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How to improve your dog’s recall training

In partnership with Dave Wardell, Police Dog Trainer

When training a dog, it’s exciting to teach them the fun tricks to be able to show off to your friends but recall is often overlooked. Having a reliable recall is one of the most important basic obedience skills but can sometimes be the hardest to teach and isn’t always seen to be as exciting as some of the other commands.

With the expert help of police dog handler and trainer Dave Wardell, we take a look at the importance of recall, why your dog might be struggling to listen and how to make it fun for you and your pooch.

Why is a reliable recall so important in dogs?

If your dog is straying towards an unsafe situation, such as a busy road, an out of control dog or livestock, having a reliable recall is vital in keeping them safe. Recall can also be important if you believe your dog is at risk of being stolen, especially as some leads can be easily cut.

Once you are able to trust your dog to come when called, you can let them off the lead knowing that you have the control needed to prevent a number of dangerous and life-threatening situations that they could find themselves in.

Why do some dogs struggle with recall?

All dogs are different, and difficulties during training can vary between each pooch, but here are just some of the reasons as to why the recall command might not be working:

Not the right reward

When training a dog, reinforcing good behaviour is really important. The same can be said for recall, your dog has to have a good enough reason to want to come back to you. Using a reward to help motivate your dog helps them learn that your command is worth listening to, regardless of what is going on around them.

Dog treats, a tasty snack, their favourite toy or positive praise can all help make returning to their human both fun and rewarding.

Negative associations

It’s easy to get frustrated with your dog when they don’t listen, but if you have ever punished your dog for failing to return to you in the past your dog might remember this and may not want to come back to you when you call in fear of being reprimanded.

Too many distractions

Your dog might come when called in a quiet environment, but if they haven’t been sufficiently trained to listen around distractions, they might decide to ignore your command. Gradually increasing distractions during training can help ensure your dog will listen regardless of what is going on around them.

Not understanding the command

A dog can often have difficulty understanding a command if several different words were used during their training. Choose one word as your command, such as ‘come’ and stick to it. Make sure other family members use this same word too to really help your dog master recall.

How to teach your dog recall

Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, it’s never too soon or too late to start on recall training. Here are some of our top tips on teaching your dog to come when they’re called:

  • Start your recall training at home where there are no distractions and it’s safe
  • Use a reward they’ll love, from a yummy treat to their favourite toy, or both!
  • Once you have a reliable recall and you know you can depend on your dog to come to you when called, try it while they are off the lead in a safe area
  • Remember, it’s important to always end your training on a positive note! This way your dog will know that training means fun and you’ll have greater success mastering this key skill.

Dave Wardell’s Ping Pong technique

You’ll need:

  • Long lead
  • High-quality treats
  • Favourite toys
  • Two people

Here are Dave’s step-by-step instructions to help teach your dog recall:

  • You’ll both need high-valued treats or your dog’s favourite toy before you start
  • Start a few feet apart with your long-line lead trailing on the floor
  • One person needs to get the dog’s attention by using your recall command like “come”
  • Feed the dog a handful of the treats then go completely quiet, stand up straight and don’t look at the dog
  • At the same time, the other person should come alive and call the dog’s name, saying the word “come” and creating some movement
  • When the dog goes to them, they will need to offer some treats to reward the wanted behaviour
  • Keep repeating until you get further and further apart

You can scroll down to watch the training video.

Key things to remember while you train:

  • Always remember that once you’ve given your dog the fuss and treats, you then go absolutely still, quiet and avoid eye contact.
  • Be patient, your dog is still learning. It might not go as planned the first few times, but keep trying!

Other things to consider while training

  • If you see your dog walking back towards you at their own accord, use this to your advantage and call out your command word. Once they’ve arrived at your feet, reward them for their good behaviour. This can be helpful as a training refresher for those dogs who have already mastered their recall to ensure it remains fresh in their minds in an emergency.
  • Don’t repeat the same command endlessly from the same spot in hopes that your dog will listen to you in the end. Here, you might need to gain their attention by running away from them or walk towards them with a treat in your hand and then walk backwards so they follow you.
  • If you have the problem of your dog running off (rather than refusing to come back when called), do not let your dog off the lead on walks until they are suitably trained to stay close during their daily adventures.
  • Dogs are able to recognise patterns in their training, so if you constantly put the lead back on when they return to you, they’re not likely to want to come back when called.
  • Always keep the rewards exciting and rotate between their favourite things if necessary. This will keep your dog guessing and they’ll love coming back to you.
  • Never punish your dog if they don’t come back to you or don’t understand what’s expected from them. Recall training isn’t a one-off and requires constant practice as they grow and is an ongoing process even when they’re older.

Other recall training exercises:

For other training tips and advice don’t forget to visit our dog advice section.

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