Recall training should start very early. This photo is of Elsa around the age of 3.5 months old; she already knows that it is a good thing to come when called.
Yesterday I had Luke and Elsa at the park. We'd done our round and were back at the Xterra getting in when I saw a little rough coated Jack Russell heading our way. I closed the back hatch and moved around to get into my vehicle while glancing around for an owner. I'd seen this dog before, I was sure of it; but I couldn't for the life of me remember who he was attached to last time. Thinking and thinking, I said "hi, where's your Mom?" He ran right over and jumped on me whimpering; so I stood up and scanned the park, there she was. Now I remembered.
Elsa and I had run into this woman and her dog months ago. She had him off leash and he was no where near her. He'd come around a blind corner and startled us; I looked around, but there was no person in sight. He followed Elsa and I on our walk until a woman appeared; but the woman didn't act like it was her dog. She didn't call him, signal or even really give other than a quick glance. So I shouted "this your dog?" She nodded and then called to him which he totally ignored and she continued to walk. It is a strange arrangement they have and one that is very likely to get the little dog into trouble.
This of course made me ponder on the whole idea of the canine recall. You know, calling your dog and having them come to you. For some folks this is just never going to happen; they may be fine with it while others panic as soon as their dog doesn't immediately come running. Having your dog come to you when you call does not just happen. I have seen many dogs basically give their owner the finger when they call; young, old and everything in between, nope not coming. It happens to everyone now and again; your dog is off sniffing or greeting someone very interesting when you call. They might ponder on the idea for a moment or two; coming to their final decision of not coming. That is when you must kick it into gear; that is if you have already trained your dog to come. So many dogs have no idea what come means; they have never been "officially" taught and their owner is not consistent about any part of it.
Teaching your dog to come when called takes time and a great deal of thought on our part. If you link anything negative to coming then you are creating a pause or thought otherwise about returning to you. Dogs are highly intelligent creatures; and as such they have a mind of their own. No that doesn't mean that they are a stubborn beast; it just means that you have to learn how to work with them. What makes them tick? Usually it is food that you link to a recall from the beginning; of course it can be a ball, a stick, a tug toy or anything else but they must love it.
Along with many other words I have taught Elsa "leash" which means just that. It is of course a negative sometimes because it often means that we are leaving. I did not want to associate this action with her recall words so it is a very neutral word that just is what it is. If and when I do use "leash" I give her a treat for coming. Rewarding her for coming to get her leash on lessens the negative part by adding a positive to it. I do the same when she gives up her ball after the final throw when we are out. Giving up the ball is a big negative so when she does it I lessen the blow with food.
Dogs are not little robots; they do not come preprogrammed with certain behaviors. We must take the time and learn how to teach them the things that we would like them to do. Coming to us when called is a big one and sadly it is also on of the most undertrained and overused.