Laura and Tessa in the spring of 2018
As the happy and grateful pet parent of a fourteen-year-old Plott hound, I speak from experience about the journey of teaching the recall, or “come,” command to a rescue dog. Many times I questioned my ability and the willingness of my dog to do what was being asked of her. But it only made me more committed to seeing this seemingly insurmountable task through to fruition.
When I brought Tessa home, I knew she had been badly abused. I thought she would love me for getting her out of hell and would be eternally grateful. Well, it didn’t start out like that.
I hadn’t planned to pick Tessa up from the shelter that day, so I didn’t have a way to restrain her in the car. That was mistake number one. On the way home, she puked all over me and the inside of my car! Then she got scared when I ran over a rumble strip on the edge of the road. (There was puke on me!) She tried to get under the seat. That would be the driver’s seat, while I was driving, going about 60 miles per hour… on the freeway! Eventually, I was able to pull over. I got my wits about me, cleaned up a bit, and next I took a deep breath now that we were both okay. Then I broke down and cried.
I continued to do everything wrong. I sort of just let her be, hoping that Tessa’s trust in me would heal her. For those first few weeks, I gave her the benefit of the doubt without the benefit of training her.
In the beginning, Tessa would never come to me. It was obvious that when she had come to her previous owner, things had not gone well for her. In order to train her, I would have to learn patience, unconditional love, and trust.
Patience was hard. Unconditional love was easy. But trust seemed impossible.
We worked on Tessa’s recall command for about two months, starting in my fenced backyard and then moving to a long-line out in the fields. I gradually learned how to train her, how to reward her, and Tessa began to realize that I wasn’t like her previous owner. Good things happened when she came to me. We worked our way up to longer and more difficult recalls until I felt we were ready to try a new challenge together.
I took Tessa to the woods, I let her off her leash, and I immediately lost her.
It was so frustrating. We had been working on this command for months but Tessa was still a hound and her nose was taking her places that I couldn’t follow. I sat on a rock and broke down, crying and berating myself once again. Could I wish her back to me? I was heartbroken that the dog whose life I’d saved had left me.
When I finally turned around, Tessa was sitting right behind me. Through all our hard work together she had finally learned to trust me. I was the one who was still catching up. This realization was immediately followed by more crying, but this time they were tears of joy and relief.
And that was the start of our amazing and wonder-filled journey together. There are so many more tales of Tessa coming into her own. She has no problem coming when called now and I have no problem trusting her. This dog helped me to become a trainer, so now I can help other dogs and their people have the best lives possible. Thank you, Tessa. I am eternally grateful.
Laura’s Guide to Teaching Your Dog to Come
To ensure others don’t make the same mistakes that I made, here are some great tips to build a bond of trust with your pup using the Round Robin Recall game:
- Choose one word that you will use to call your dog. You can use "come" or "here" or something else, but it is important that he hear the word over and over and knows exactly what that one word means.
- In a safe indoor environment ask a friend to hold your dog's leash. Tell the dog to "stay," walk six to eight steps away, and then call your dog using your one word recall command. As you give the cue, your friend should drop the leash so your dog can come running with the leash dragging behind.
- Be exciting and encourage him the entire way. "Yes! Good boy! C'mon, c'mon! Good come! What a good pup!" Dogs will always follow movement and sounds. If yours is less than interested, make a funny noise, run backward, or move sideways. As soon as he starts to come toward you, ramp up the energy. I like to think of the dog as a marathon runner and cheer him on every step of the way.
- Always reward with a high value treat. Specifically, use something small and tasty that you only offer when you're training (maybe diced chicken or cheese or your dog's favorite smelly snack). Don't use a Milk Bone. (Personally, I love Happy Howie's Beef Roll!). Your dog will learn that good things happen when he comes to you. When he hears his name and "come," your dog should look at you, come running, and be happy to do it.
- Repeat. Your dog needs practice to reinforce the new command. This time, you hold the leash and your friend calls. Make sure you use the same technique each time. As your dog's recall command becomes more and more reliable, mix it up, such as move farther away, add distractions, or change directions. Use longer leashes or lines as needed.
- Keep it short. Training sessions should last no longer than ten minutes, several times a day. If you or your dog gets tired or frustrated, take a break. The most important thing to remember is to make training fun so that your dog can be successful.
- Never, ever, ever call your dog to you for something unpleasant, like the vet, his crate, or a punishment. If you do, your dog might start to second-guess your commands, "Hmm, is this for something fun or is she going to drive me down the scary freeway again?"
For more about dog trainer Laura Boro, go to her website: www.gooddogwalkin.com.