Do you want to improve your dogs recall? Perhaps you’re too nervous to let your dog off the lead because you’re not feeling confident? Why not get some recall tips from a dog walker! After all, it’s my responsibility to make sure other people’s family members are safe, even off the lead!
It has to be said, there is so much joy in letting your dog off the lead and watching them run around living their best life. Off the lead they can sniff, play, chase and roll around. All the things we love observing our dog do as we take in a deep breath of fresh air. Oh, the pleasure of having a dog! But, there is an agreement between us and our dogs when we let them off the lead and it’s this: behave nicely, and please come back when I ask.
Recall is something a lot of us struggle with and even worry about. Sometimes we worry to the point where we are scared to let our dog have that brilliant off lead freedom we envisage them having. We are worried they will get into trouble with another dog, or run over to other people. Maybe they will get up to mischief with wildlife or jump into very muddy water.
As a dog walker who runs pack walks with up to 6 off lead dogs, it is essential to me that every dog recalls really well. It’s also in mine and my clients’ interests to get each dog onto the pack walks as quickly as possible. First, I have a few solo get-to-know-you walks, how many always depends on the dog. By the time they’re on the pack walks I expect them to recall when I ask. What I’m saying is; I have a limited amount of time and a formula to teach a dog to come back to me so that I can keep every dog safe, happy, and out of mischief.
Carry treats! Carry treats your dog will eat. If your dog doesn’t take treats on walks, they are probably a bit too excited, not hungry, or the treats are rubbish. Personally, I’m a fan of cocktail sausages, or if you’re feeling really fancy, some pâté cut into cubes from JR Pet Products. It doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure your dog likes it!
Practice on a normal lead. You are looking to create a habit – the habit is the dog comes when you call it. To create a habit, you need repetition. Start at the beginning! Choose a moment when your dog isn’t looking at you, call their name and say ‘come!’ (or whatever your chosen word is). When they come to you, immediately reward with the treat. Now do repetitions of that! Lots and lots and lots of them. So many of them you think you might crumble with boredom! Again, you are creating a habit! Tip: if your dog looks at you all the time, throw one treat away from you so they run within the remit of the lead to get it. Once they’ve got it, that’s your moment to say ‘Fido, come!’ Do that over and over again: throw the treat out, call them back, reward. Another tip: if your dog ignores you when you call them, give them a little tug on the lead to guide them. If they’re still ignoring you, you may be in an area that’s too distracting for them. If this is the case, try it at home first.
Once you think you’ve done enough repetitions of step 2, swap your normal lead for a long line, or a retractable lead*. This is your safety net, the final step before that off lead goal. Now, I must state – the idea is NOT to let the dog get all the way to the end of the long lead. If they go sprinting away, unaware that there is a lead attached, they will reach the end of it and it will hurt both them and you when they reach it’s full extent. Start small! It’s advisable to not give them the full length until you are confident they won’t bounce off of the end like a bungee runner at a fairground. Let them take a few steps and then, nice and clearly, call them back. Make sure you are rewarding every single time they come back! Now, lots of repetitions of this! Vary the distance they can go, but always, always, always reward.
In a quiet area where you can’t see anything that your dog might run over to, go ahead and take a deep breath. Breathe it all the way out. Unclip the lead! They’re freeeeeee! Within a few seconds, call them back and reward. This game should already be cemented in their minds, but now the picture is a little different, they’re not attached to you! You need to make sure they understand the game is still the same without the lead, so yet again, do plenty of repetitions in a low-distraction area. Once they’re showing plenty of consistency, start withholding the treats occasionally. Give them more sporadically, or unexpectedly. This is how you start to phase out the treat giving, but don’t be in a hurry to do this. If you’re getting the result you want from the dog, isn’t that fantastic?
From here, you can move up the levels of distraction. If you think something is going to be too distracting for your dog, like another dog playing with a ball in the distance, put your dog on a lead. Try going back to step 2 with that distraction happening in the background. Set them up to succeed, not fail. However, mistakes can happen! If your dog does get ‘selective hearing’ for a moment and runs over to something you don’t want them to (ignoring your wailing banshee pleas to return) you must remember to not scold them when they eventually do come back. That is a confusing message – they did actually come back. They won’t understand the concept of ‘you didn’t come back when I asked’, and if you tell them off for that they will think you’re upset at them for coming back. Just say ‘good dog’ and move on.
So that’s it, your recall tips from a dog walker! That’s how I get dogs I only get to spend 1 hour a day with up to speed on the idea that off lead freedom = great recall. Repetition, consistency and putting the time in. I don’t take chances where they dog might fail, the lead is our friend and it’s ok to pop them on for a few minutes to keep them out of trouble. But I expect them to come back to me when I ask in order for me to put the lead on, and by running these drills and making it a fantastically rewarding game, the Fetch Club dogs quickly learn how to succeed.
*I don’t recommend using retractable leads for normal walking, they can be quite hazardous in many situations! Feel free to ask me about this via email.