This short guide is to help you gain or improve recall with your dog when engaging in off lead activities.
You are going to need a treat pouch with tasty treats, a long line and a harness (never a collar with a long line) and if your dog is toy motivated pack their favourite on your trips.
First, practise this in an enclosed garden and don’t bother attaching the lead at this stage.
Pick a recall cue (command is such a stern word, we prefer to cue our dogs behaviours). If you are already using one with no joy, make it easy on yourself and change the word. It can literally be anything (my preferred cue is “what’s this!”). Say the word in that ‘cutesie’ voice your dog loves and immediately drop a few treats. Repeat x 10. Ignore your dog for a few minutes to let them disengage from you and then repeat the verbal cue. Your dog should show interest in you and you will reward your dog immediately. If they don’t pay attention to you, reward them anyway and change the treats you are using. The higher value the better (tips on treats here). Start again with the new treats. When they do pay attention to this verbal cue, we can start to add movement.
Face your dog, and get their attention with friendly noises (no need for intimidation or dominance). As soon as they pay attention to you, take a couple of lively steps backwards (please be aware of your surroundings first to avoid tripping over). Your dog should follow you. As soon as your dog starts to move towards you (so not waiting for them to catch you), mark the behaviour (clicker/verbal) and reward at your feet – either a treat or play. If it has to be play, tug games are best keeping their focus on you, but a bounced ball will work if they are ball motivated. If you are unsure of how to use a clicker, the guide is here. The clicker is optional, verbal markers will work just as well (saying “yes” or “good” or anything that the dog knows means good stuff is about to happen).
The reason you are marking the dog for moving towards you is because this is the behaviour we are looking to encourage. When they make it to you they are still getting their reward, essentially they are being told “Yes! You super dog! Have some chicken on me!”
Drop a handful of tiny treats so that your dog stays there to eat it while you back away a few metres. When you see your dog has finished the treats, get their attention. Wave both arms over your head (this visual cue is helpful when your distance increases) and in a very happy tone shout your new recall cue. When your dog is half way from their start point to you, mark the behaviour and then reward generously when they arrive at your feet.
There are a few ways to set up the scenario for increasing distance. You can use the stay cue (tips here) while you move further away. You can leave a larger amount of scattered food for your dog to find while you move away. You can have second and third handlers and call the dog between you. If you pick a friend to help, have them not reward your dog and you will rapidly see the recall works for you much more than it does for them.
Attach a long line than can safely drag on the floor behind your dog, remember only attach it to a well fitted harness. Should your dog decide they are going to investigate something else, you can get a hold of the lead, or tread on it (in emergency only) to slow their progress. Do try to not jerk them to a halt as it is uncomfortable. When they are getting it wrong, you need to reduce the distance.
When you want to add in distractions, go to a public field and make sure the other dogs etc are at least 50 metres away. You will only be practising from a few metres away at first so that your dog can get it right and be rewarded suitably. This will reinforce the behaviour and make it more likely. Gradually (days/weeks/months) increase the criteria. Be further away from your dog. Be closer to other dogs. Be closer to noisy dogs. Have food on the floor 10 metres away (your dog must not be able to get to it – -long line attached!). Every time they get it right, reward them.
Never tell them off for not coming back. If your dog learns that coming back leads to feeling uncomfortable or nervous of your scorn, they will be less likely to come back when next asked to do so. Instead, reward them no matter how late they are getting to you and make the criteria lower for the next attempt. Make it so easy that they can’t help but succeed and end each session on a positive.
If you would like further help with this you can book a 1 2 1 session with us.