Behaviourist's corner

‘Here, boy!’ – how to improve your dog’s recall

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Does your pooch have perfect hearing – except when it comes to his name? Our expert explains what recall training entails and why it’s so important. Plus, we outline three steps to help ensure your dog will soon be bounding back to you on command.

What is recall training?

Recall works by ensuring your dog finds the idea of coming back to you more attractive than any other distraction on offer. For example, it aims to override your dog’s natural instinct to chase whatever he sees by making your call more rewarding to him. This is done through a combination of treats, rewards and positive reinforcement.

Reliable recall is important, as without it, any time that your dog spends off-lead could potentially be dangerous to him – he may come into contact with other dogs who aren’t under their owners’ control, or you may need to call him away from water or wildlife. Once you can trust your dog to come when called, he’ll be able to enjoy running around freely and you can be sure you have the control needed to keep him safe.

The right reward

To start recall training with your dog, you’ll need to have already established a strong bond with him and should know him well. ‘This is because you’ll need to understand what really motivates him,’ says APBC-accredited behaviourist and dog trainer Karen Wild. ‘You’ll have to work out which rewards your dog really enjoys, so that the command to come back to you will always be more appealing than whatever else he is doing.’

This could be a small, tasty snack (for example, chicken), a favourite toy, or a game with you – whatever is of the highest value to him. ‘Your dog needs to learn that you are worth listening to, regardless of what else is going on,’ Karen says.

Patience and practice

Once you know what your dog reacts best to, patience and repetition will then be the key to achieveing recall – as Karen found when she trained her rescue terrier, Pepper. ‘She’s a real chaser who just loves to run, so we started recall training while still on the lead – first with a normal 4ft one, and then by progressing to a much longer 30ft lead. It took lots of practice, twice a day on every walk, and about six weeks in total. It’s still an ongoing process, but now Pepper always comes when called.’

But remember: keep training sessions focused and fun. ‘Your dog should never feel stressed or anxious, so never shout or make coming back to you a punishment,’ Karen says. ‘This should be an enjoyable and stimulating experience for your pooch; stop training as soon as he begins to lose concentration and try again another day.’

Three steps to excellent recall

  1. Choose a quiet area away from distractions. Put your dog on a short lead, call his name and give him his preferred reward and plenty of praise as soon as he comes. (You could also use a whistle, clicker or any other sound that your dog can learn to associate with the word ‘come’ and with treats from you.) Practise this step regularly (daily, on every walk) for at least four to six weeks, while gradually lengthening his lead up to 30ft.
  2. Once your dog comes to you every time, take him to a more open space such as a park. However, initially keep him away from other dogs or ‘must-explore’ areas such as sandpits. Put him on the lead to practise at first then, if that’s successful, let the lead trail on the ground. Call him when he’s not too far away – reward him as soon as he comes to you – and repeat this for the duration of your walk, gradually building up the distance he can run before being called.
  3. Keep in mind that dog recall training is an ongoing process, and not a once-off, so keep practising on each walk (and keep heaping on the praise). This is the best way to ensure your dog stays on track and remains consistently good at recall.
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