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Recall Debate

There are a lot of different methods for training a dog to come when called. From one side you have the “act super excited and treat the dog” to “use a shock collar and blast the dog if they don’t come”.

There are a lot of factors that play into having good recall with a dog so we will go over them as well.

To start we will list pros and cons for the different methods:

Reward

Pros:

  • Dogs enjoy this if they enjoy treats, fetch, tug or attention.
  • Stress free.
  • Great way to begin training.
  • You can start training the dog very early in age.
  • Can be all you need for effective recall.

Cons:

  • Might not be motivating enough.
  • May not work in all distractions.
  • May only come when a treat or toy is present.


Force

Pros:

  • Dog knows you will make them follow through regardless of distraction.
  • If not motivated by reward, the avoidance of correction will often work.
  • Will often work better in high distractions if reward doesn’t work.

Cons:

  • When not done properly, can really scare the dog and shut them down.
  • When not done properly, can make them run further away from you.
  • May always be reliant on a correction for recall.
  • If not careful, may only come when called when remote training collar is on.
  • If not done properly, could increase aggression towards other dogs or people.


Note: If using force based methods for training recall, it requires a much better understanding of dog training. It is very easy to make mistakes and make things much worse. A person can often think the dog understands why they are being corrected (for not coming when called) but often the dog has no clue why they are being corrected. This is what we call University Professor Syndrome. We may think the connection is easy to understand but that doesn’t mean the dog sees the connection.

We think the reason so many people are against shock collars is that it seems to be extremely rare to see them used in a method that isn’t stressful for the dog. Most shock collars won’t let you do training in a way that isn’t stressful to the dog.

If you are going to use a remote training collar, there are ones, and ways to use it, to almost completely eliminate stress and produce excellent results. That will be covered in the article on Recall Training.


Why 2 Sides?

If each side thinks their method works and the other causes problems then why are there two sides?

The answer seems to come down to the multiple underlying factors for recall. We will explain these factors first and then we will discuss where each side has its points for working. The underlying factors contain things such as:

  1. Bond - How bonded is the dog to their handler? If a dog is very well bonded to their handler then recall is much easier. If the dog has little to no bond with their handler then the dog will have little to no desire to come when called.

  2. Dog Types - Lower ranking dogs like Omegas tend to do very well with training. Many of them seem to be natural experts at recall and will come when called no matter what distraction there is. Higher ranking dogs going from Low Beta to Alpha level have more courage and are more apt to explore. These higher ranking dogs are less likely to naturally view their humans as leaders. If a dog sees a person as lower ranking then they often have little to no desire to come when called to a lower ranking pack member.

  3. Pack Structure Followed - If a person has a dog that naturally wants to be higher ranking then it can be very important to follow Pack Structure Rules. This will help the dog view their human as the leader and they are much more likely to respond to commands such as recall when they respect their human. If the human gives everything away for free (food, toys and attention) to the dog, then there is little desire for the dog to want to work for the things that motivate them.

  4. Dog Breed - Some dogs were bred to work with people and have a high desire to please their humans. These dogs are often naturally better at recall. There are a lot of breeders that no longer breed for specific traits so this is not a guarantee. Other dogs were bred to be independent such as Terriers. Many people have difficulty doing recall training with a Terrier. Luckily many Terriers are Tug of War motivated so this can really help out with recall.

  5. Socialized - If and how the dog was socialized will also be a factor. Take a look at the article on Socialization as it goes in depth on this topic and the debate on how to socialize. How a dog is socialized will have a tremendous effect on how good their Recall is.


Force vs Reward

Each side has points where it can work or help:

Reward

  • First training the dog to understand the command. Reward works great. The dog enjoys learning the recall commands.

  • Well bonded dogs - If the dog has a great bond with the owner then reward is excellent.

  • Strong toy, food or attention motivation - Reward works great especially when the dog has a strong toy or attention drive.

  • Teaching the dog they are not in trouble - It is common when a dog does not come when called to be punished when they return to us. We can be frustrated and correct the dog for not coming sooner. The problem with correcting the dog is they almost always think they are being punished for coming to us, not for ignoring the command in the first place. This is University Professor Syndrome in effect where we think the dog understands why they are being punished but the dog usually doesn’t make the same connection.

    With rewards, you can reward the dog for coming when called. This can help turn recall into a pleasant experience for the dog again. This is applying Premack Principle to recall if the dog has formed a negative association to recall.

  • Might be the only method you need and the dog is happy to do what you asked and you no longer need to reward with food or toys, they are just happy to get praise.

Force

So where does force come in and why would it even be necessary if reward always worked?

The cases where people find Force to sometimes be helpful:

  • When distractions are more exciting than the rewards you can come up with. This is part of Bank Robber Principle where the dog thinks “what is the downside if I chase after that distraction and do not come when called?”

  • Higher Ranking Dogs - Dogs that are higher ranking such as high Betas and Alphas will more readily test authority. They may understand the command but not want to follow through if they think they are higher ranking than their human.


The article on Recall goes over how we train Recall with dogs. The basic idea is to use a long rope and reward to begin the training. If you do your socialization in the manner that helps with training then that may be all you have to do to get excellent recall.

If you are struggling with a dog where you feel like they understand the command but prefer to ignore or are not motivated to come when called you may find Force methods to be helpful when done properly.

Some people say their dog is not treat motivated or they do not care about fetch or tug or they don’t value their attention. The issue could be that these things are being given away for free or the drive hasn’t been built for Fetch or Tug. Making the dog work for these things and building drive may solve the problem. Sometimes the dog still isn’t that motivated by them so these people often find that at least having a consequence for not coming when called increases the dog’s desire to come back when called and be rewarded with attention or a game.

Summary

Both sides of training can work well. If a dog can be trained to come when called using reward and you no longer need to always have food present then reward is all you need.

If you are struggling and you have tightened up your Pack Structure Rules then using a remote training collar from the Force side may save your dog’s life. Chasing rabbits across a road and getting hit by a vehicle can be a life ending ordeal.