I often ask owners what the most important thing they would train is. And it’s always recall.
Recall means our dogs can have more freedom, going to new places, sniffing things, saying hi to dogs without being restricted by a lead, or us having the stress of watching our dogs hare off into the distance with absolutely nothing we can do about it!
Due to the substantial rise in dog owners in recent times, I feel now is a good time to highlight the importance of recall and ways to achieve it!
So, what do I mean by recall. I mean your dog coming back to you when you call them. Ideally this would be on the first call, and coming all the way in, close enough so you could attach a lead if needed.
I have had my fair share of experience with unruly (but well meaning) dogs joining me on walks with my dogs while their owners half-heartedly call from a distance to no avail. You may think this isn’t the end of the world but what if the dog they have chosen to join isn’t overly keen on the idea of a new playmate? It can cause a lot of stress for owners and dogs.
Contrary to popular belief, you can start your recall training from the day you bring your puppy home. If, for example, you collect your puppy at 8 weeks of age, you have a good couple of weeks at least to practice your recall before they can even get into mischief on walks!
Let me just add, I know 100% recall isn’t always feasible. Show me someone who can recall their dog from a herd of Kangaroo’s hopping past! But it should be good enough that you can recall your dog from the ‘normal’ things, like passing dogs, people, wildlife or if they venture out of sight.
So, how do we achieve this level of recall.
- Firstly, take treats out with you. No, I don’t mean one or two pieces of their dinner, I mean the GOOD stuff. Give them a reason to think you’re the bee’s knees in the early stages.
- Secondly, recall games! I like to think of recall as the BEGINNING of fun, not the end of fun.
- In the garden with your puppy, have a handful of tasty treats and throw one out to the side, when your puppy goes to eat the treat, call your puppy to you (Fido come!) then throw a treat out to your other side. Once they get the hang of this you can start to add some steps to build distance.
If you play this game a few times a day, your dog will be sprinting to you with eager eyes in no time!
Remember to start your training in an easy environment. In the living room or garden is ideal so distractions are low.
- When you first take your puppy out, they are likely to be like Velcro! This is their first experience of the big wide world, so it makes sense for them to want to stick close to their people. Use this to your advantage by engaging with them and dropping them treats for checking in with you. If they venture off a little bit, call them back and start your recall game!
- Use a long line! It is unlikely that your dogs’ recall will be perfect from day 1, you might find they are rather chuffed with the idea of a cuddle from a passing person or are keen on a game with every dog they see. Management is essential to prevent unwanted behaviours setting in and your dog learning to ignore you.
Have a long line trailing and practice your recall game. When you come to pass someone/a dog, count to 3 before calling them and resuming your game. If they don’t join you, use the long line to prevent them from ignoring you. Just coax them back in and give them some praise for doing so.
This way, they won’t learn that they can do as they please and potentially get in trouble!
In terms of socialisation, don't worry about your puppy not being able to play with every dog. This is a vital lesson for every puppy, as not all dogs will be playmates! This will teach them how to manage their frustration and pay attention to you on YOUR walks.
I’m aware I’ve directed this blog at puppies, but you can start/restart your recall training at any age. For example, it is pretty common for adolescence to have a less-than-ideal effect on recall! Don’t be afraid to go back to basics, make it easy and engage with your dog. If they feel like they can ‘win’ at the training game, then they will be more inclined to play!
Practice makes perfect, so keep at it and make sure its super fun!
Happy training and good luck!