To start with, a puppy up until about the age of 5-6 months will be going through what is known as the “puppy attachment period”. During this stage, the puppy will not rush off to pastures new! It will stick quite close by, and the older it gets the more its confidence will grow to explore its environment and move further away from its owner. It is during this stage we should “cash in” on this period.
Start training the Recall early and reward your dog with something it LOVES every time it comes when called during this time. Change direction frequently, do not keep following your puppy/dog, recall a lot and certainly every time you change direction, rewarding when they come.
Lastly, I make sure the puppy learns (yes, learns, as this is not a behaviour it is born with) to play with toys. If my dog loves toys and I always take a special toy that it loves on walks only (not to be used indoors/garden, this toy is for walks only, your dog can have other toys indoors) then I am engaging in a game with my dog and having FUN, so he/she wont want to go off and do its own thing constantly.
Now, let’s take a look at how a lot of people train this exercise in the early crucial periods. To start with they are usually too afraid to let the puppy off the leash in case it doesn’t come back. By the time they do, the dog is already well on the way to the end of the attachment period. The owner will use a command such as “come” or “here”,or they may use a whistle as Marie has mentioned in her excellent post on conditioning to a whistle. Some people that have a problem with the recall will often go and purchase a whistle in the wrong belief it will cure the problem, especially if they buy a whistle that has been sold as a “dog whistle” believing they have a magic formula. But you have to train to the whistle, just as you do the command “come” or “here”.
So, now we have Mr. & Mrs. Way with their pet dog “Pip”. It’s the first walk at the local park and they are going to let Pip off the leash. Pip walks ahead of them a little, sniffing and exploring, but every so often turns round and checks her owners are still coming. Sure enough they are, where ever Pip goes they follow. After walking round the park, Mr. & Mrs. Way call Pip to them with the command “Pip, come”, as Pip was quite close anyway and recognized her name she turned round and looked and took the few steps back to her owners…she was then put back on the leash and walked home.
Pip has now been punished for coming when called for the first time! The pleasure of being free was cut off and the walk ended…with the two words “Pip, come”.
At home, Pip has done something she shouldn’t, so the owners call her over, once again using her name and the command “come” they then scold her for her misbehaviour. The next day they want to give her a bath and clip her nails, something Pip is not very keen on…once again they use her name and the command “come”. Several days/weeks later whilst out walking at the park again, Pip is enjoying her freedom, she has also found some very nice dogs to play with and realises they are great fun, much better than her boring owners that just trot along behind her! As the owners begin the fatal last steps of the walk, heading back towards the gate they will be leaving at, Pip hangs back to prolong her game with her buddies. Mr. & Mrs. Way call her in the usual way, but Pip ignores them and continues playing as this is much more rewarding than the awful words “Pip, come”. The owners get a little frustrated and call her several times more, each time Pip continues her game and every time the owners call they are now training Pip to ignore the command and continue to play. Eventually they go and get Pip, put her on the lead and go home.
As each day passes, Pip is getting worse and worse and coming back, she is being taught to ignore the word “come” and the owners are getting irate at having to go and get her, she knows they will go and get her eventually as she is training them to come to her instead of the other way round! But this day, the owners have had just about enough, they are late for work and when they go and get her they give her a good telling off and a slap.
Pip still does not come back when called, but she does keep a beady eye on her owners because she is waiting for them to walk towards her, as they near her she runs out of their reach so as to avoid the punishment.
This is how the problem develops and unwittingly is trained by the owners without realising it. I should also add that in order to put the dog back on the lead you are required to touch its collar, many dogs have an aversion to this as they have the collared grabbed many times a day at home to haul them off the bed, chair, settee, etc. Which should never be done!
Now for how to overcome the problem. We need to re-teach, starting from scratch. I am going to use “food” as the reward for the start of this training, along with physical and verbal praise. You can then use toys once the command has been taught.
