Below are the rules you must follow to have a German Shepherd who joyfully returns when you call:
Rule 1: Don’t use your recall word anytime except when you’re teaching it (and later, when you’re 99 percent certain your dog will come to you). Using your recall phrase over and over while your dog fails to respond only teaches him that the recall word or phrase is to be ignored.
Rule 2: Don’t call your German Shepherd for stuff he doesn’t like. This includes things like baths, nail trims, being put in the crate, the end of play with another dog, or leaving the dog park! If you have to, go and get your pup. You can also run away, clap or make kissing noises. If you use your recall word and your dog comes, but then you respond with something he doesn’t like, he’ll start avoiding you when you call.
Rule 3: Do make a big deal any time your dog comes to you on her own, even if you didn’t call her. We want our dogs always to think of coming to us over a variety of distractions, so be sure to reward your dog somehow (with food, a favorite toy or lots of praise) if he “checks in” with you, on-leash or off.
Rule 4: Carry lots of your dog’s favorite treats when teaching the recall. You will need something that packs a punch, like canned cat food or chicken, when practicing off-leash or in new environments. We want our dogs to learn that there is nothing in the environment more exciting than we are — and this might mean leaving your dog on-lead in the woods for several weeks while you feed her sardines for coming when called. Get a long line (available in pet catalogs, online or pet stores) to practice recalls at a distance, and always use treats your German Shepherd loves.
Rule 5: You can swap treats for play with a favorite toy. If your German shepherd loves to play fetch or tug, you can use those as rewards for coming when called. The trick is to wait until your dog gets to you, then start a surprise game by pulling the hidden ball or tug toy out of your pocket. Toys are often easier to carry on walks, as well.