Always praise and reward your dog for coming to you. Touch his collar before giving the food reward. This way the dog doesn’t react to your hand moving towards him – we have all seen dogs who will run to their owners, but then back off as the hand approaches to hold the collar! If you make touching the collar part of the recall you will avoid this. If your dog is worried by your hand moving towards them, do it slowly and touch them on the chest to begin with until their confidence increases.
Never punish your dog when he comes back to you – no matter how long it has taken him.
Train and practice as much as possible.
Build up the distractions very gradually.
Decide on your recall cue (the word you want to use to mean ‘come to me’) and only use that word when your dog is guaranteed to come to you. If you call your word lots and your dog isn’t coming, you will just teach him to ignore that word!
Walk your dog on a long line/lead until you feel very confident that he will come back.
Stage One - introducing the basic idea that coming to you is a good thing Put some really tasty treats in your pocket and at random times, when you are in the same room or near the dog in the garden, call him to you in a happy voice, touch his collar, and give him a treat. After he has finished, say something like “good dog – off you go!” Repeat frequently during the day, for a few days, until he is coming to you quickly every time. You can also make this into a game. Call the dog to you, making sure you use his name and your ‘recall’ cue (e.g. “Rover, come”.) When he gets to you, drop a few treats on the floor and while he is eating them run backwards to a new location about 10 paces away, then call the dog again, dropping treats when he arrives. Repeat this a few times, although you will probably find that the dog is running with you as soon as they have eaten the treats! Keep repeating the ‘come’ cue though, as this game builds up a very good association for future recalls. You can reward with a toy on the last repeat.
Stage Two – coming when he can’t see you Now it gets even more fun for your dog! Do exactly the same as in stage one, but call him from another room or part of the house. When he comes every time, call him from the garden as well. Your dog should be having great fun by now trying to find you when you call him. Change the reward frequently – use different treats or reward him by playing a game with his favourite toy. Do this for at least a week and if he’s coming every time when you call, you can move onto the next stage. Stage Three - the great outdoors Find a quiet area - other dogs running around may be a distraction. It’s important your dog gets the command right every time now, then you can slowly build up to higher levels of distractions but only as long as your dog keeps getting it right. Keep your dog on the long line, so he can’t get away or out of sight. Let him go to the end of the lead and enjoy sniffing around. When ready, call him to you and wait. Don’t pull him to you - he must choose to come to you. When he does, touch his collar, give him his reward, praise, then “good dog – off you go!” and let him go off sniffing again. Repeat this several times during his walk, so that he learns that coming to you will not automatically mean it’s the end of his walk. Aim to do this outdoors training in different locations – i.e. the park, a friend’s garden, a new field, the woods, a country park etc. This will help your dog to learn to come to you wherever you are in the future. Never tell your dog off if he doesn’t come to you on command. If your dog thinks that you are going to punish him then he won’t want to come to you at all. Always praise him for coming to you, no matter how long it has taken him.
Stage Four – off lead completely Once your dog has learned to return every time when called on the long line, you can try letting him off the lead completely. Initially try this in a quiet area, so he doesn’t forget his training at the first sight of another dog! Again, build up the level of distractions slowly, so you can make sure he sticks to his training. If you are not careful, he could quickly go back to old habits. Let him have a play with other dogs if he’s friendly with them. Call him after a few minutes; he should come to you if you have built up the training slowly enough. It is a good idea to call him away from other dogs, reward him, and then send him off to play with them again. This way, he won’t learn that you only call him to remove him from play. You can also use this with other things that your dog finds distracting. Once he knows his recall command, start to gradually reduce the treats, but always give treats occasionally.
Make sure your walks are fun by taking his favourite toys and playing games, getting him to come to you and then letting him go again to play. If you keep his interest with enjoyable games and his focus on you he won’t want to run off in the first place.
Look out for my next post which can help you with dogs that are normally good at recall but cant resist the chase like my dog who cant resist a squirrel.