We walk a LOT of dogs. Hundreds in fact. So believe us when we say we've seen most behaviours! One of the most common behaviour problems we come across is lack of recall - it can also be the most problematic, for obvious reasons! But we know that the reason is because it's not an easy thing to train, and that most of you want your dogs to have great recall. So here are a few of our top tips to help you with your recall training that you can start implementing right now!
1. Ditch your 'come' command
Sounds crazy, we know! But if you've been asking your dog to 'come' for months, or years, and it hasn't been working so far - chances are it's not ever going to. We can all replay that oh-so-familiar scene in our minds;
"Daisy, come! Come! COME Daisy. Cooommmmeeeee!!" High pitched squeaky voices, shouty voices, loud, quiet, you're calling out every which way but what does that word actually mean to Daisy now? Well, you've said it so many times it probably doesn't mean a whole lot anymore - which explains why she's still miles away, pre-occupied with sniffing out those bunny holes!
Take the opportunity now to choose a fresh word to use as your recall command. It could be anything, really, but we suggest to keep it relevant so that you'll remember it - 'here' and 'close' are great examples. You could even use a whistle, which actually has many advantages over a word - it will always emit a consistent sound, and will carry much further than your voice. The disadvantage is remembering to take it with you wherever you go with your dog.
The next important thing is to save your new recall word (or whistle) for times when you know it's going to work. The last thing you want to do is ruin this one, too!
2. Use rewards
We are all about the positive reinforcement methods of training. It's quick, it's kind and most importantly, it works! This means rewarding your dog for good behaviour, even when you haven't specifically asked for it. The best reward for a dog is, of course, food! When you're training your dog you'll probably find you have random treats in your pocket at all times and that's exactly what's going to help you. Reward your dog every time you see a behaviour you want to encourage them to keep doing. They catch on pretty quickly!
3. Don't make it too difficult for your dog
If you start your recall training in a busy park where there are lots of exciting things going on, guess what? Your dog is going to be far more interested in all those things. By trying to train recall in a scenario like this, you're not really giving him/her a fair shot. You need to set your dog up for success, which means making it easy and gradually working up to those situations.
The best way to start training recall is around the house and without your dog even trying. Start by rewarding them every time they come to you. If you don't have a treat a good pat or a scratch behind the ears will do! But treats do work best. Don't try to use your recall word immediately. Let your dog do the behaviour and have the reward a good few times first. Then add in your word when you know they're on their way to you. Eventually your dog will associate the word with their action and with getting a reward.
When you've mastered it around the house graduate to your fully fenced outside area where there are a few more distractions. Then out and about, quiet places to start with and very slowly building up to more busy places with more going on.
4. Give it time
Patience is absolutely essential. Don't try to run before you can walk - in this case that means make sure you' and your dog have the hang of one step before you move onto the next.
Always remember that we want to set our dogs up for success, not failure. Think to our own human behaviour as an example - how easy is it to give up on something when you're always getting it wrong? Yet, on the other hand, how encouraging is it to want to keep going, keep improving, when we're getting it right and keep getting positive feedback? That's how your dog feels, too.
Training doesn't happen overnight. It does take time and it's also an ongoing process. Even when you think your dog's got it, still give them the occasional reward for doing the right thing. It's just as easy for bad habits to form again.
5. Don't forget your other training!
Continue to work on your other training - don't forget it all to focus only on the recall. Reinforcing (by reward) all good behaviour will help your dog to realise that you are there to work with them, and they will be more likely to respond better to other aspects of training. Even basic things like 'sit' and 'shake hands' that they probably learnt as a puppy. If you've asked for it, and they do it, then reward it!
We hope that these basics will help you get started! If you have any other questions get in touch, we are always more than happy to point you in the right direction for further training from qualified local canine behaviourists. We are also always happy to reinforce your training during our solo walks with your dog, to compliment what you're already doing!