During this programme, when you take your dog out for a walk and reach the area you would normally let it off leash, I want you to put a long line on instead, but a longline must NEVER be attached to a collar, its dangerous and could injure your dog – a longline should only be attached to a body harness. You can easily make one yourself but it must be “rot proof” so when it gets wet, it does not become heavy. No clip should be on it, you tie it on to the harness and it needs to be 25 foot in length. A retractable lead will not work for this exercise as it is too heavy and because its designed to always have tension the dog will also learn to pull on the lead to get the next piece out. We have to stop the dog ignoring your attempts to call it, so we are taking the option away and “setting your dog up to be successful at a recall”.
Play, have fun with your dog on the long line, but do not let it off yet.
Recall in house and garden
If your dog does not recall when you call it within your home & garden on the first command, then start here using its main food as the reward. If it does, then go straight to long line recall training.
For a young dog that is being fed more than twice a day, divide each of its meals into three – five equal portions. For a dog that is being fed twice a day, divide each meal into five-six equal portions.
Now put each portion in a Rattle Box – this can be a tupperware container or empty margarine box you have washed well. Place these Rattle boxes around the home. Now go to the first one and shake it if using dried food or tap lid if using wet food, at same time say your dogs name and recall command i.e. “Pip Come” in a really upbeat manner. Praise your dog as it comes towards you, then give it that portion. Continue until you have no portions left, your dog must not miss any of its food portions, so if it ignores your command, go up and show it the food portion and try again. If still not interested, the food is not salient enough, adding something like a pilchard mashed into the food should help.
After one week, review your dog’s progress, if he is coming readily, without hesitation every time, then move to the next stage. If it is not 100% continue doing the above for a further week, then if at the second week it still has not improved, speak to me. Most owners see a good improvement in the first week. This is done inside your house/garden and many owners will wail at me “we don’t have a problem in our house/garden, it’s only when we go out!”. Never mind…do it in the house/garden, we are totally retraining to make it absolute and make it a great game to the dog!
Lastly proof it by having someone make a fuss of your dog or play a small game whilst you use your Rattle Box and call them away, then reward.
Long Line Training
Now we can start outdoors in safe locations using our longline attached to a body harness ( Never attach a longline to a collar or a head collar you can damage your dog!) A good soft body harness will not cause any pain or injury.
Hold the long line in one hand only, do not wrap it round your hand and wear a glove so you do not get rope burn. If the line gets tangled between your dogs legs, just stop them for a moment, go up and pull some out from where you tied it on harness, then walk forward and it should become untangled. This is better than lifting your dog’s legs to free it as you could, if not lifted properly, hurt them.
Let them have a sniff or toilet for a few moments, then do a few recalls by calling your dog using its name and recall command – click the moment he looks at you, then praise as he comes towards you, give treat and let dog explore some more. Repeat 2-3 times. If the dog ignores your first command, gently give a light tug and release, no more than if I called your name and you did not hear me, I may walk up and lightly tap your shoulder. Then starts walking backwards, the moment the dog looks in your direction, click and praise it as it comes up before giving the treat.
Now have some fun and play using toys or food to play games with – EVERY dog, no matter what breed, needs to learn YOU are so much fun to be with on walks! Most owners that request help for a recall have usually not taught this, but instead go on walks and chat to people/chat on phone etc whilst the dog is having great fun with other dogs and then does not want to leave that and come away.
Once you no longer need to give a light tug & release, you can drop the long line and continue the training, if at anytime the dog does not respond on first command, pick line up and gently give your light tug & release before dropping it again. Once you no longer give any light tug’s & releases you can remove the long line.
Recall train for about 1-2 minutes before breaking off and having 5-`10 minutes of great fun with your dog, then repeat.
Start in an area with no distractions, once 100% in that area move on to an area with a few distractions, once 100% there, move to an area with lots of distractions.
But please remember although recall training is very important it is just as important to teach your dog what fun you are to be with on walks because otherwise he will go “self employed” and find his own fun by chasing small furry animals, racing off to play with other dogs, taking other dogs toys away and wont give back etc.