How many times have you been over the park and heard dog owners calling their dogs and not getting a response? Being a professional dog walker and spending a lot of time at the parks I see this a lot, at our dog training classes it is always top of clients list of things they want to teach and it is actually really easy to do if you train it well.
Starting your recall training as soon as your puppy arrives home greatly helps with park recalls later in life. If you have got a dog that’s a bit older or are just looking to brush up or re-train your recall then you can still master this whatever the dogs age.
Starting Your Recall Training
All recall training should start with some fun games in the safety of your own home. There are less distractions such as squirrels, birds, or other dogs about to tempt your dog away and it builds a great fun reinforcement history with your dog.
The most important rule of recall training is to make sure you reward every recall they do, this increases the reinforcement history of the game, so make sure you have some super yummy treats and pop them in your pocket ready to use when the perfect training opportunity arises.
To start with you want to watch for when your dog is relaxed and not already distracted by something else, this is when you want to get their attention by calling their name. Once you have their attention try getting them to come to you with either excitable noises, dropping a treat on the floor, or playing with a toy – don’t make the distance between you and the dog too big to start otherwise they could get distracted on the way. As they are on their way you can add in your recall command, only do this once they are in the process of coming to you, if you do it before and they don’t come first time you are teaching them to ignore the command. As they get to you have a big game and reward with some treats.
Keep practicing this step, when you know they are going to come to you when you start getting their attention you can add in your recall command before they start.
Once you and your dog are confident with step 1 you can move on to making this a little bit more difficult. Increase the distance of your recall and try a few when your dog is distracted – playing with a toy or out in the garden.
As well as this try some games around the house such as hide and seek. While your dog is relaxed somewhere in the house go and hide behind a door or other hiding location and try calling them. Most dogs love this game and coming back to you turns into even more of an exciting and fun time.
Taking Your Recall Outside
Now it’s time to head to the park, this is where it gets difficult for your dog. There are a lot more smells and other things going on, so to start with you want to pop them on an extendable lead or a long line until their recall is reliable. This way if they do get distracted you still have control of getting them to return to you rather than them running off and having a great game somewhere else.
Now that we’re at the park and we have our long lead on you want to go back to step 1 scenarios, wait until they’ve been in the park for a little while and had a good sniff around and make sure there are no other dogs around or things to chase before training your recall. Make the distances short again and even try things such as running the other way and make a big fuss when they get to you.
If you do see other dogs at the park don’t always let your dog go and say hello otherwise every time they see a dog they will run off to greet them. Make sure some dogs you ignore and just go past, some we can say hello and then go, and a few of them they can have a little game with – but make sure you check the other dogs owner is happy for your dog to play with theirs, as they may be dog sensitive or be training themselves.
This again is going to be a repeat of step 2, add more distractions. Start training when other dogs are in the distance and gradually try with the distance between you and other dogs decreasing. When your dogs running off to go investigate something, add a recall as they are half way there. You should still be rewarding every successful recall.
The final test, when the majority of your recalls are successful you can go for the off lead attempts. Make sure to once again only let them off lead when there are no distractions (step 1 and 3) and then increase to adding distractions as they get better (step 2 and 4).
Top Tips To Help With Your Training
Be Happy and Exciting – Whenever you call your dog make sure it sounds like a fun thing to do. They are not really going to want to come back if you are yelling at them or looking rather cross.
Yummy Food – Always reward recalls with yummy smelly treats not kibble, my dog is six years old and still gets rewards for recalls.
Step by Step – If your dog is finding a step difficult don’t be afraid to go back a step and build more on that training until your dog is more confident to move on.
Stay On Lead – If they are training outside at the park make sure they are on lead until your are very sure they are going to come back. That one time you go “oh I’ll just let him off for a minute” and they go off chasing birds or playing with other dogs and ignore your recalls they are self rewarding and learn they don’t have to come back.
Waiting To Go – When it comes to taking them off lead make sure you have a good sit stay first. Get them to sit – stay unclip the lead and make sure they wait until you give them a treat for staying and then release them before they go off to play.
Not Always Time For Lead – Once you reach the off lead section of training don’t always call them back only to have their lead put on, this gets boring for them and takes the fun out of the game. Make sure you do some recalls where they get rewarded then get to go off and carry on what they were doing.
Hopefully with the above training you will perfect your recall, don’t expect too much too soon and practice makes perfect, they are not going to have a reliable recall unless you put in the effort to train it. Feel free to leave any questions on your training in the comments below for us to help out with, or book onto one of our training courses where we’ll introduce you to lots of other fun games to play with your dog to help with their recalls.