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Training your dog to recall is one of the most important skills your dog should master. It’s critical to teach a young puppy recall as soon as practical, but what about older dogs? Are they able to learn to recall too? Maybe you’ve just adopted an older dog from a rescue or shelter, or perhaps your dog is up in years and needs some refresher training, but regardless of the circumstances, an older dog can learn new tricks. It will just take more effort, time, and commitment.
Recall is vital for all dogs to learn because your dog needs to listen to and focus on you no matter what distractions may abound. For the safety of your dog, yourself, and anyone in your immediate area, you need your pup to come when he’s called the first time. These training methods will put you and your senior canine on the road to a better recall.
The challenge with recall is making it more exciting for your pup to come to you when called rather than investigate the rabbit in the next yard over or the dog across the street. While we all want to let our dogs run free, we also don’t want them to run into danger or cause difficulties for other people or pets. Therefore, a proper recall can allow your dog some freedom while he remains responsive and under your control.
Older dogs may take longer to pick up on the recall especially if they were never taught this skill or were taught differently or incorrectly. Patience is essential in this situation, as is consistency. Above all, keep it interesting for your dog, so he doesn’t get bored with you and let his attention wander. Ultimately, you want your dog to return to you on cue because what you offer is better than anything else out there.
Have some high-value treats on hand, preferably ones that you don’t regularly give to your senior dog. That will make the treats seem special and help prevent boredom on your dog’s part. Change those treats up frequently so he doesn’t become accustomed to what reward he will receive. If the dog is not food-driven, consider having a new squeaky toy or ball to use as a reward for recall.
For the best training results, use a long lead line consistently as this allows your dog room to move but you are in control at all times of his movements. Long lines can be dropped on the ground and dragged behind the dog but can quickly be stepped on or picked up by you if necessary. Choose lead lines in bright colors as they are easier to see on the ground outside. Do not use retractable leashes for training.
Start each of the following training methods in a low-distraction environment such as a large room in your house or a fenced-in backyard. Once your older dog masters these levels of recall, you can begin to work in larger spaces on walks or in dogs parks or on trails.
The Happy Recall Method
Energize your recall command
Whatever word your choose as a recall command, deliver it with a voice full of happiness, energy, and excitement. When your dog responds by coming to you, reward him with a treat. Do this for a few minutes so he associates coming to you and staying next to you as a pleasure.
Run and reward
With your dog by your side, say "Come!" cheerfully, then run for ten to fifteen feet. Stop and reward your dog. Change up the reward between a treat or toy to keep your dog guessing.
Practice Steps 1 and 2
Continue to practice the first two steps for at least a week before moving to a larger area.
Try longer distance recalls
Using a long lead line, practice Step 2 when your dog is at a farther distance from you. Again, when you stop running be sure to reward your dog enthusiastically.
Add some helpers
Once your dog has done well on recall from longer distances, ask some friends or family members to help with the happiness and provide some new distractions to challenge your pup. Then, start the process over from Step 1.
The Long Line Game Method
Pick a recall command
Choose a command word for the recall and use it only when your dog is running toward you. Avoid using your dog's name as the recall command.
Use the long line lead and demand his focus
Hook the long line lead up to your dog, then take the first few minutes to play and engage your dog.
Invent some fun games and use the recall command
Be creative and come up with some fun games to keep your dog interested in focusing on you. Toss a toy up in the air when your dog isn't expecting it, or roll some treats on the ground. Then give the recall command.
Run and chase
Deviate your direction and run away from your dog while giving the recall command. As soon as your dog catches up to you, reward him.
Practice longer ranges and different directions
As your dog improves his recall skills, switch things up on him to keep him on his toes. When he gets to the end of the lead line, switch directions and give him the recall command. He will learn to pay attention to you so he doesn't lose you.
The Focus on Me Method
Get your dog's attention
Practice spending time getting and holding your dog's eye contact. Reward your dog by saying his name and giving him a treat after a few moments of eye contact. Lengthen the time frame and move about the room once the first goal has been mastered.
Teach your dog a recall command
Choose your recall command for your dog, such as "Come" or "Here."
Deliver the command consistently
Make sure that each time you use your recall command word, you do so in the same way each time.
Practice the recall
Give the recall command to your dog, and when he responds correctly, offer him a unique, high-value reward.
When your dog successfully masters the basis recall training, move him to a larger space with more distractions. Ask a friend to bike or run by your house, throw a ball over your dog's head, or ask a neighbor to let his dog out in his yard. Continue this practice until your dog is focused on you and you alone.
By Erin Cain
Published: 04/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021