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.
How a recall can unintentionally go wrong:
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!
Recall training is such an easy thing to train & at the heart of it or if you like the “SECRET SAUCE” to a great recall is your dog seeing you as FUN to be with, loves being near you & focusing on you. We play “recall games” in our classes and on 121’s – if this is your dog struggle do get in contact, our recall success is 100%
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.