It’s the simplest thing in the world – at least on the face of it – but in practice it’s really quite hard to get your dog to come back to you every time regardless of the distractions around you. Here's some help from the dog training expert…
Some readers may have a rare dog that just wants to follow them around everywhere outside and who never strays far from your side but for everyone else, here are a few of my top tips for you when you’re training your dog recall.
- Don’t worry, be happy! Recall should be a happy and exciting activity. Use a bright, clear voice and look happy! Personally, I never run particularly quickly towards people who are scowling at me. I’m funny like that – you may well be too – and dogs never seem to respond well to scowling or boring people either. Dogs are funny, eh?
- Use really good food rewards if your dog likes treats.. and play with your dog happily when they get back to you. You’re trying to create real DESIRE to get back to you quickly. If your dog would do anything for a toy, then use that instead – but don’t throw it away too quickly.. Remember that coming back to YOU first is what gets Fido the reward. You’re trying to make the connection that coming back = FUN!
- Move about to be seen! As odd as it may seem, puppies (and to some extent adult dogs) don’t always ‘lock on’ to us by sight when we’re a distance away unless we move. It varies between the breeds, but if you move about or wave your arms around when your dog looks up, you may well increase your chances of them making the connection that you are calling them back.
- Run away!! Many of you will have heard that if you walk off out of the field, your dog may well panic and head off after you. That’s true enough and as a strategy for when it’s all gone wrong, it’s passable – but it’s not dog recall training. Here’s a variation on a theme: Once Fido has discovered that coming back to you is great, try running backwards a few steps so that he has to work a little harder to get to the fun (treat/toy/fuss). You’ll get a little more speed to your recall that way.
- Train It Step by Step. Build up the level of distractions that are around when you’re training a dog to come back. If you were training someone to drive, you wouldn’t head straight out onto the dual carriageway, would you? In the same way you should build up the level of difficulty for your dog whenever he/she is learning something new – including recall. Make sense..?
- Use a Long Line. I use a 30ft lead (not a retractable) with my clients to make sure that we keep control of the dog at all times. Despite all your best efforts, sometimes the distractions will inevitable be more exciting than you are during training despite your best arm-waving, happy-sounding, backwards running efforts. I’ve developed a method for using a long line – and for teaching it – that ensures that you won’t get tangled up and send your dog lots of wrong signals, but it’s quite beyond the scope of this little article. Like most things, it’s easy enough if you know how. (I teach it in one to one dog training sessions)
- Angry Doesn’t Work. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry, please do your best – hard though it is – to calm down. Even if your dog does come back, it won’t be willingly – which is the real key to dog recall. I once saw a lady get so utterly enraged with her dog – quite literally apoplectic – that she eventually fainted. (She wasn’t a Dogfather client I hasten to add!) Her poor dog wouldn’t come anywhere near her until she had fallen down and gone quiet. It’s an extreme example – but you get the point.
So there we are – a few pearls of wisdom on dog recall. Don’t expect too much too soon – and certainly not without some effort. Like most things in life, recall gets better with practice (assuming you’re doing the right things) and it’s unfair to expect your dog to come back every time ‘just because he should do what he says’ if you haven’t actually trained it. Recall training takes weeks of ‘little and often’ practice to make it reliable, but with the right help and a little perseverance, you’ll see a huge improvement.
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I’m Graeme Hall MGoDT, an independent professional dog trainer and dog behaviour expert based in Northamptonshire, covering the UK. I'm a Master Dog Trainer with the Guild Of Dog Trainers. I can come to you wherever you are – and wherever there is a dog behaviour problem to fix or perhaps dog advice or dog help needed. Find out what I can do for you – Contact me today!