Does your pooch have perfect hearing – except when it comes to his own name? Our behaviourist explains how to improve dog recall and why it’s so important. Plus, we outline three steps to help ensure your dog will soon be bounding back to you on command.
Dog recall works by ensuring your pooch finds the idea of coming back to you more attractive than any other distraction on offer. For example, it aims to override your dog’s natural instinct to chase whatever he sees by making your call a more rewarding option to him. This is done through a combination of rewards and positive reinforcement. Make sure you’ve read our tips on introducing dog recall training for how to get started, and then read on to find out how to improve those recall skills.
Developing and maintaining reliable recall is important, since without it, any time that your dog spends off-lead could potentially be dangerous. He may come into contact with other dogs that aren’t under their owners’ control, or you may need to call him away from water or wildlife. Once you can trust your dog to come when called, he’ll be able to enjoy running around freely and you can be sure you have the control needed to keep him safe. So whether you’d like to build on the basics of recall training or brush up your dog’s existing recall skills, read on.
The right reward
For recall training with your dog to be a lasting success, you’ll need to have already established a strong bond. ‘This is because you’ll need to understand what really motivates them,’ says APBC-accredited behaviourist and dog trainer Karen Wild. ‘You’ll have to work out which rewards your dog really enjoys, so that the command to come back to you will always be more appealing than whatever else he is doing.’
This could be a small, tasty snack (for example, a piece of chicken), a favourite toy, lots of verbal praise or a game with you – whatever he values most. ‘Your dog needs to learn that you are worth listening to, regardless of what else is going on, Karen says.
Once you know’ what your dog reacts best to, patience and repetition will then be the key to developing good recall – as Karen found when she trained her rescue terrier, Pepper. ‘She’s a real chaser who just loves to run, so we started recall training while still on the lead – first with a normal 4ft one, and then by progressing to a much longer 30ft lead. It took lots of practice, twice a day on every walk, and about six weeks in total. It’s still an ongoing process, but now Pepper always comes when called.’
But remember: keep training and refresher sessions focused and fun. Keep your tone positive, and try not to sound frustrated – it won’t encourage them to return! ‘Your dog should never feel stressed or anxious, so never make coming back to you feel like a punishment,’ Karen says. ‘This should be an enjoyable and stimulating experience for your pooch. Stop training as soon as he begins to lose concentration, and try again another day.’
Three steps to excellent dog recall
Whether your dog is relatively new to recall, has already had plenty of training, or is an older animal who’s getting a bit rusty on the basics, it’s always a good idea to brush up their skills and practise regularly to get them into good habits.
- Choose a quiet area away from distractions. Put your dog on a short lead, call his name and give him his preferred reward and plenty of praise as soon as he comes. (You could also use a whistle, clicker or any other sound that your dog can learn to associate with the word ‘come’ and with treats from you.) Practise this step regularly – daily, on every walk – for at least four to six weeks, while gradually lengthening his lead up to 30ft.
- If your dog already returns to you every time over short distances, take him to a more open space such as a park to further develop his recall skills. You should initially keep your dog away from other dogs or ‘must-explore’ areas such as sandpits. Put him on the lead to practise at first – then, if that’s successful, let the lead trail on the ground. Call him when he’s not too far away and reward him as soon as he comes to you – and repeat this for the duration of your walk, gradually building up the distance he covers before being called.
- Keep in mind that developing successful recall is an ongoing process, not a one-off. Keep practising recall skills on each walk (and keep heaping on the praise). This is the best way to ensure your dog stays on track and consistently returns when called.
For more expert tips on how to improve dog recall, watch our video guide to advanced recall training with behaviourist Nick Jones.