I cannot stress enough the importance of establishing a solid recall command. This training should begin the minute your new puppy or dog arrives in your home. However, if you have already run into trouble then the following advice will give you a realistic perspective on how to correct it.
Dogs should have the opportunity to run free, it provides an opportunity to display innate (normal) dog behaviour, get rid of excess energy and interact with other dogs. That said, off lead time can only be permitted if the dog is safe and under the full control of the owner. Any dog deemed out of control on public or private land will put an owner at risk of prosecution under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Many adult dogs with poor recall have other relationship, or social issues so in these cases it may be necessary to enlist the help of a suitably qualified and registered behaviour practitioner, especially if the poor recall is accompanied by other behaviour concerns.
If you are ready to begin your training then ensure you have patience in abundance, and time, - you will need to be working your dog for a minimum of 6-10 weeks. You will also need the following equipment:
We will work with a 3-phase plan of action, you should ensure your dog never has the opportunity to ignore you throughout the duration of this program.
Begin in the home by playing with your dog in the garden and around the house, getting them to follow you around the garden and reinforcing the contact with food or a toy. Then send your dog away and ignore them until you repeat the command.
Avoid using a command to begin with, just mark the interaction with a positive response then go about your business. Never chase the dog or allow them to end the interaction, keep it short and stay in control.
Introduce the long line and a muzzle if necessary at this stage,
(2- 4 weeks)
Long line in place all the time
Introduce the gun dog whistle. You will need a consistent sound attached to the recall exercise and your voice will not be strong or consistent enough. Source a good gun dog whistle such as the ACME 210.5.
Begin to associate this with food and returning to you indoors. So, as your puppy is running towards you (as practiced in phase 1), give 2 short beeps on the whistle and repeat when the dog is sat at your feet before delivering the food or toy reward.
If you wish to introduce a recall word then you can do so at this stage, keep it simple, be consistent, and heavily reward the good work.
Long line should still be on throughout this period and you may need to revisit this stage at a later date.
Take this period in 3 stages.
Weeks 4 – 6
Begin by ramping up your focused recall work with the long line attached to you the whole time, don’t drop it just yet. Do lots of changes of direction and make sure your dog is following you and showing an interest in your direction throughout. You should mix this work in with some basic obedience and self-control exercises – all of which are described in my book Puppy Coach – A Complete Guide to Raising a Puppy.
Weeks 6 - 8
As long as your training so far has gone to plan you can start to test your training here, leave the long line in place but periodically drop it, change direction and keep your dog’s interest by running away. If there are many distractions, then use these to test the strength of your training and call your dog to you and ask for the sit and wait. Continue to reward all the good stuff! The long line is there so that you can react appropriately should your dog choose to ignore your whistle. Don’t keep repeating the recall signal as you will desensitise the dog to the sound so just go and pick up the long line, take the dog out of the situation and step your training back a bit.
All dogs learn at different rates and if you have a particularly stubborn prey drive issue then this period will take longer.
Start mentally viewing your dog as ‘off lead’ now but leave the long line in place to avoid breaking down the work you have done so far – it is still early days. Arrive at the park, put your dog into a sit, switch from a normal lead to the longline and release your dog. If your dog goes left then you should go right, keep repeating this change of direction 4-5 times at the start of your walk until you are confident your dog’s eyes are on you.
Keep the walk progressive
Don’t stop and talk to people
Don’t keep calling your dog – make the interaction meaningful
Take your rewards out but use them at key times – no adlib feeding
Keep calm and focused
Above all – enjoy the walk, if it’s fun for you it will be fun for your dog!
Happy and safe walking J
For more advice and guidance on this subject and more please see my book and support videos: www.puppycoach.com
Jo Croft MSc