How To Improve Your Dog’s Recall

Welcome dedicated dog lovers to another free dog training advice blog from Jarvis Dog Whisperer. This month we’re talking about how to improve your dog’s recall (and the common mistakes owners make when training their dog to come back).

99% of owners we meet want to achieve perfect recall. It is the golden egg of dog training. An off lead dog always looks so happy, but in order to get there, they need to learn a really solid foundation for coming back on cue. That takes time but most of all, consistency.

100% reliable recall makes the world a safer place for all of us. Not only will it protect your dog from harm such as getting lost, run over or shot by a farmer, it is the law to ensure your dog is under control in public.

There are ten million reasons someone might not want your dog near them. Whatever their reason is none of our business. What matters is that we respect others. Never allow your dog to approach another human or animal without consent. Dogs approaching without consent are technically out of control in a public place and could face legal action.

Noone wants that – we just want happy, safe animals. Let’s crack on shall we?

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Mistakes Owners Make Training Recall

1. You don’t have a recall command

Dogs needs more than just their name to be called back successfully. We like to use “Dwight, come here!” with our Border Collie. This way the dog’s name is used to capture the dog’s attention and they are ready for the cue to recall. The cue is always followed by a reward and this is how the dog learns to come closer. The faster they return, the bigger the handful of moreish delights.
It is good to note here that we never use any of his silly, squishy nicknames (Puppy-pants, Mr. Sparkle, Big-Pig, Woofpup) during training or away from home. He has one name that is used consistently for recall and any other command or cue. Dwight. Make sure your family are all on the same page with phrasing.

2. The dog is only expected to return within 10 feet of the owner

It’s hard to notice the sneaky slip-ups in our day to day life with our dogs. Often poor recall starts at home.
When you call your dog to the sofa and they don’t fancy it, what do you do? If you call them in the garden and they only come within 6-10 feet of you, what happens next? Do you give up? Is there a decent reward present or just a pat on the head? Do you let them “get away with it” because you’re at home and it doesn’t really matter? This is the beginning of inconsistencies forming in your training and it is a blighter.
Recall should be defined as coming right to your feet, within touching distance. The dog needs to wait or sit and only walk away when they have been released. This needs to be the case everywhere – even in your home.
Next time you see your dog, call them right to your feet and touch their collar as you reward. This makes emergency recall easier and the dog will not run away when it’s time to get the lead on.
You will improve your dog’s recall immensely with this level of consistency.
3. This brings us onto the most important part of dog training. Where is your dog’s reward?
We all like to get paid for good work and dogs are no different. Your dog always needs a reward for carrying out a cue correctly. Every time! What’s in it for them today? What do they love most?
Is it a favourite treat? Kibble or a toy? You should not be leaving the house without some kind of incentive.
Be treat heavy and see the huge difference in your dog’s attention span. Fading out rewards should be a gradual process, especially if your dog is not fully trained yet. If you’re struggling with a fussy eater, try engaging prey drive with a toy that will keep their eyes on you. We like these ones.

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4. Practice, practice, practice!

Most dogs and puppies need 1000s of dress rehearsals in parks, private fields and on long lines until they’re about 12-18 months old before being set free in shared public spaces. You need to know they are 100% reliable around all distractions. That’s a big ask of a young dog.
What we see is a majority of owners will get their dog to about 6 months old, see their recall is bang on the money and off comes the lead – but wait. This is the age where lots of dogs gain confidence, experience changes in hormones, become easily distracted by other dogs or tap into those hunting, prey drive or herding instincts you were almost certain weren’t going to appear.
And believe me, it only takes one squirrel, on one walk to give you the heart attack of your life.

This is especially true of teenage dogs

Teenage dogs often experience setbacks and relapses in training, especially if they are a highly intelligent breed. They can behave as if they have forgotten everything you ever trained for.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a completely normal stage of growing up but it also means you need a long line as your dog’s seatbelt. Just in case. Better to be safe than sorry. Trust me, you will spend a lot less time with a dog on lead in the long run if you commit to training consistently in the first 2 years.

5. No release command

Your dog needs to have a verbal cue when it’s time to wander off again. Otherwise they will never understand the process. They will think [DOG NAME], come!” means “come and loiter for a second and then charge off again”. This isn’t helpful in an emergency.
We realise our dog by saying “go sniff”, but many people like to say “break” or “free” which are both just as effective. Try to choose a release that doesn’t sound like anything else in your dog’s repertoire.

6. Lack of heel work

Loose lead walking is KING when it comes down to recall.
Focus and heel training lays the foundations of being out and about with your dog. If your dog has made an association that the lead going on means pull like billy-oh their recall is likely to be non-existent.
Your dog needs to learn that the lead means it’s time to think as a team. This means (oh yeah, you guessed it) being heavily laden with rewards, toys and being an interesting person for your dog to spend time with.
You need to be fun, playful and get some of those basic commands on point in the house and garden before venturing out on walks. 10 minutes training 3x per day will supercharge your relationship, not to mention, significantly tire out your dog.

7. Impatience

Humans are an impatient species. Our dogs are family. We adore them and sometimes it can feel like they have been with us forever, when in fact it’s only been 7 or 8 months. That’s not very long at all.
Adolescent dogs need a lot of practice and will relapse due to all kinds of reasons. We have to be patient.
Hormones, prey drive, fear phases, scenting abilities and new places can all impact recall to name but a few. Consider the human teenagers in your life. They probably need more sleep. Emotions may run high – they might feel grumpy more than usual. Teenage brains are more sensitive to stress and overwhelm. They might have good days and really flipping bad days. Dogs aren’t much different in that sense.
If your dog is relapsing in recall, remember that teenagers need time, they make mistakes, they get better. Don’t rush them. Stay consistent and ride the wave. You’ll get there in no time.

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How To Improve Your Dog’s Recall
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