Picture the familiar scene: The sound of “Alfie”…”Alfie”… come here!… drifts across the park, to the unconcerned dog busily investigating a lump of wet grass. He looks up lethargically and spots his frustrated owner. Safe in the knowledge that his owner is still there, Alfie continues to enjoy his sniffing. Does this sounds familiar?
Being outside and off the lead can release the wild side in our dogs, but even so you can teach them to reliably come when they are called. With lots of practice, you can get your dog to be truly happy to come to you, even if he is in the middle of a good sniff!
10 easy steps to teach recall
- Begin indoors, as soon as you get your puppy or older dog. Start by using the command word “come” or “here” when he is already coming toward you. Be consistent with the word you choose. You can also use a whistle, which is just as effective. Reward your dog by making a fuss or giving a treat when he arrives, even if he’s only come from a foot away. Practice calling/ whistling from further away. Ask a friend to hold him before you call. He doesn’t have to learn to sit or stay first!
- Don’t let your dog off outside in unenclosed areas until your dog he is reliable in your house/ garden. It may be dangerous and set him up for failure. Use a 30m lead to get your dog used to freedom, whilst retaining control. Only call him when it looks as if he will come to you. If he does not, then shorten the lead and praise/ treat him when he comes near.
- Have smelly pockets! Dry kibble just isn’t exciting enough to reinforce recall. Make your own or buy tasty treats which you only use for training.
- Don’t wear out your command. If you keep repeating yourself, your dog will learn to tune you out and ignore the command. Only say it when you are likely to get success (e.g. not whilst chasing a bird!), then reward him big time!
- Keep your tone happy and your body language inviting. Get down on your knees and open your arms wide. Avoid panicking or getting angry when your dog refuses to come to you. No dog wants to come near an angry person.
- Reward your dog with more freedom. If you only call your dog when it’s time to go home, he will learn that recall is associated with the end of playtime. That’s why it’s important to get them to come to you every few minutes. When he comes, praise, treat and put him on the lead. Then release him again. This way he will not associate getting the lead out with “fun over!”
- Stop making so many friends. This may sound odd, since we have all been told to socialise our dogs, the problem of dogs being over friendly to all has increased. The trouble is that when a dog thinks that every other human or dog he meets is his new best friend, it is a big distraction from you the owner. During walks on the lead, don’t allow your dog to just run up to every stranger, dog or human that you pass. Dogs behave very differently when on leads, especially with other dogs so just be careful. Keep social contact on lead walks brief and get his attention back ASAP.
- Never scold for coming back! Scolding never works well with dogs. They do not understand and it just scares and confuses them. It’s the last thing you feel like doing when your dog has been naughty, run away and ignored you, but still praise him whenever he returns, even if you have to go and find him! If you are angry with your dog, he will pick up on these vibes, making it very likely that he won’t want to come back next time!
- Don’t be the chaser! Dogs seem to think it is really funny when we are chasing them down the street to fetch them back. Avoid chasing your dog, even for fun in the garden, if at all possible. Instead, turn the game around and make your dog chase you. Run round the house or garden and when they catch up with you, reward them. This way, when your dog is refusing to come when called, you can stop, turn around and start running, with any luck your dog will start chasing you!
- Play hide and seek. Another way to practice number 9, is to teach your dog the game of hide and seek. Start playing in the house. Hide from your dog and then call/ whistle him. Lavish him with praise and treats when he finds you. By practising this fun game, you are training your dog that you should always be on his mind and he should find it fun to check out your whereabouts.
No matter how much you train, or how tasty your treats are, there’s a chance your dog will not come when called. Dogs are not perfect and their acute sense of smell and hearing make distractions very hard to ignore. Above all, be patient and be safe!