There are so many wonderful things that come from having a dog with a reliable recall. You will be able to let your dog off lead at the park, you can use it to stop your dog jumping on people and you can use it to keep your dog safe. At some stage, it may save your dog’s life.
Teaching your dog the recall is a process with stages of development. The achievement has to be made at one level before the next level is attempted. It is unfair to expect your dog to have a great recall at the park around other dogs without practising it in this environment and in easier situations first. There are stages to developing a good recall.
SET UP RECALLS
These are the easiest recalls to practice and teach your dog. A helper needs to hold on to your dog while you step away, your dog must be focused on you, and when your helper lets your dog go you call your dog to ‘come’. Do not forget to feed your dog for coming to you. This is a fun recall exercise because success is highly likely.
You can do the setup recall without a helper by walking away from your dog when they are off lead. Make sure you only do this in low distracting enclosed spaces. When your dog runs to catch up to you call them to ‘come’. Always move away from your dog for this exercise and wait for them to start running towards you before you call ‘come’.
CALLING AWAY FROM MINOR DISTRACTIONS
Start calling your dog away from smells on the ground, things they are looking at, and while you are walking them. The distractions have to be small, and your dog needs to be calm for this to work. Set up some distractions at home like someone holding a bit of food, or toys on the ground.
CALLING OUT OF PLAY
This is the beginning of a more advanced recall. Start practising calling your dog while they are playing with a toy or person in the house. Then you can start calling them away from calm dogs at the park and after they have been able to play with a dog for a little while. Remember, if you allow your dog to go back to what they were doing before you called them your chances of future recall success will be much higher.
CALLING YOUR DOG AS THEY ARE RUNNING AWAY FROM YOU
Only after success at previous stages should you attempt to practice calling your dog as they are running away from you. Start by calling your dog when they begin to set off in the direction of the distraction. As you become better you will find the distance you can call you dog from will increase. Initially, you may only achieve success at the first few steps your dog takes, but over time you will find that even if your dog sets off for a run and is 20 meters away you can call them and they will turn and come back to you. This is the Holy Grail of the recall.
Young puppies go through these stages quite quickly but will need consistent reinforcing over the first three years of their life for reliability. Older dogs may take several months to achieve the first few steps. Your dog must be successful at one stage before progressing to the next stage. If your recall is not working it means you have moved through this process too quickly, go back and consolidate the recall at the previous stage.
Practice every day, on every walk, and you will eventually be rewarded with a reliable recall from your dog. Reliable can be defined as occurring over 90% of the time. Nobody is perfect, and there will be times your dog will not hear you or will have a lapse in concentration. Learn from every mistake, and you will improve.
Having a dog with a reliable recall will give you so much more freedom to enjoy your walks and your dog. Your dog will be more content after an off-lead walk and easier to live with and train.