Dog training essentials: The recall

Every dog enjoys off-lead walks. But, if your dog is inclined to go off hunting or annoying other dogs and people then off-lead walking is just not practical. Can you change that? Yes you can. Here are my top tips for improving your dog’s recall skills.

Why a reliable recall is essential for every dog

One of the very first things I teach in puppy classes is the recall. Why? Because if your dog doesn’t come when he’s called, it’s potentially dangerous.

With a strong recall, off-lead walks can be enjoyed whenever and wherever it’s appropriate. Your dog can have a great time following scent trails and running just for fun. But if your dog is going to run free, his recall must be 100% reliable. Because there are a whole host of scenarios where good manners and safety mean that you need your dog to stop what he’s doing and come back to you immediately.

Consider

  • Your dog runs towards a busy road

  • You realise that you are close to farm livestock or wildlife

  • You spot an unfriendly dog and need to take your dog away from the situation before a fight can ensue

  • Another dog owner asks you to keep your dog at bay because theirs is either fearful or aggressive

  • You can see horse riders – it’s important that your dog is on a lead and safely out of the way of horses. No matter how good the rider is, horses can behave in unexpected ways.

  • You are approaching picnickers and know that your dog is likely to join in uninvited

  • Your dog tries to play with people or other dogs who clearly don’t welcome his advances

  • Your dog goes out of sight and you have no way of knowing if he or she is safe and/or behaving well

I’m sure you can think of a dozen other scenarios – you may even have experienced some for yourself.

Teaching recall to your dog

Dogs learn by association. When faced with a choice of answering a recall cue or chasing a squirrel, they need to have a history of good associations when being recalled. Next time you are out with your dog think about what you are recalling your dog away from, and why?

• Dogs playing

• Food on the ground

• Other animals

Next you need to look at what you do when your dog comes back? After you have finally managed to get them away from playing or eating food on the ground, you will put them on lead and most likely take them home. Next time it will take even longer to get them away. Yes, i reward my dog for coming back when called with Toys and High value treats, but an even better reward is giving them permission to go and play again.

Here is me practicing calling Chester back and then saying “go play” watch how fast he sprints off to continue playing.

Your job as a dog owner is to use kind and effective training techniques to prove to your dog that the recall cue is associated with fun and does not mean the fun is stoping. Inside your dog’s brain, treats, play and toys release a feel-good chemical called dopamine and it’s that guaranteed dopamine hit that’s going to ultimately shape a reliable recall response.

In dog training we start with the very basics. Your dog must know his name and you must decide what sound or word you want to be his recall cue. Be consistent. Dogs don’t know that “here” means the same as “comehere” or “come” or “comeback”, “oi” or whatever else might seem logical to you.

Start lessons in a small space with no distractions. A room indoors is ideal. You might want someone to help you if your dog doesn’t know “sit” or “stay”.

I like to start by teaching the hand touch. Its quick, teaches the dog to work with you to get what they want, and teaches the trainer great timing. Just like in the video below. Chester is associating his action with receiving treats.

Once the hand-touch is an established behaviour I can use it to shape Chester’s recall. By introducing the recall cue word (in Chester’s case I sing out his name in a particular way) and gradually increasing the distance between us I have shaped a reliable recall.

In this video you’ll see what can be achieved. We’re in a public park with several distractions, including Chester’s friend Buddy. Chester is pretty good at sitting and waiting on command. That comes with practise. If your dog is still learning, you may need a helper to hold his collar in the early stages of training.

In this video you’ll notice that instead of food treats we’re using Chester’s favourite toy. Not all dogs are food orientated. One of the tricks of dog training is finding out what motivates the Dog.

Help with recall training

Recall training requires patience, consistency, experience, confidence and practice. When you understand how a dog learns and therefore how to shape his behaviour, it’s usually a matter of building confidence in the dog for coming back, whilst gradually introducing stronger distractions and longer distances.

Don’t rush it, build your dog’s skills progressively. If the dog seems to forget, start again from the beginning to remind them of what’s been learned so far. Most importantly, don’t let your dog off the lead outside of his garden until you are absolutely certain you can recall him instantly and safely. No matter what distractions he’s faced with!

To speed up the training and iron out any glitches you’ll find that my recall training courses are ideal. They are tailored to your dog and will help him or her become a reliable recaller.

Find out more about Off lead Recall

Stuart ReedComment