How to have great recall with your dog
Being able to recall your dog when off lead is one of the most vital skills for any dog owner and can, in some respects, be the difference between life and death.
Getting recall right is really important to avoid dangerous situations like running into a road, into a dangerous area, running up to another dog that is nervous or reactive. In all of these situations you are setting your dog up to fail if you don’t have 100% recall and they shouldn’t be let off the lead, their safety, and the safety of others, is paramount.
This blog will guide you through how to get to 100% recall. This is not a quick fix and will need time. However, most dogs do pick up each step quickly if you are calm, convincing and consistent.
Before you begin, it’s important to ensure you have strong foundations with your dog. Does your dog understand that:
you take care of dangers
you decide when to interact
you make decisions about food
you take the lead on a walk, and they heel
you make the important decisions and possess the leadership skills to convince your dog they can trust you
If not, then by learning the dog listening approach will ensure these foundations are in place first.
Stage 1 – Practice recall at home
Your dog will feel the safest in their home environment, and because you are able to control the boundaries in your home, your heartrate will be low to ensure that this a calm and positive exercise for all. Look at your dog and call them to you using a friendly tone using their name: ‘Teddy Come!’ have some yummy food rewards at hand or their favourite toy depending on their motivation, if they come to you reward them with lots of praise and give them the food reward. If your dog doesn’t come first, don’t worry just get up and do something else and try again later. Don’t call them more than once, if they don’t come the first time they have lost out on the reward. They will soon learn that, if they don’t come to you straight away, they don’t get rewarded. Keep practising this until your dog responds to your request to come first time. Start by doing this in the same room and then progress to when you are in other rooms of the house. Once you have this 100% in the house move onto step 2.
Stage 2 – Practice in a quite outdoor space with long line.
For this stage you need to choose an outdoor grassed space that will have minimal distraction, so try to avoid busy areas and times of day. I would also recommend your dog wears a harness to avoid them becoming injured from running at high speed and pulling on their neck when they reach the end of the long line. Once in the area, attach the long line to the harness, and release the long line so that your dog is about 6 feet away. Then, call them to you in the way you practised at home using the food reward or toy and praise. Each time they do this correctly extend the long line a bit further 2-3 feet each time until fully extended. If your dog doesn’t respond when called the first time, gently pull back the long line until the dog is by your side to show them what you are asking them to do – however, don’t praise reward or talk to them at this point. Keep repeating this, your dog will soon work out that if they come of their own free will, they will get a food reward and loads of praise, but if they don’t, you will bring them back and they get nothing. Before you move onto stage 3, make sure you have practised stage 2 over a number of days in the quiet outdoor space to ensure 100% success.
Step 3 – Practice on long line with distractions
It would be really helpful if you could get a friend with a dog or children playing to help you with this stage, in a large open space. if this is not possible, then try to use a distraction that may already be in the park. However, do make sure it’s not too busy. Have your chosen distraction at a distance where, when you call your dog to you, they are responding and listening to you. If they are distracted, then move further away. Remember to praise and reward when they get it right. Now, get closer to the distraction and again, call your dog to you. If they don’t return to you, go back and practise more at the previous distance. Once they have got this, move closer and try again, gradually closing the distance until you get close to the distraction. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time so that you can stay calm and make this a positive experience. If the distraction is a dog that you know, and the owner is happy for them to play, then allow them to play at this point. Mid-play, call your dog. If they come to you, praise and reward and then allow them to continue playing. If they don’t respond, correct in the same way you have done previously by gently pulling them back with the long line and walk away until your dog is calm and then try again. Keep repeating this until your dog is coming to you even when there are distractions.
Step 4 – Off lead
Once you feel that your dog will come to you, even when there are distractions, and you feel confident then allow them off the lead and enjoy. When walking, call them back to you every so often, but don’t overdo it, or they will lose interest. Let them enjoy the freedom to sniff and explore. When walking randomly stop, changing direction or slow down without calling your dog. This will keep your dog alert of where you are and also reinforce that you make the decisions about the direction and pace. If when called they don’t come straight away, simply turn and walk in the other direction they will soon follow you as their survival instinct is to stay with their pack. If you are in any doubt at all, you can let them off-lead in a fenced off area - if you can find one. If not, you can leave the long line attached, but have it dragging on the floor. This will keep you feeling confident and calm if you are nervous about letting them off at first. This is about building your confidence, so that your dog will willingly choose to follow you.
Being respectful of other owners on a walk.
If while on your walk, you see another owner with their dog on the lead, call your dog to you and put them on the lead while you pass and give them lots of space. You don’t know why the other dog is on the lead: they may not be good at recall, or they may be nervous around other dogs. By doing this, you will ensure that: both dogs remain safe, you avoid any possible confrontation, you have respected the other owner/dog, and neither dog has been set up to fail.