mouth is dry. If you choose to use a whistle and are, like me, prone to losing nearly everything, make sure that you buy a lot more whistles than you think you’ll need. A regular whistle will do just fine – you don’t need a special “dog whistle” of any sort. If you can actually whistle with your mouth (in which case, you are more talented than I) and would like to use that instead of a regular whistle, you should first make sure that you are able to whistle even when your mouth is dry, and the whistle signal must be one that can be replicated by all family members who may need to recall the dog.
For the training, you’ll need a variety of delicious treats or whatever your dog’s favorite reinforcements are. I recommend selecting 2 – 4 wonderful reinforcements for this exercise and only making these reinforcers available in recall training sessions. These reinforcers must be something your dog goes bonkers over and is really excited about – tennis balls, tug games, liverwurst, steak, fried chicken, whatever it is that really floats his proverbial boat.
Stay tuned! Tomorrow we start training!