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Training your Whippet to come back to you when called is a valuable behavior. Although it takes little time to train the basic command, getting your Whippet’s recall in great shape will take a great deal of practice, as well as refresher training for the rest of his life.
This guide will show you the basics of training and reinforcing having your Whippet come back. However, it is important to understand that as sight hounds with a strong prey drive for small animals like bunnies and squirrels, it is never really safe to let your Whippet off leash around dangers such as brisk traffic.
All the same, if you work hard on training recall in a variety of situations, you can build a relatively strong drive for your Whippet to come back to you when called. It may even save her life in an emergency or save you hours of waiting for her to return from the woods after she ran off from your hiking party.
Our methods below will walk you through recall training from the most basic starting steps to more advanced “proofing” methods. But first, familiarize yourself with these common mistakes made by novice trainer so you can avoid them:
Calling a dog and then punishing her when she comes. This will teach your dog the literal opposite of what you want them to learn: Coming when called is safe, fun and rewarding.
Rewarding without touching the collar first. People that leave a collar touch out of their recall training discover too late that when they want to catch their Whippet in the field, they are often resisted as soon as they reach for his collar. You won’t win a race with a Whippet. Make sure you will be able to get a hold of that collar to leash him in pinch.
Repeating the recall command over and over. This is a common mistake. Use your recall command only once, every time. You can use other methods to entice her after the recall command is given, but do not repeat the command, ever.
Using the recall command, but then not enforcing when there is a failure. At some point, you need to add consequences to training your Whippet to come when called. Usually, this is done after you are sure he understands what is expected and has lots of practice under his belt. Once you add punishment (such as a short “time out”) for failures, you need to be consistent from then on out.
To prepare for training your whippet to come back when called, gather the following tools:
Long line: This is a leash or a rope that is very long (25’-50’ or more) that you can attach to your dog’s leash, then let trail around on the ground. Catching your Whippet when working outside is impossible if you are not using this handy tool.
High-value rewards: There is nothing wrong with using food to motivate your dog. He will work hardest if he is a little hungry during training. Feel free to mix in regular dog kibble rations to the treat bag. The more motivated your Whippet is, the faster he will learn.
Food stash: Keep some treats tucked away in different rooms in your home. This way you can do some random recall practice, calling your dog and then rewarding. By taking training outside of official training sessions, you help teach your Whippet that coming back when called at any time will be rewarding.
The Recall Basics Method
Goal of recall training
Your overall goal when training your Whippet is to teach him that coming back when called is rewarding, better yet, more rewarding than anything else. The steps in this method are a great place to start so that he will get the basics of this command before moving on to more advanced skills training.
Call while he is running
In the very first stage, you want to trigger your dog to come to you first, then issue the recall command in a cheery and inviting voice as he is already running to you. You can do this several ways: tempt him with a favorite toy or treat, run away from him like you are starting a fun game, or just act silly so he comes to investigate. Repeat 10-15 times.
Transition to a proper recall
Over time practicing these first recalls, start to transition to calling BEFORE he is coming towards you, touching her collar, then rewarding generously. Only say the command once. If he does not come immediately, you can still use the tactics you used in the previous step to encourage him to come, followed by a reward. Once you are getting lots of success in a familiar, low distraction training environment, move on to the next step.
Add distance and challenges
As your Whippet gains more confidence with basic recall in an enclosed environment, you want to work outside (use your long line for safety!) and also start adding some distractions. See the 'Advanced Skills' method for some great ideas on how to strengthen your Whippet’s recall.
Add a consequence
Only after your dog has a ton of successful recalls under their belt, in a variety of different environments, should you start to add a consequence for failures. In the training context you will have the long line. If he fails to come within 3-5 seconds, reel him in, and give him a brief 3-5 minute “time out” before resuming training or play. Once you start adding a consequence, you need to enforce the recall every time from then on out – otherwise you will teach your dog that coming when called is optional.
The Games Method
When you play games with your dog, it keeps the mood fun and light. This is a great way to keep your Whippet engaged in what you are trying to teach her because it is going to be more exciting than other stuff that is around. Once she has the basic recall command down, get the help of some friends or some kids to play these fun training games.
Back and forth
Have two (or more) people take turns calling your Whippet to come. If you want to play this game outside, just use the long line for safety. Be sure everyone touches her collar before giving a reward for a successful recall.
Hold it, partner!
A variation to add to the “Back and Forth” game is to actually hold the dog back for a few seconds after the next person calls her. This will fill her full of energy and add excitement to the game. It also has the advantage of associating recall with being fast and snappy.
Hide and seek
Use your recall command to play some hide and seek with your Whippet. You can play this game with multiple people taking turns for even more fun! Hide behind furniture or in a different room. Remember to use the recall command only once.
It is important that your Whippet learns they can bring something to you without losing it when called. Start at close quarters when she is working on a toy she enjoys. Encourage her to drop the toy by saying “drop it” and if necessary, bribing her to drop it with a treat. Once she does, take the toy, give her a reward, and most importantly, give the toy back. Combine “drop it” work with your recall training from time to time.
The Advanced Skills Method
Making a strong recall
There is not point in training recall if your Whippet will only come back to you under controlled conditions with no distractions. In order to make sure she will come regardless of the circumstances, follow these steps to “proof” her recall.
People and places
Using your long line for safety, practice doing some recall drills in new places and with new people whenever possible. This will start adding to the distractions your dog will have to ignore to come to you. Ultimately, this will make her recall very strong. Remember to use the long line for safety in areas that are not fenced.
If you know your Whippet is easily distracted by things such as bunnies in a field or the neighbor’s cat, then you will need to teach her that what you have to offer is better than those distractions. Find ways to practice having your Whippet come back to you despite distractions, using the long line to pull her away from a distractor if necessary.
Another way to strengthen your dog’s recall is to randomly practice when she least expects it, always with a huge reward on the ready. This help your Whippet come when called because she will never know what she might get in return for showing up at your side.
Once your Whippet has a pretty strong recall, and has practiced in a variety of circumstances, you are ready to start getting picky in order to refine the behavior to make recalls faster. Over time, start to decrease you reward rate to about 10%, and choose only the best returns for the big rewards. You can continue to praise each successful recall.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021