Building on recall training

Revisiting recall, adding distance and avoiding distractions.

24th January 2024

As part of our wonder-fur-l Dog Training campaign, we're shifting it up a gear by building on the basics we covered in our recall training video.

In case you missed it, check out video here: Basics of recall training

At this point in your training journey, your dog should respond to their name and your chosen recall cue. Your dog should also be following you, without a food lure or a hand gesture, as you step back. However, at times, a hand gesture can be helpful when making it clear to your dog which training exercise you’re working on.

But, before we continue, you’ll need to make sure you’ve found the right reward for your dog! Having a ‘high value reward’ in place, that your canine companion loves, will help to motivate them to return to you.

Don’t forget to visit our marker training video for advice on how to ‘mark and reward’ correctly, whenever your pet responds to your instructions.

Goal of recall training

Ulti-mutt-ly, the goal of recall training is to trust your dog will listen to you while they’re off their lead. But, before leaping ahead and giving your pooch freedom in a public space (like a park, for example), it’s important to keep them safely under control on a lead.

We recommend investing in a soft webbing or waterproof long line (a long rope that you can attach to your dog’s collar or harness), which allows you both to work safely at a distance, without the risk of your dog running away.

Please note: It isn’t recommended that you choose a ‘flexi lead’ as a long line, because the plastic case of a flexi lead is easily dropped and can spook some dogs.

Help your dog get used to a long line

For many dogs, recall training will be the first time they’ve encountered a long line.

If you’re following our training videos, your dog is likely confident with their recall training using a normal lead. First, find an area that allows plenty of space for you to distance yourself from your dog, while maintaining safe control using a long line.

Next, to help them get used to a long line, drop treats on the floor, run backwards a few steps (carefully!), then say your dog’s name and recall cue. After that, when your pooch runs back to you, mark and reward.

It’s crucial not to repeat their name, or recall cue, more than once because your pet’s attention should always be focused on you.

Techniques to maintain your dog’s focus

Some dogs may not respond right away though, and that’s okay – it’s what training’s all about! So, here are some tips to help you keep the training session on track:

Step 1 – Wait a few seconds after calling them, to see whether your dog will return by themselves. Remember to mark and reward if they do come back to you!

Step 2 – Take a step or two to the side, to try and catch your dog’s attention. By catching their eye, you may remind your dog what they’re supposed to be doing, and they might run back to you. If they do, don’t forget to mark and reward them.

Step 3 – If the above steps don’t work, walk up to your dog, hold a treat in front of their nose, and guide them back to where you called them from.

Top tip: Gather the long line as you walk towards your dog, so it isn’t slack enough for them to wander away!

Ping Pong game

This exercise needs two people for it to work, though it’ll make recall training far more fun for your canine companion!

The ‘ping pong game’ involves practising recall by having your dog run back and forth between two people, in response to your chosen recall cue.

To begin, make sure each person carries the same-level high value rewards for your dog – so you’re setting everyone up for success from the start.

Step 1 – Have your helper stand at a distance from you, that’s close enough to allow your dog to move freely between both of you while attached to their long line.

Step 2 – ‘Person one’ then says your dog’s name and recall cue. After calling them, wait for your dog to reach person one before they’re given a mark and reward.

Step 3 – Once person one has given your dog lots of praise, ‘person two’ then needs to call your dog using their name and recall cue. As before, once your dog reaches person two, mark and reward.

Step 4 – Repeat the above process a few times.

Remember: Only the person who’s called your dog should be rewarding them! If both of you praise your dog at the same time, it could confuse them.

Recalling from distractions

You can strengthen your pooch’s recall by practising the skill of calling them away from distractions.

Some pet parents find it challenging to get their dog’s attention, once their best pal has discovered an interesting scent or another fascinating distraction. But, if you think of your dog’s sniffing as how you feel when immersed in a good book, it’s easier to understand why it’s difficult to regain their attention. After all, nobody likes being disturbed while they’re reading, and it’s the same for your dog while they’re exploring an exciting, new scent!

Since we’re not always as interesting to our dogs as a good smell, it’s not worth trying to use recall while their head is down and they’re sniffing. The second they lift their head or look away from where they’re sniffing, say their name and recall cue. If they return to you straight away, remember to reward them and provide plenty of praise – but, if they don’t return immediately, follow our top tips above.

Not quite ready to try recall training in a park or field? It’s no problem – there are ways to bring the outside into your training session! You could collect ‘distracting’ scents from the park by popping some grass, leaves, or other ‘smelly’ outdoor items into a sandwich bag and placing them along your recall route. All you’ll need to do then is practise the skills you’ve learned so far.

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