The Most Important Thing You Could Ever Teach Your Dog

park back hill coming atcha editAsk 100 dog owners what they feel is the one most important thing to teach their dogs, and you’ll get a variety of answers. The owner of the six-month-old, over the top energetic Lab might say (in a trailing voice as she’s being dragged down the street) teaching leash manners. The 80-pound lovable Rottweiler mix’s owner might choose not jumping on and knocking down visitors. And the owner of the four-month-old Dane who’s still not completely potty trained…well, you can guess. But, beyond the obvious not biting people or being aggressive with other dogs, there’s one thing most trainers would agree on. Rather than simply telling you, let me illustrate what this most important thing is with an experience I had this morning.

My husband and I took our two dogs Bodhi and Sierra hiking in the canyons behind our house. I was carrying a heavy rented camera lens, so my husband was holding both dogs on leash. Suddenly, something darted up the mountain and disappeared just out of sight. Before you could say, “Meep, meep!” Bodhi had lunged after the coyote, pulling the leash right out of my husband’s hand. As my husband maintained his grasp on Sierra’s leash, he called to Bodhi. Bodhi kept right on tearing after the coyote. I stopped and called in my best training voice, “Bodhi, come!” I won’t lie; it took two repetitions—but that boy stopped mid-bolt, turned, and ran back to me. I was able to get the leash back into my husband’s hands.

By now you’ve guessed what is, in my opinion, the most important obedience skill you could ever teach your dog. Say it with me: Rock. Solid. Recall. Feel free to pump your fist in the air and chant it like you’re at a rock concert. In fact, try that the next time you’re at a concert. (Okay, maybe not.) But seriously—it’s that important. One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve found among dog owners is that teaching their dog to come when called in one scenario, for example, being called into the house from the yard, or even just across the room, will guarantee success in a high distraction, high value environment. It just ain’t gonna happen. A rock solid recall takes a lot of practice and patience. You’ve got to start small with no distractions so as to set your dog up to succeed, and of course, reward for that success. Oh, and make sure those rewards are really rewarding to your dog. Nine out of ten dogs surveyed prefer a super yummy treat to your oh so lovely smile and praise.

Slowly add in difficulty, such as calling your dog when she’s slightly distracted sniffing something mildy interesting. You might soon add someone walking by, or someone walking a dog past at a distance. Eventually you’ll want to practice in busier environments and make the challenges more difficult, but you get the idea. Build slowly, because in this case slow and steady really does win the race. And if you ever end up in a situation where your dog is loose and about to run into traffic, or take off after another dog, or even chase a coyote, you’ll know that every bit of time and training you put in was well worth it.
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10 Responses to The Most Important Thing You Could Ever Teach Your Dog

  1. Top notch in our training of Maggie, priority over everything else. Hubby spent a lot of time (and cheerios rewards) for recall. We didn’t want her to do tricks, we didn’t want her to fetch, we wanted her to Come immediately when called to keep her safe and avoid anger. Hubby also worked on the ‘Wait’, and both things came into their own that very first Christmas when visiting our friend, and Maggie disappeared up the quarry face. In her excitement, she was running towards us……. and a 30 foot sheer drop. Hubby shouted ‘Maggie, No! Wait!’ and she stopped dead in her tracks. Wagging her tail, she could see him as he was finding a safe path for her to follow, and when he called her, she came to him.
    Instant recall is a must. Agree with you all the way, and I’m just an owner, not an expert.

  2. janice says:

    I agree 1000% percent, even though that is mathematically impossible. Our Daisy is a fearful rescue, and can get herself into trouble trying to get away from things that frighten her (strangers) when we’re at the off-leash hiking place. So far I’ve been stepping into the woods away from the scary people and calling her over to me. Definitely need to work on it more. I like the “Wait,” as well.

  3. lexy3587 says:

    I definitely agree. The only reason I feel comfortable with Gwynn off-leash is the knowledge that if I see something I don’t like in the distance(or sometimes surprisingly close if there’s a lot of brush around), he’ll come back to me. I haven’t had to test him on coyotes yet, thankfully, but strange dogs (with no guarantee in my area that off-leash = friendly) are a pretty regular occurrence.

  4. Thanks for this post. We’re still working on recall. We haven’t done a lot of treat training, and our guy frequently looks around for anything else more interesting before coming to where he’s been called. Do you have any advice for addressing this behaviour, or is just about finding high value treats? We’ve had two incidents where our dog has taken off after a deer and once after a coyote. He comes back eventually, but there’s no way he even hears us calling when he’s in that zone.

  5. Judy says:

    Amen to that – dealing with an 8 month old boarder collie on that right now- tough going to really work it and be consistent! Deer are a big issue. I agree with the “wait” also.

  6. This is a good one. A good dog hears you, so lucky when you have one like that! This is also one of the most important child commands.

  7. Robert Paul says:

    Some border collies may be boarders, but not all. (I couldn’t resist it, Judy.) May you and your dog learn to be safe and happy!

    • Judy says:

      Paysley is a holy terror at this point – left to her own devices until about 6 months when we got her so leashes etc. are alien to her. 🙂 She’ll come into it.

  8. ejhaskins says:

    Rock Solid Recall is a impossible dream, I am satisfied with a pretty bloody good recall 🙂
    On the other hand that is still an impossible dream with THE SPEAGLE 😦
    She has taught me a LOT about dogs that I would never have learned from my Working (US Herding) dogs. And therefore I would now say that the number one think which you need in a dog is BONDING. Without that bond a Recall will always have the dog sizing you up and thinking loudly and clearly “What has she got for me?” and many times thinking running free beats anything you might have. 😦

    • ejhaskins says:

      PS. I HAVE Mad Milly because her previous owner couldn’t cope with her. It took me over a year to get a bond strong enough that she will let me touch her outside in the yard. Her saving grace was that she would come cheerfully to have the lead attached to her. I strongly suspect that (apart from the breed difference) she had Kennelosis and must have been grabbed frequently as a pup instead of trained to come up and interact with people 😦

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