Teaching your dog a reliable recall is incredibly important. We want our dogs to have the freedom to run off-lead, enjoy themselves and carry out their natural behaviours.
However unless the dog has been taught a reliable recall, being off-lead is a risky business and not recommended. It is our legal responsibility to have our dogs under control and recall is the first port of call
Does reliable mean 100% success? No of course not, dogs are animals and act as such. However good recall training will greatly improve the probability of your dog returning to you.
Recall training is like training in the gym, the more you do the better it gets. Stop paying it any attention and it gets slack and floppy!
Here are my top 10 tips;
1. Work on their name recognition indoors. If you can't get attention indoors, you have no chance outside. Why not use their dinner to train. Call their name then once you get focus feed them. Repeat each evening for a week. If using kibble use ten bits of kibble to repeat tens times in one session.
Initially you may only be rewarding a look in your general direction. By the end of the week, you call their name and they zoom in to greet you! I aim for getting the dog physically in front of me and gaining eye contact as the success marker/end goal for this exercise.
A good relationship with you is vital for good recall. My dogs recall has improved of late as I have worked on her trick training more. The two may seem disconnected but they are definitely not. The trick training is really good fun for us both and so our bond has improved. The feeding exercise above will make your dog think you are amazing!
2. Once moving into recall training, choose a recall word and pair it with their name. For my dog I use 'Dita Come!' Their name alone doesn't give any instruction it simply gets their attention. The recall word gives them an actual instruction.
Decide what this instruction means i.e. for Dita she only gets the reward if she runs to me and stays around. Other people like their dog to come to them and sit, others like their dog to run to them and heel by their side. It doesn't really matter but make sure you only reward the behaviour you want repeated. Be clear in your own mind as to your criteria otherwise the dog gets confused
3. Don't use their name to call them to something they don't like (i.e. the bath), always keep positive associations with their name & practice indoors. If your dog won't recall in the house then it's too soon to expect it outdoors
4. Whilst in training/unsure of a dogs recall, use a long-line attached to a harness (never a collar). You can then work up to dropping the long line then eventually removing it
5. Start somewhere quiet and work up to somewhere more distracting. We want the dog to succeed to make it easy for them. Think indoors, then garden then quiet street then local park.
6. Always reward a dog for returning, I use treats, praise, play, a cuddle, whatever works for the dog. When in initial training reward EVERY single time (you'll need to start carrying treats/toys out on your walk. Why do you think all trainers & professional dog walkers have treat pouches).
Don't be a scrooge. Start with a yummy treat guaranteed to get their attention. If they run back to you from some really lovely smell or fun play with another dog and get some boring kibble, they won't bother running back to you next time. Make it worth their while. Once well trained you can lower the value of the food reward, you can also vary how often you reward. Although a 'good boy, 'good girl' never does any harm
7. Never scold a dog who takes too long to return, they'll just take even longer next time. Also if they are slow to recall it is a sure sign you haven't trained it well enough!
8. If you are going to be busy on your phone etc, just keep them on lead! If a dog gets to run off and ignore you then it is simply 'practicing' the unwanted behaviour and it will get more and more ingrained.
9. Consult a trainer if you are not seeing results, every dog is different and one size does not fit all! Dogs with a very strong prey drive will benefit from a professionals input or those with other behaviour issues may need those addressed first
10. Remember it is never too late. Yes starting from a pup is the best fit but you can certainly start afresh with an adult dog (believe me!)
Have fun training, bringing a positive energy will get better results from your dog.