Recall Training

making the most of your dog walks

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“Trusting your dog to come back reliably when called is absolutely key to enjoying your dog walks together. However, it’s also one of the hardest things to train. Here are my top tips I have learned from years of training some very challenging dogs, so you can train your dog to recall each and every time." 

Dr Carri Westgarth, dog walking expert and Lecturer in Human Animal Interaction at the University of Liverpool, explains why recall is vital for enjoyable dog walks, and shares her top tips on how to train your dog to return successfully when called.

1. Get his attention

Firstly, it’s important to go back to basics. Does your dog know its name? If not, how can you expect to get his attention in a distracting environment? You would be surprised how many dogs think their name is “whatsis” or “biscuits”! Start by saying your dog’s name and giving him a treat, then repeat again. Then again. Soon your dog should look at you when he hears his name, because he’s expecting a tasty treat. If he does respond, praise and reward. If he doesn’t respond, don’t keep saying his name - that’s just teaching him to ignore it. Instead, wave the treat right in front of his nose and lure his face so that he’s looking at you before giving him the treat, repeating his name as you do so. If your dog is not interested in this treat, find a different one that he does like. It’s important to find out what really motivates your dog.

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2. Teach him to come to you

Once your dog knows his name, and you can get his attention, next teach him a word that means come to you. With your dog on the lead, or in a small safe space off the lead, hold a treat low down just in front of your knees. Say your dog’s name, the command “come” or “come here” and walk backwards. Your dog’s nose should follow the treat and your dog should be following you backwards. After a few steps, stop and give him the treat and praise. Repeat many times, going further and further with your dog running towards you. Again if your dog is ignoring you, stop and put the treat on his nose and lure him towards you, don’t keep repeating his name. The lead can be helpful here, but it’s not to be used to pull your dog towards you. Remember he won’t be attached to you by a lead in a real life situation. The lead can be used to stop your dog moving any further away though. Use your intelligence and motivation to get your dog to come with you - be as exciting as possible - a high voice and enthusiasm helps!

3. Walk away

The next training exercise is to get someone to hold your dog whilst you walk away. It helps here if your dog is attached to a long training lead that can be left to trail, to stop him moving any further away from you rather than reeling him in. Get someone to hold your dog by the collar or harness whilst you show him the treat he can win, and walk a few paces away. Then call your dog and ask your helper to let him go. Because you have left the dog, rather than the dog walking away from you, they are much more inclined to want to follow. How dare my owner leave me! Praise and reward with a treat when they get to you.

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4. Practice, practice, practice

Remember, recall training is a habit. Your dog’s instinct must be to go to Mum or Dad when they call. If he has to stop and think about whether he wants to go or not, you’re likely to lose! Practice is the key here. Practice for success, and don’t call your dog when it’s unreasonable to expect him to respond, such as when he’s just been let off the lead. The more times you call and he does not return, the more times he’s learning to ignore you instead. For this reason, only call your dog when you think you have a 90% chance of him responding. At the beginning of training, if he’s playing with another dog, don’t bother to call him away. Practice in gradually more difficult situations and over time your dog will learn to be called away from greater distractions until he responds even when playing with another dog. If in doubt, keep your dog on a lead or on a trailing line so that he can be managed that way instead.

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