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Recall success

19/06/2023 - General

One of the key things we want from our dog from a young age is a great recall! By a great recall, I mean having the dog come back to us anytime, anywhere and regardless of the distractions around them. Why is this important? Well, apart from the obvious safety reasons, we all want to avoid any embarrassment in a public place (remember Fenton?!), or maybe sometimes we’re in a rush and just want our dog back promptly.

Contrary to what we might have been told, puppies and dogs in general don’t come as a blank slate. There’s a lot of genetics involved (ever looked closely at your children and realised that although they are all different, one speaks or displays behaviours just like you? Scary!). Breeding traits, learning history and early socialisation (a topic we’ll cover in another blog!) are other factors. For one or all of these reasons, recall for some dogs will be easier to achieve than others.

There are a few golden rules I always use when it comes to recall:

  1. Decide on a recall word or cue/signal and make it consistent for everybody in the family.
  2. Reward the recall a lot! By that I mean every time the dog comes back! I always reward a check-in (when my dog looks at me) too!
  3. Have a happy tone when using your recall cue. Would you go to somebody that sounds angry or bored?
  4. Practice the recall word when you think your puppy/dog is succeeding (I want to avoid failures when I train my dog)
  5. Make recall training a part of your daily routine, for example, before giving your dog his breakfast, before opening the back door for your dog to go outside, or before you open a pack of treats (a definite easy win!).
  6. Turn your recall training into a game and get the whole family involved! I have seen many recall successes when children are involved. Try the ping-pong game where a child calls the dog to them, gives him/her a reward then another child calls the dog back and so on. Sounds fun, it is! Children are a bundle of energy, fast movements and happy, exciting noises, and this represents fun for most puppies and dogs. (Please note that children and puppies/dogs should always be supervised by a responsible adult. You must look for a qualified trainer or behaviourist if your puppy/dog is worried by children, noise or movement).
  7. Practice recall in low distraction environments and slowly build up to more distracting ones.
  8. It’s okay to use a bit of management. Long lines are great. (Ideally long lines should be attached to a correctly fitted harness for safety reasons and the dog should be comfortable wearing one).
  9. Change the reward! We can use different types of foods for recall, or we can use toys if our dog loves a game of tug or fetch! Some dogs might prefer to chase a squirrel-like toy rather than get a piece of food! Sometimes we can just praise our dogs and then allow them to have access to something they love, like a swim, or a long sniff by some trees or in long grass?
  10. Finally, it’s important to have fun with your dog! Your goal is to work as a team and make your dog think that coming back to you is the best thing in the world (even if you don’t have a piece of food or a toy!). 

A great mantra to learn and one that applies to any behaviour is: what gets rewarded, gets repeated! Teaching a good recall as soon as you get your puppy or new dog home is far easier than allowing him to practice ignoring you. It’s easier to prevent problems rather than try to fix them!
Good luck! Believe in your dog. Be the person your dog thinks you are and he will thank you one day! Believe me, that day will come when he chooses you over a squirrel, bird, cat, dog, or other person!
Emma Woolrich
Dog trainer
Charnwood Dog School