Recall is one of the top 5 bug bears that many of my clients struggle with. Having your dog come when called is not only practical and very satisfying, it's also fundamental for the safety of your dog and an absolute necessity whilst out in public.
We've all been there, at the dog park calling our dog, once, twice, or even ten times to no avail! It's a frustrating experience that we have all encountered at some point with our furry companions. My first dog was a Siberian Husky, so I consider myself to be a bit of a pro in frustration with recall. But it really doesn't have to be this way. It's pretty simple, by using certain techniques to engage and reinforce the behaviour we want, recall can be a breeze.
I often see the frustrated dog owner at the dog park patiently waiting for their dog to decide it's time to go home. There's no engagement between the both of them, and the dog will often avoid the owner all together.
Why does this happen? It is basically a break down in respect, communication and trust. People can often become angry and frustrated at their dog's behaviour, and so frequently enable the unwanted behaviour unwittingly. For example, many owners will call their dog and immediately leave the park, this is how it should be, but people so often forget that this takes practise and training to achieve.
When we start our training with our puppy, we often forget that puppy's grow so quickly, and advance in smarts. They learn very quickly, and without the correct guidance and structure, they can start to run rings around us, quite literally!
A typical example, a puppy excels at puppy school and is the perfect puppy for the first 4-6 months. Their recall is 100% in the home, garden and even at the dog park. But as the puppy grows and develops, their attention will start to wander, as do their noses and the need for social interaction with fellow canines. This is all perfectly normal and healthy, but we often forget to continue and practice recall in the correct manner during these stages. It is so important to practice, practice and practice some more for the first year of a puppy's life, in all situations and environments to avoid our pups becoming complacent.
How do I achieve great recall? I always keep my dogs engage in what I am doing, this is achieved with toys, balls and food rewards (all dogs are different, whatever their fun thing is, use it to your advantage!) I want my dogs to be focussed on me when I ask, and just in general. I enforce this by being a 'positive' to return to.
Most of the dogs I work with are very quick to respond to what I want, and I alway use positive reinforcement to achieve this - when the dog returns, I always reward with a toy (squeaky toys can work wonders for getting a dog to interact), treat or vocal praise/affection. I then allow the dog to go away again. This is very important as we do not want the dog to think that every time they return to us it's time to leave the park.
Trust will get you so much more than non-trust. Dogs, like ourselves do not trust easily, we need to build a bond, a mutual respect of trust. I always build a bond before I ask for anything from a dog I am working with. But for an owner who's struggling with recall, this can mean going back to the basics and getting their dog to respect and engage in what they're wanting from the home.
How I work with new clients
I let all new clients go free (on a lone long line) for the first 10 minutes at the dog park - there's very little point in trying to work with a dog that is overly stimulated and energised at the dog park, by allowing them to blow-off steam, this then enables you to engage and start to implement what is required.
I then encourage my dog to engage with me and give me eye-contact with food or toy rewards, remember we are building trust. Once I have established this, I start to practise recall. I begin to reinforce my recall at really short distances and build up from there. For example, I will wait for the dog to be far enough away so they can hear, but close enough to engage. This means that they are approximately 5 feet away to start, I will then call their name, when they respond and come back to me, I highly reward. This is practised over and over again. The distance is then built up to 10 feet and so forth.
* Get your dog to engage with either food, toys or vocal praise/touch. Always be a positive.
* Never call your dog back and directly leave the park. Call them back and praise, then let them go again. Practise this several times.
* Start at really short distances and build up. If necessary use a long-line.
* Always be calm, even when you're feeling overwhelmed.
* Dog are smart, keep ahead of them at all times. If your dog is likely to act up and avoid you, use a long-line to re-establish respect and interaction.