Recall is one of the most valuable things to teach your dog; to know that regardless of their surroundings and distractions they will come back, is priceless.
If you're exploring and they're venturing just a bit too far from you, maybe they're heading towards something you don't want them near, or you need to call them off another dog when playing gets too rough. The situation can be minor to dangerous, and you will be thankful for recall.
Some puppies seem to have really great recall, but keep in mind that this might not last and you can find yourself frustrated. So even if their recall seems great without any training, train anyways.
A few notes before I begin:
I am not a professional dog trainer and below are some tips from me training recall with my three dogs while getting advice from professionals.
a. The safety of your dog is key. Never put your pet in a situation where they can run off, get lost, get hurt, or hurt someone else. b. As an owner with a fear-aggressive dog, I would never bring Reese to a place to practice recall where he could be triggered and I might lose control. Please be responsible
Set your dog up for success :) Don't bring your dog into a situation where you know he will fail. This will cause you both to be frustrated. Start small and increase the work when it's appropriate, always paying attention to your dog.
How to Start
My first piece of advice with training recall, is start now. You don't need any fancy tools or a big space to do this, if you're starting with a puppy or a dog who refuses to come when called, this training starts in your living room.
Keep in mind that if you are training a small puppy, they don't have the greatest attention span so you will want to keep your training sessions shorter so that neither of you get frustrated!
Motivation - you need to find what motivates your dog, and for most this is food and treats. When you start your training in doors I suggest using lower value treats such as kibble (train with meal time) or treats they are used to. You need to save high value treats (liver, for example) for later, when distractions are greater.
You need to let your dog know that you have the treats, this builds their interest and gets their attention. If you are the only person training, simply throw a treat away from you and allow your dog to get it. Before they make the turn back (they will be eager to come for more treats) call them using whatever cue you prefer, and when they return reward them.
TIP: Only give a command once. Dogs are incredibly smart (and stubborn) and they work with patterns. They will know if they can get away with you saying a command three times, and they listen on the third. If they don't listen to your cue, you can say their name, make noises, or look exciting. Just try your hardest not to repeat it!
If there are two of you, you will want to call your dog back and forth between you and reward when he comes. If your dog is being stubborn and not going to the other person, give him/her absolutely no attention (not even eye contact) while the other person calls so he loses interest in you and explores his other options.
Once your dog is really getting the hang of it, when you call and he comes don't reward him with treats, instead offer praise! Every few times you can reward your dog with treats, this keeps him on his toes and coming back hopeful for treats, but over time will not only do so to be rewarded.
I like to teach my dogs to sit when they're called or at least pause for a second. If they get used to the back and forth, they may think all that they have to do is come towards you and then they're free to run away again.
If you're working by yourself, you can give a 'break' or 'free' command when you throw the treat, this teaches them to stay with you until you tell them otherwise. If you're working with a partner calling the dog back and forth you can take breaks from the constant recall to give a 'free' command and then the other person can call the dog.
Repeat this process inside for as long as you feel necessary.
Take It Outside
Your backyard is the next step for this training. If you're in an apartment or don't have a yard, you will want to take your dog to a low traffic area that they're used to, a place where you take them to go potty is the best spot. Out there is where they are used to sniffing and exploring freely, but less exciting than a free walk or new area.
You might find that whatever treat you were using inside won't work as long outside. They might choose exploring after a few rounds of kibble. Find a treat that would be of higher value to your dog, but leave room to advance in areas with bigger distractions.
I highly recommend using a long line (15 - 30 ft) especially if you are training by yourself, even if you are in your backyard. Repeat the training process from inside - get your dog interested in you, throw the treat away and then call them back, and reward. The use of the long line is for when they become too distracted, trying to explore and ignoring you. You can give a tug on the line to lure them back to you; don't reel them in, just a slight pull to get their attention.
