Why are recall games important? Why can’t you just give your dog a cookie every time he comes? Don’t the laws of applied animal behaviour tell us that the equation “recall cue = cookie” should be sufficient to getting a strong and reliable recall?
Well, yes, and no.
What the equation omits is that there is an emotion attached to every behaviour you train. It’s something I say at least twice a week in my classes: You are always training an emotion into a behaviour. What recall games do is help ensure the emotion that is attached to the behaviour of coming when called is a fun and happy one.
Where you get into trouble is when you get into the habit of: calling your dog when you’re mad at him, calling your dog for something he doesn’t like (eg. at bath time, if your dog doesn’t like to have a bath), and always calling your dog when the fun is going to end (eg. only using your recall when it’s time to leave the leash free park, if your dog loves being at the leash free park.)
Recall games turn the behaviour of responding correctly to your recall cue into something other than just responding to a cue.
You can also adopt these guidelines for building a great recall:
- Use a consistent cue. To your dog, “Rover, come!” and “Rover, here!” are two different cues. Try to use one cue and stick with it.
- Call your dog even when he’s already coming back to you. If your dog is headed back towards you, give your recall cue.
- Only call your dog when you would be willing to bet $20 that he will respond correctly. Every time your dog doesn’t respond correctly to the recall cue, his understanding of the cue becomes a tiny bit less defined.
- Don’t call your dog for things he doesn’t like. If your dog doesn’t like to have his nails clipped, don’t call him to you. Rather, go and get him.
- Try to limit calling your dog to once, possibly twice. Repeating “Rover, come!” over and over again teaches Rover that he doesn’t have to respond to the first cue.