One of the most important tools in a pet owner's arsenal is having a dog that comes faithfully when called. Few things are more frustrating than a dog that only comes when she feels like it or never comes at all! In many cases, an owner will reprimand a dog after she does return but because dogs live in a world of cause and effect the dog won't understand why she is being yelled at. If she learns that there is a negative association with coming when you call she will be less likely to come next time. Catching a dog you’ve lost your temper with is not easy and will further damage the bond between you and your dog. Thus, owners get caught in a downward spiral. As with any training, recall is all about putting a routine into your dogs day which she enjoys taking part in.
Here are a few quick tips for recall training for use with both young puppies as well as older, more routine established dogs.
- Pick a recall command (not your dog's name) and only use it when the dog is either running towards you, or can be enticed towards you because you are worth running to (what reward are you offering?).
- Start all training in a low distraction environment such as your house and/or garden.
- Only call your dog to you when you are sure she will come back, or you can bring her back or go to get her. Don't waste your recall command, no point in calling if she's ignoring you.
- Always make it worth your dog's while to come back to you, at first using food or her favourite toy. Surprise her with the reward, sometimes use his boring food kibble, sometimes using real chicken, liver, hot dog, cheese. Always keep her guessing & deliver the reward in a fun way. Don't just push it into her mouth. Toss it, drop it or roll the food/toy.
- When first training recall on a long line expect your dog's full attention. This means that even if she's only on the long line for 2 minutes, during this time you are playing with her. This way, she's really paying attention to you and enjoying her time as the most fun she has on a walk. If you cannot watch your dog, she should be on a short leash.
- Invent games to keep your dog thinking "it's always worthwhile to check in with mum/dad". Any voluntary engagement by the dog should be rewarded. Use tasty treats or take out her favorite toy and play for a short period when she's not expecting it. Drop some food then quickly run away calling her recall command. When your dog catches up, drop some more food and run away again.
- Teach your dog a range in which to stay while walking off leash. When she's reaching the end of her long line, give a command such as 'this way', then stand briefly on the line before immediately changing direction. This teaches your dog to watch you, as you're unpredictable & she may loose you if she doesn't keep an eye on where you are going. When you've done this a few times, begin to change direction without saying anything, always rewarding your dog when she catches up.
- The quickest way to teach a dog not to come when called, is by allowing her to run up to & play with every dog he sees. This is confirming in her mind that you are less fun than other dogs who are always worth investigating. This is also the quickest way to get your dog beaten up by other dogs. When you see another dog, always teach her to sit & not leave you until you release her. Just because your dog is friendly, does not mean the other dog is.
- Teach your dog that the quicker she comes back, the quicker she'll get to resume what it was she was doing before you called her. This improves speed of response & enthusiasm & means you don't always need to use a food or toy reward.
*Remember, if your dog does not reliably respond to her recall command she should never be off leash in non-gated areas. However, if she has mastered that command, running free is just about the best gift you can give her.