Establishing A Solid Recall
One of the most essential and enjoyable things to teach your dog is to come to you when you ask. It allows both you and your dog to have more fun, freedom, exercise and more variety and it is one of the concepts that I encourage owners to really dedicate time to getting this right early on. It is not only useful, but is a reflection of the relationship you have with your dog. It says a lot about how your dog feels towards you in general. If anyone else in your life didn’t want to come to you when requested, or ran off at every opportunity, what would that tell you? If you want to have a mutually healthy and enjoyable relationship, establishing a solid recall is a great place to start.
Whether you are teaching recall to an uneducated dog/puppy, or correcting a poor recall, here are some dog training tips to get you going.
• Build enough respect and trust.
Have you earned a high enough level of your dog’s respect and trust? Many owners have some, just not enough to give them the upper hand in situations outside the home. If your dog hears you and understands you but still chooses to ignore the command, you don’t have enough. Providing more rules and boundaries along with consequences (following through with these consequences is essential!), will help your dog accept that they need to listen all of the time, not just when it suits them. If they can do mostly whatever they like at home and your relationship is based on being friends where you’re seldom seen as being in charge, for most dogs it won’t be enough. Some dogs need more than others, just like children, so it’s about finding the right balance for you and your dog. I am constantly surprised when dog owners say they are reluctant to have rules and show strong leadership because they ‘feel bad’ but are happy to keep their poor dogs on a lead for the rest of their lives. ??
If your dog has what I describe as a “flabby brain,” then asking them to resist temptation off lead is probably too much to expect just yet. I would describe dogs with this level of mental fitness as a one-year-old in a toy shop. Standing there yelling at them to stop touching things is not appropriate – it’s beyond their understanding and/or level of self-control. They need support until they can resist temptation on their own. You are responsible for teaching your dog self-control and accountability; they will not learn this on their own and is not necessarily age-related. Developing and maintaining adequate self-control requires you to implement limitation, structure and relevant consequences on an ongoing basis. If your dog doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to do this at home then it is going to be very difficult out and about where the level of temptation and distraction is much higher. Ensure your dog does things such as waiting calmly to be introduced to visitors, walking nicely by your side on a loose lead, going to their bed when asked and following regular requests in your daily life.
Just like us, dogs suffer from frustration and stress in various forms if basic needs aren’t being met. Dogs are highly social and highly intelligent and many live a lifestyle that is far from being fulfilling. If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, mental stimulation, social interaction, is on the wrong diet, or is suffering from ongoing stress in any way, this should take priority. Fix this first before you blame bad behaviour or a bad attitude. Keep in mind that some of the most stressed and unfulfilled dogs I have met have been “spoiled” in human terms. Keep your dog drained of excess energy, feed a raw natural diet (this is very under-rated) and provide ample opportunity for play, challenge and spending time with their pack (you). This will ensure your dog doesn’t feel desperate to escape or rebel when given half a chance.
• Use a long training lead to teach and reinforce recall.
Once you have addressed the above steps, invest in a 5 metre long training lead. This concept allows your dog the feeling of freedom without the opportunity for them to run away, ignore you or get themselves into trouble. This “in between” step teaches them that freedom and fun does not mean they can ignore you. Until your dog has mastered this exercise, we advise that they stay on it.
• For me, when I have a dog who is learning these boundaries, being on a long lead means:
“We are here together and I want us to have fun. However, I am still in charge and there are rules. Yes, you can swim, run, play and sniff but if I call you, you need to return to me immediately. If I move off in any direction, you need to follow. There is no leaving the immediate area surrounding me. If you see something or someone that looks interesting, you are not allowed to simply run off to it (this distance can be increased slowly as your dog can be trusted more and more). If I decide that it’s a good idea to go over there, I will initiate it and I will head over there first. I always greet others first unless I give permission for you to do so. When you show me that you are willing and able to follow these rules, I will increase your freedom. “
This is similar to the behaviour I would expect from a child at a playground.
• Having your dog on a long training lead allows you to teach and reinforce the behaviour you want and expect rather than trying to deal with unwanted behaviour after it has already happened. If your dog offers unwanted behaviour (such as trying to run off or refusing to come to you) you have the ability to correct and prevent it immediately, before a bad habit forms.
• Until you have established a solid recall, be mindful not to encourage your dog to run away from you and have fun “out there.” This concept can often backfire. Teach your dog that their own pack can and will provide all the fun, stimulation and fulfilment required, so they are not constantly seeking and finding it elsewhere. When they are ready you can gradually allow more and more freedom.
• Fake it til you make it! Act as though your dog is already behaving perfectly and notice how your body language and voice changes. Focus on yourself (even try acting a little aloof and disinterested in them) when you are out and about with your dog. Feel secure in the knowledge that they are safe and under control (on the long lead) and concentrate on being relaxed and powerful.
• Until your “come” command is established, be mindful when calling your dog – ie try to only call them if you can ensure they will come, or else you will inadvertently teach them that “come” is optional. You need to follow through whether you are at home or out.
Happy dog training! If you find you are still having problems after trying these tips, we would advise a one on one session with a behaviour specialist or an in-home Dog Training session to work out what’s going on