Teaching a Deaf Dog Recall… Come!

Important: A reliable come usually takes a lot of practice and in different situations and environments. This is just the way I teach come and I use food rewards… other methods may work better for your dog. I do not train for recall off-leash in unsecured areas. Reason: Dogs are not perfect nor infallible… like us, they can have off days. They have choices and can choose to pursue what’s more interesting at the moment. Even professional trainers have put too much faith in their ability to control a dog off-leash and it’s ended tragically. Practice recall like it matters, just in case one day it does.

Prerequisite to Recall
If you don’t have voluntary watchfulness, where the dog freely offers to look at you, STOP. Work on this area first because the dog must willingly look in your direction in order for you to visually communicate with him/her.

COME SHOULD NOT ALWAYS MEAN THE FUN ENDS!! Play the game Come & Release. The dog comes to you, you are able to touch the dog’s collar as you give a food reward (in case you ever need to grab the dog in an emergency), then the dog is released to play again. Randomly giving the best treat ever will help make it a fun game and more memorable. Also have come mean that more fun is going to happen INSIDE the house, car, etc.

Come should always mean come but come should not become a game of chase. I have at times just stopped that game and walked away… but remember that I train in a secured area so the dog isn’t in danger. The next time the dog goes outside, he/she is on a long-line and come will mean come. If the dog blows off the request, I will go get the dog, every time. I will visually call the dog and if he/she is ignoring me, I gather up the long-line as I approach the dog so they have less area to run. We then practice come with a shorter distance between us.

When Teaching Recall…

  • Have a leash or long-line and a flat collar available. You can gain focus with a jiggle of the leash (+ a reward when the dog looks at you). You can also limit the distance a dog can travel.
  • Use a visually quiet room where you will work one-on-one with your dog. Start in one room in the house or other area where your dog is comfortable and without distractions. Distractions are added later. I like to train at night or in the morning when everyone is sleeping. You want the best chance to get and keep your dog’s focus. This also means picking up any toys or chews that may distract the dog. You want attention to be on you.
  • Excitement because it can be contagious. Movement and speed may help you gain and hold the focus of your dog if they start to become distracted.
  • I train with food… super good TINY treats with the emphasis on tiny. Dogs are often all about grabbing the treat offered and looking for the next one. Using tiny treats will give you more time to work with your dog before he/she fills up on food and loses interest. You can communicate a dog has done something super good by flooding the dog with a number of TINY treats, one right after the other. The quality of the food used needs to be enough incentive to keep the dog’s attention. For recall outdoors or with distraction, I will intermittently use canned dog food because it’s about the highest value treat for my dogs.
  • Keep training sessions short, gradually add time. Start with a minute or two if you can keep the dog’s attention, then stop. This is especially true with young puppies. This also helps with making the next brief training session something the dog will look forward to. All of my dogs have loved to play-train. I incorporate these brief training games into everyday life. Sprinkled sessions throughout the day, just a minute or two. I believe this keeps the game fun and also helps with retention.

Choose the signs or visual cues you’ll use for “come”. I use a few…

  • Crouching down closer to the floor or ground, I open my arms, smile and wave at your puppy to come… this alone often brings the puppy running to me.
  • Short Distance: An open palm up, bringing the fingers toward the palm repeatedly. It’s a come-here gesture people often use with each other. It can work in very closer proximity to the dog or 15 feet away if a dog’s vision is good.
  • Longer Distance: If I don’t have the dog’s attention, I’ll wave my arms big. Then I’ll use a big arm sweep… starting at my side, I bring my hand up over my head and toward me and repeat. It has more movement to gain a dog’s attention.
  • To ask a dog to come to “FRONT”, I use 1-2 index fingers and point at my feet.

But you can use any visual cue… American Sign Language or you can make up a sign that works best for you and/or your deaf dog. The requirement is that it must be uniquely different from any other cue you are currently using and you must use it consistently. Consider using signs that require just one hand in case your other hand is holding the leash or is otherwise occupied.

Changing a Sign… Sometimes a sign doesn’t work well for whatever reason. I have changed my “come” cue and “go-to-mark” cue and it resulted in faster understanding. It’s not something you want to do very often though because it could instead be confusing.

Visual cues I use…

Come- Right Here
Long Distance: Come- Right Here
Come and encouragement cues,
the video needs editing! 🙂
Come at close distance. Held low, it means “follow”, see video-
Recall – 11 month old deaf puppy
Recall- Adult

A few things that may encourage a dog to come to you…

  • Backing up as you call the dog.
  • Crouching down with your arms outspread.
  • Your own excitement and movement.
  • Holding up the treat bag. 🙂 Over time, I require the dog to do more for that one treat.

I stand in front of the dog, back up a few steps as I sign “come”. Give a thumbs-up as the dog begins to move toward me and reward with a treat when he/she arrives. Stop. Repeat.

Add distance. If the dog will sit in a stay position, I back away a few feet from the dog, sign “come”. I give a thumbs-up as the dog begins to move, plus a happy face and jazzy hands… then give a treat when the dog arrives. Repeat.

If a dog will not stay in one position, having someone hold the leash until you’ve backed up far enough. Pause, give your “come” cue

For puppies, working on come usually starts around the kitchen table. Perfect “come” in a small, controlled area before moving outdoors with more distraction. Outdoors, I will work with a puppy on a long-line when asking for a recall. If the puppy isn’t offering to look at me, I can jiggle the long-line in an effort to gain attention. I can also begin to pull the puppy toward me using the leash… when the puppy turns too look, I give a happy face along with my “come” sign and encourage the puppy to come to me.

Examples of Deaf Puppy and Dog Recall

When a deaf puppy isn’t looking at me and I want to get her attention, I have to…

  • Wait for the puppy to turn and see my visual cue… this is why encouraging watchfulness is so important.
  • Go to the puppy and physically touch him/her to gain attention.
  • If indoors, stomp on the floor. This can work if the floor type will create vibration… for instance, wood. Concrete and ground don’t really allow the vibration to travel.
  • Use a ceiling or porch light, flipped on and off, to get a puppy’s attention when possible (but no laser lights).

Just thoughts…

1. We have zero recall if the dog isn’t looking at us… even when they are looking at us, they can ALWAYS opt to blow off a recall/come cue.

2. I feel my deaf dogs could easily become over-focused or obsessed with reflections, moving things, flashing lights so I’m careful with any lights used. I try to be observant of a dog’s reactions to these things and I’ll immediately redirect and block the source of say reflections on the wall.

Recall #1
Recall #2
Recall #3