If there is one thing you need to teach your dog, it is to come whenever you call.
Forget about fancy tricks and obedience sequences. If you only teach your dog one thing it should not be “sit”, “down”, or “heel”.
It should be recall.
It is the upmost important thing to master, because it is about the safety of your dog.
Let’s say there is a lady in the street walking with a huge Rottweiler that she can barely handle. Your dog slips through the open door and runs straight towards the pair. You see this and you can already feel the fear in the pit of your stomach. You can imagine how the huge dog is going to eat your tiny German Spitz alive.
But luckily, you have taught your German Spitz to come whenever you call so that’s what he does, without fail. As soon as he hears you cry out his name, he turns, still running, and runs to you as fast as he can, all the while wagging his tail. The lady with the Rottweiler looks relieved as well. Phew, that was close.
The example I just gave you was actually a real-life event from my life. My first dog was just about 2 years old, but recall was something I had practiced with her a lot. I had met a dog trainer who had insisted on this, so we had made recall our priority.
It turned out that this trainer had it right: recall is the most important thing to teach a dog. I’ve been repeating these words ever since and I am going to do so in the future as well because everyone needs to know this.
But now, let’s see how we are going to teach it in a way that it works in every situation.
If possible, begin recall training with a puppy
A puppy is a blank canvas. He hasn’t learned any bad habits, yet, and it’ll be easy to teach him whatever it is that you want him to do. If you get to start your recall training when your German Spitz is still a puppy, congratulations! You’re in for a great start.
You can, of course, teach recall even if you have adopted an adult dog. It’s just that it will most likely be more time consuming and a little more difficult. But not to worry, it can be done. The principals are still the same.
It’s all about positive reinforcement. Whenever your dog comes to you it is the best thing he could have possibly done. Even if it takes a minute, five minutes or an hour, as your dog comes to you he gets rewarded for it. Do not punish your dog for not coming or coming late. When your dog comes to you he has done well no matter what happened beforehand. In the beginning it’s best to start with situations where you are pretty sure that your dog will come.
Don’t make any special exercises in the beginning. Just as your puppy is playing and doing his stuff, call him to you and as he comes, immediately reward him. It is best to keep treats and/or a toy in your pocket at all times, so you can do these exercises without any prior planning. The recall should be a part of your everyday lives that you keep repeating many times during the day. The more often the better.
The word you use for recall is totally up to you. It can be the dog’s name said in a cheerful manner, or it can be “here” or “come”, whatever comes naturally to you.
Just remember that the tone of your voice should always be happy. Even though it is a command it is also a polite way of asking your dog to come to you. Your German Spitz will know that if he comes to you he will be faced with a happy and loving owner where it’s always fun to go to. Your pooch will feel safe coming to you and he will know that he will gets lots of treats for doing this. If he hears anger in your voice, it is more likely that he doesn’t want to come. Who would?
I have a short video clip of my German Spitz Mittel puppy practicing recall. You’ll notice that he sees something at first and starts carefully getting closer to whatever it was that he saw. Then I call him to come to me which he does. He gets a treat from me and eats it. (Just so you know, give small treats that your dog can swallow in a second. Do as I say not as I do in the video! In the video it looks like the puppy keeps eating the treat for quite a long time. That’s not good.)
Everyday recall training with your German Spitz
I will share a secret with you on how I do this with my German Spitz.
I try to let my German Spitz walk without a leash for a good part of our walks. Whether it’s possible it depends on the current laws and regulations and on the safety of my dog (environment, season, etc.) Whenever he gets to run around off-leash I use this time to practice recall. Every now and then I call my dog and when he comes to me he gets a reward from my hand – just because he is being a good boy. Then I let him go back to exploring on his own.
I once went for a walk with a friend of mine and she kept looking at this ritual. She wondered why we kept doing so. Then, all of a sudden, there was another dog on the path and I quickly had to recall my dog to be able to put a leash on him. My dog came running, of course, because we had practiced it for so long. That’s when my friend realized what we had been doing all along: we had been practicing for the real thing. Once the real thing came and I really needed to recall my dog, he came to me without hesitation.
Do not wait till you need to get your dog to come to you for one reason or another. Practice all the time in all kinds of situations. That is how you will succeed once you really need to recall. Remember, there should not be a hint of panic detectable in your voice (which will easily be there once you get an emergency situation) but you should always call your dog with a happy, cheerful voice.
Another tip: when you call your German Spitz and he comes to you, prolong the time he spends with you before you release him. Touch the area around his neck and the back where his harness is. That is how you are able to put the leash back on him whenever you need to. Otherwise it may be that your dog will learn to come near you so that he gets a treat, but he won’t let you touch him because he fears you’ll put the leash back on him.
You should keep practicing this over and over. It’s important that most of the time you are able to let your dog go back to running off-leash. Imagine if your dog learns that once you call and he comes, you will immediately put him on a leash? Would you go, if you knew you were going to be imprisoned? Probably not. If, however, your dog knows that most likely it is safe to get the treat and then he can go back to running wild, he will calculate that the odds are on his favor.
When you do need to put your dog back on leash, be extra super happy and give lots of treats! Make it a special occasion.
Obedience sequence: recall
Recall is part of the competitive obedience, too, and I will go through it quickly even though our main focus here is on everyday recall. I have never competed in obedience but I have always found these obedience sequences fun to do. They activate the dog and you get to build your relationships by doing something together. A big part of everyday recall, too, comes from the good relationship that you have with your dog: your dog will happily come to you at all times because he loves you and he knows that there’s nothing better than you calling him.
Even if you never want to compete, I’ll challenge you to try this out with your German Spitz. Basically all you need to teach your dog is to sit on the left side of you in a basic position and you can start training this.
You start with the obedience basic position and you tell your dog to wait while you walk away. Then turn around and call your dog. Your German Spitz should move into the basic position (sitting beside you) without any further commands.
Let’s watch the video so you will know what I’m talking about:
You will see that the distance between me and my dog is really long but that’s because I know it works and we’ve trained this for a long time. When you first start, take just a step forward and start building up the distance from there. Don’t make this too hard in the beginning. Remember, this is a difficult exercise and you will not succeed with little/no training.
It’s all about repetition. A dog needs quite a few repetitions before he can do something like this. And I’m not talking about 2, 5, or 10 repetitions. Start with a hundred and build up from there.
Proper recall – one that is bullet proof – takes a long time to master. It’s good to start with a puppy but no 100% results should be expected very soon. This is a lifelong training process.
Even when you think your dog knows this in all possible scenarios, you should keep practicing it every once in a while. If you only do recall when you need to get your dog back on the leash, he will soon figure out that it’s better not to go to you in the first place. Remember, our little German Spitzes are smart! You cannot fool them too many times.
All of this should be done with a positive attitude. Always recall your dog with a happy voice and be ready to give him lots of praises but lots of treats as well. Your dog was probably doing something really nice when you called. For him to stop and come to you instead is remarkable. Think of it as a job well done. You would be expected to be paid well, too, if you performed well on your job; make sure your dog will get the reward he deserves.