In the first blogs in our behavioural series we explored the most effective, basic things you can do in order to help your Dog lead a happy life and proactively avoid behavioural issues. Having done so we will now move on to look at specific behavioural issues and how to prevent them and resolve them
The first behaviour we will tackle is recall.
Surprisingly getting their Dog to return to them reliably is fairly low down on most Dog owner’s wish list. However, teaching a Dog this skill is incredibly important.
Dogs will often run off to explore their environment unaware of the potential danger around them such as passing cars or other Dogs who might not wish to be approached. Certain people or small children might not wish to interact with your Dog or it might be that you have concerns about environmental hazards your Dog could face while out with you.
By ensuring your Dog will reliably return to you on command you can ensure that you are able to control any situation you and your Dog are presented with. Further to this, having your Dog return to you on command means that your Dog can enjoy the freedom of exploring the world without having to be on a lead at all times and you can enjoy walking with them without constantly having to control their on-lead behaviour.
Why do some Dogs struggle with recall?
The vast majority of Dogs spend a large percentage of their life indoors so it is only natural that when they do get the opportunity to explore the outside world that they get incredibly excited. This excitement coupled with all of the sights, sounds and smells that stimulate their senses and pique a Dog’s curiosity mean that they are often highly distracted and find it difficult to follow simple commands. On top of this they are enjoying themselves so much that they don’t want the experience to end, they want to carry on exploring not return to the owner who might then insist on taking the Dog home again.
When faced with an unresponsive Dog owners often become frustrated. It may be that they are trying to ensure their Dog’s safety in having the Dog return to them or simply that it’s time to go, but whatever the case when a Dog fails to return upon command it is instantly stressful for the owner. This stress often causes the owner to raise their voice and use a harsher tone of voice. They may start waving their arms about or walking toward the Dog with the intention of putting the Dog back on the lead. Dogs are incredibly good at reading our body language and upon seeing this change of demeanour in their owner it is not surprising that the Dog, wanting to avoid the confrontation, does the opposite of what their owner wants and may even move further away
Of course there is also the fact that returning to their owner upon command is simply a skill that the Dog has never been taught
How do you ensure a reliable recall?
As with almost any modification to a Dog’s behaviour this takes practice and persistence on the owner’s behalf
Returning upon command when practiced and repeated will become a habit for the Dog over time, but to begin with owners need to start by making returning worth it for their Dog
Like us, Dogs tend to engage in behaviours which are rewarding and make them feel good
Remember, when outside the Dog is having a great time so coming back to you has to be more interesting or rewarding than what they are doing in order to make it worth while
To start with purchase a long training lead that allows your Dog to move a significant distance away from you. Allow your Dog to roam as far as the lead will allow them to. When the Dog does eventually return to you, reward this behaviour with a really tasty treat or lots of praise and repeat this each and every time the Dog makes the decision to return.
After a few repetitions add the command you intend to use when you want the Dog to return to you just as the Dog starts to do so and then reward them as usual.
You can then move onto giving the Dog the command you have established before they start to move towards you. Once again when the Dog returns you should reward them. This skill needs to be practiced frequently in short bursts over a period of weeks. Do take into account that each Dog will learn at a different pace
Once the Dog is responding to the command reliably on the lead, it is time to try them off the lead. As with any training, it is a great idea to stack the odds in your favour. As such, you might find it easier to start the off-lead recall training at a quiet time of day when there are fewer people and Dogs around which can act as distractions It is also a good idea to choose a quiet, secure area such as a tennis court. If you are using treats you might wish to start this training before the Dog has eaten so that the treats are of a higher value to the Dog.
In this scenario, let the Dog off their lead. Allow the Dog time to explore the environment before you begin and give the command and reward as usual. Again do this in short, frequent bursts. You can then reward the Dog by taking them on a walk straight after
Realistically it can take months to embed this skill into your Dog’s repertoire so don’t get too frustrated if progress is slow.
Once your Dog has mastered this skill in a secure, quiet area, you can then move onto trying this in a more difficult situation where there are more distractions. At this point it might be best to walk the Dog before starting the training so that they have had a chance to get rid of some of their energy and explore the environment a little bit
For recall use the tastiest treats you possibly can so that coming back to you is really rewarding
Stay calm and use a light, loving tone of voice when giving the command or giving praise so that your Dog wants to come to you when asked to.
Make coming back to you fun by making it a game – Use trees to hide from your Dog and use the command to begin a really fun game of hide and seek
If your Dog is reluctant to return to you, do not chase them as this can become a game. If it is safe to do so, walk away from your Dog as they are far more likely to follow
We truly hope this helps, but should you need any further assistance with recall, speak to the team at Wags Dog Day Care and School of Excellence