If your dog has good recall they can have the freedom to explore new places, play with friends and run around. The owner can have a stress-free walk and the dog is kept safe. Having your dog off lead if you aren’t confident, you can get them back quickly is pretty dangerous. They could run out into a road or run up to a dog who is reactive and get bitten. Have a word that means return to me that is separate to their name. Their name hopefully gets their attention but doesn’t actually tell them what you want them to do, so use the name and recall command together.
Dogs should love their recall word because it always means something great! Whether that is a tasty treat (not just a dry biscuit) an exciting toy or the opportunity to interact with their owner in a fun way. Keep them guessing what they are going to get but make is something worth coming back for and pay out every time. When rewards are fazed out the recall just gets slower and we want a rocket recall and for that we need the dog to be excited about what’s on offer.
The dog needs to be conditioned to respond to the recall word without giving it any thought – it needs to be a reflex not a decision. If it’s a decision, then the thing they are running towards might be chosen over you. But if you have got in enough successful repetitions away from distractions then you have the foundations of a good recall. Its then a case of resisting using the recall word if you aren’t confident the dog will come back – if the distraction is too great and you haven’t practised to that level then don’t use it. If you try your recall word and it fails, you are teaching the dog to ignore that word and undoing all your hard work.
Make sure you have tested them out on a long line first and build up to being closer to distractions day by day. Use the recall command once. Don’t keep repeating it. If they ignore you, then change what you’re doing. Head off quickly in the opposite direction and call them much more loudly and enthusiastically.
As much as possible try and go different routes, especially if its somewhere you walk regularly. If the dog can predict which way you’re going to go they don’t have the same incentive to stay with you or watch where you’re going. Try and time some recall’s with complete changes in direction. This helps with the dog’s association that you are leading the walk. Aim to have a good diversity of places you walk each week.
Your dog won’t get enough mental stimulation walking in the same park every day. Try to have at least 4 different places you head to throughout the week. It’s also important to make sure you don’t wait for your dog when they stop to sniff something. Ensure you keep walking so that when your dog looks back up you have moved further away and they have to speed up to catch up with you. The dog needs to learn that not keeping an eye on the human, means the human will wander off without you.
Once you have taught a good recall its tempting to only use it when you need the dog to come away from something or even worse just at the end of the walk when you put them back on lead. This is when recall starts to go downhill again. You need to continue to build that association with positive things throughout their lives and on every walk. You never finish teaching recall it is an ongoing process where you look for every opportunity to use that special word to signal something great.
And finally, be mindful not to put your dog back on lead in the same spot at the end of a walk. If they make the association that the lead always goes on in the same area, they will try and avoid that area and be reluctant to come back to you. Have fun with your dog and use walks as a chance to really bond with your dog and get to know what they enjoy doing. If its chasing things great – get them to chase you or a toy or you. If it’s sniffing also great there are lots of scent games you can teach them getting them to search for treats, their favourite toy or a particularly scent in a plastic container. Keeping them guessing as to where they are going (what route your taking) and what you’re going to be doing.
Us humans are unpredictable, and you never know when they might change direction, get out a toy or alert you to a hidden treasure nearby. If they are looking back at you regularly on a walk checking what you’re doing your on to a winner and are likely to achieve rocket recall.
Need some help teaching your dog recall? Get in touch to see how I can help.