A reliable recall is arguably the most important behaviour you can teach your dog. If your dog reliably comes back to you whenever they are called, they can enjoy so much more freedom and fun in life without being restricted to a lead on walks. Recall is also one of the most common behaviours that pet dog owners struggle with and often end up having to consult a trainer.
The first step when teaching recall is to choose your cue. This is very important, as many dogs actually don’t have a trained recall cue and many people muddle along using a combination of their dog’s name, “come”, “here”, “come on then”, “get here now!” and in desperation often resort to bribery and begging by shouting, “What’s this? Treats!” If you want to use a word, be careful with your choice of word, make sure it is not a word you have already taught your dog to ignore. You can also teach your dog to recall to a whistle.
Poor response to recall is often a learned behaviour. Too often, dogs are allowed completely off lead without appropriate recall training. Every time you call your dog and they ignore you and get to run off to another dog, chase a squirrel, or keep sniffing in the bushes, they are learning that recall is optional and that they can actually be rewarded for NOT coming back.
When beginning to teach recall, start in an environment with very few distractions. Have plenty of your dog’s favourite treats in one hand and your dog’s lead in the other. Run backwards, calling your dog in a happy and fun voice. When your dog follows you and runs towards you, reward them. Practice this exercise in as many different places as possible with varying levels of distractions. If your dog is consistently coming towards you, you can begin to add your recall cue (your word or your whistle). Remember, when teaching a new behaviour, you must add the cue when the dog is doing the behaviour you want.
Next, attach a CLIX 5 metre or 10 metre training line to your dog and keep hold of the end. You can safely give your dog a lot more freedom but you can use the training line as back up to ensure your dog cannot run off.
If you call your dog and they do not respond, there is no need to nag by persistently repeating the cue over and over. Gently begin to reel them in towards you with the long line and reward them with plenty of praise and treats, or play with a toy. Your dog will begin to learn that recall is not optional and that great things happen when they come back to you.
If you feel your dog is responding reliably, you can begin to drop the recall line so it trails on the ground. Your dog can have much more freedom, but the line is still there to ensure consistency and to ensure your dog cannot self-reward by running off to chase a squirrel.
Practice this stage in as many different places as possible with as many different distractions as possible.
When you feel confident that your dog is very responsive and understands what you want, begin to walk them off the lead entirely in areas with minimal distractions.
Recall Top Tips
- Never punish your dog for coming back to you, even if they ran off and took a long time to come back. If you punish them for coming back to you, they will want to come back to you even less in future.
- Make sure that you call your dog back on many occasions during a walk, not just at the end when it’s time to go home. When calling back, sometimes put them onto the lead for a short while, and other times just touch their collar, reward and release with a ’go play’ cue. This cue gives your dog permission to go away from you again.
- Toys can be a better reward than food for some dogs. If your dog enjoys playing with toys, keep a special toy aside that is only used for interacting with you and use it to reward your dog on walks. If they have access to the toy all the time in the house, it will lose its value as a reward.
- Do not teach your dog to ignore your commands by calling them when they are unlikely to respond. Gain their attention first and then recall.
- If you have a dog that doesn’t pay any attention to you on walks, try hiding behind a tree now and again. They will soon keep more of an eye on you when they lose you frequently. Also try changing the direction of the walks regularly so they focus on you, not the other way around.
- Try to vary your food rewards, you do not want to give the same reward for coming back instantly, as for sniffing at the nearest tree first. Range your treats between a pat and a ‘good dog’ to the best garlic sausage depending on their response.
- Be as enthusiastic and fun as possible when calling your dog. Remember, you are competing for your dog’s attention against all sorts of distractions. Make sure you show your dog that you are far more fun than anything else out there!