by Sally Bradbury
Top Tips for Recall (part 1)
Use a long line. A long line can be used to give a dog freedom but ensures they can’t get into trouble, run away or get lost. Great for young puppies, dogs going through adolescence and essential for newly adopted rescue dogs. Always attach a line to a harness.
Teach an automatic check in. Teaching a check in and reinforcing desirable behaviours starts indoors. Set yourself a challenge. Put twenty treats in a pot on the kitchen side and every time your puppy looks at you (not when you ask her to) give her a treat. Count the treats left at the end of the day. Next day try and beat your record. Then take it to the garden. Lower your expectations for this. And of course then eventually out and about.
Be fun to be with. When you get to the field/park start tossing treats for your puppy to catch, get a tug toy from your pocket and have a game for ten to twenty seconds, then run about and have her chase you. More treats, more play, drop the lead, pick up the lead, unclip the lead, put the lead back on all whilst feeding and playing. Do this for a minute or two and finish with lead off, line on, putting toy and treats back in your pocket and tell her “off you go”.
Whichever way she goes, you go the other way. Give her some sniff time, then start cheering and whooping and running again, get the toy and treats out again and repeat ad infinitum.
Top Tips for Recall (part 2)
Following on from part 1, here are some games that you can play at anytime that will have a positive impact on your dog’s recall.
Collar Touch. Simply take hold of your dog’s collar gently, palm towards the side of his neck, every single time before you give him a treat, open the door to let him out, throw his a toy, put his lead on, take his lead off, give him his dinner and everything else that is a pleasurable experience for him. Before you know it he will be pushing his neck into your palm in anticipation of the reward. Add a verbal cue and you have a great recall trick.
Retrieve. If a dog is bringing a toy back to you then you’ve got a recall. If your dog enjoys a game of tug then use a rope ball with a handle so he can chase, fetch and then enjoy a tug game with you. You can keep the game interesting by throwing the toy into long grass and sending him to find it with lots of whooping and cheering when he finds it and returns to you.
Chase the kibble. Send him away by tossing a treat for him to find and more cheering when he finds it and a really yummy treat for coming back to you ready to go again. Stage 2 of this is to change position each time he goes away so that part of the fun is turning around and looking for you.
All of these games can be done at home, indoors, in the garden and out and about. On a long line or off lead where it is safe to do so.
Top Tips for Recall (part 3)
In parts 1 and 2 we talked about the benefits of using a long line, how to teach a check in, how to be fun to be with and games to play that will have a positive impact on your dog’s recall.
Now we’ll talk about the do’s and don’ts for teaching recall:
- DON’T call your dog if they are busy and are not looking at you
- DO call your dog excitedly when they are heading your way
- DON’T call your dog back to you when you are walking towards them
- DO change direction and encourage your dog to follow you and catch you up
- DON’T chase your dog
- DO run away and get him to chase you
- DON’T call your dog only at the end of the walk
- DO call him and put the lead on randomly during the walk
- DON’T ever tell your dog off for a slow recall. It will be slower next time
- DO praise and reward your dog for coming back even if it took a while but consider grading the rewards so that the quicker the recall the better the reward
- DON’T use the line to make him return to you. The training is far more effective if it’s his choice to return
- DO use all these tips to make your dog want to return to you
Top Tips for Recall (part 4) The clever stuff
In parts 1 to 3 we talked about the benefits of using a long line, teaching a check in, being fun to be with, games to play that will have a positive impact on your recall and a list of do’s and don’ts to achieve a reliable recall.
So if you have a dog that can recall perfectly unless… something puts a spanner in the works … such as another dog, a squirrel, sea gulls and countless other distractions then you may need some of our advanced recall tips.
Auto Check in When Seeing Another Dog. One reason for teaching a dog to check in with you is when you encounter other dogs. He checks in before being given the okay to greet. This ensures that all four parties, both dogs and both humans are mutually agreeable to the interaction before you release your dog. If it’s not appropriate then you can reward him with something else and walk politely past. If it is, then what better reward than being able to say ‘hi’ to a canine friend. If your dog enthusiastically greets every dog he sees without checking if it’s okay first then this will inevitably get him into trouble at some point and also lead to reactivity when on lead because of the frustration of not being free to meet and greet.
Teaching a Predictive Cue. This is done using a thrown toy (or food) for the dog to chase and adding a verbal cue. For this example we’ll use ‘TOY!’ Over several sessions every single time you throw the toy for him to chase you give the cue. Now for the clever bit, throw a different toy (boringly to start with) and say nothing and then immediately throw his favourite toy as you shout ‘TOY!’ in the other direction. He should immediately be distracted from chasing the first thing he saw moving and go after the second one simply because of the power of the word ‘toy’.
Teach an instant down at a distance. There are various ways to teach this once your dog understands the verbal cue to lie down and it can often halt a dog in his tracks where recall has failed.
Food and Toys. If your dog is not motivated by food or toys outside then you can increase the value of both quite easily. Put his food bowl away and put all of his meal in a food pouch and hand feed him outside. In the garden to start with before taking it out and about. He doesn’t have to do anything for it other than step toward you and eat from your hand as you step back and say his name excitedly. This is very effective if you can do it for all or most meals over a period of time. Obviously no running about if he is eating just stroll to the park or the woods, eat dinner and walk home. Then on walks food treats can now be used as a reward.
Pick up and put away all of the interactive toys indoors and at every opportunity take a toy from the cupboard and run out to the garden and play for two minutes. No playing indoors if you want him to want to play outside.
And finally… If You Can’t Beat Them. Join Them. If your dog enjoys chasing birds or squirrels or rabbits, have him on his long line attached to a harness and join in the chase with him. Chase the squirrel up the tree, the rabbit down the hole and the birds..well.. just chase them, whooping and cheering as you go. Be part of the fun and your dog will stay engaged with you and probably join in a game of tug with you at the end.