The backyard is going to be more challenging, stay strong! If you find yourself getting frustrated with your dog, just take a break until you're both ready to start again. :) Continue training in your backyard until you get to the point that your dog is really responding to recall.
Take things up a notch
You want to make things slightly more difficult for your dog, but not too much, you never want to set your dog up for failure.
Your front yard is a great next step because there could be people and dogs on the sidewalk, neighbours going in and out, and cars going by. If this isn't a good option for you, find another place to take your dog where he is used to being and that he won't be overwhelmed with distractions.
The process doesn't change, but the motivation might have to. What you can do is mix in the two previous treat options with your new treat option. This way your dog comes back to either 'YAY A NEW TREAT!', the treats from before, or maybe no treat but just praise. Again, keeping them on their toes.
Keep this training going in your front yard until you feel it's ready to move forward. If your dog quickly notices another dog or person, and you're able to call him with immediate recall, you're ready! Also great job for getting to this point.
A Walk In The Park
If you're comfortable with this next step you can take your dog to a park or trail, hopefully one that is not too busy. I choose this over a regular walk, because the use of a long line is still important, which can pose a danger on a sidewalk.
If you are at an off-leash trail, even if your dog is used to being free, keep them on a long-line. This ensures training can't be interrupted. You want to practice good habits, consistency is so important, and a few slip-ups from your dog can take you a few steps backwards.
You can enjoy your walk as normal and practice recall randomly. This will likely be a place that your reward has to be of a much greater value. Your dog has lots of other options and you better be good enough ;). Every time your dog catches a glimpse of another dog, no matter how far, call him or her back.
Perhaps when he comes, see if you can get him to walk with you for a little bit and then 'free' him again. You want your dog to know that when you call him, he stays with you until he's told otherwise.
This will be the most challenging part; your dog is so excited. You can choose when and how long to practice recall for. At the beginning or near the end of your walk, for 5 or 10 minutes, or for the entirety of the trail. Training is best when your dog is somewhat tired and able to listen to you and less eager to run at full speed.
The Ultimate Test
Here is when all your training really pays off. You will know when and if you are ready for off-leash recall training. Please only practice off-leash in appropriate areas; off-leash parks and trails, for the everyone's safety and peace of mind.
Make sure you have some real good treatos in your pocket. Not only do you need a good motivator for your dog, but you need to praise the heck out of him for being the goodest darn dog that there is. Oftentimes the best reward for a dog with good recall, is offering the freedom again to explore! Reward and free your dog when it is safe to do so.
YAY for making it to this step!!! Regardless of how long it may take you to get here, it will be oh so worth it.
Keep in mind that your dog is not perfect, and they might not always listen. Practice recall constantly in different situations. Keep your dog safe and enjoy this new freedom.
Now I might lose a few of you here, and that's okay, just hear me out.
An absolutely wonderful tool to use with recall is an e-collar. An electronic collar. This is not a tool to hurt your dog.
Imagine if your dog is wandering off a bit too far, and maybe there are a bunch of dogs barking and playing. You call your dog but he. can't . hear . you. That is not his fault, but you need him to come back. An e-collar is a tool with a variety of options including stimulation*, vibration or beep on a scale which allows you to 'reach out' to your dog when he otherwise can't listen to you. It's essentially a 'poke' to tell your dog 'hey I'm talking to you'.
Most e-collars are on a scale of 1-100 for intensity, which is dependent on the level of distraction. You might only need a very small poke to get your dogs attention. However, if you have a dog who likes to chase, he might have his eye on the prize so you need to give a little poke. This doesn't mean a poke that hurts more, just one that is felt more.
I compare it to a situation where you are a bit zoned out. If someone is talking to you but you're watching a very intense TV show, you might not hear them; so they tap your shoulder and you bounce back to reality. But maybe you're a bit more distracted, watching a live sporting event and they are about to make an incredible play. A slight tap likely won't get your attention, or at least won't be enough to pull you away from missing such an amazing moment. If someone really wants your attention they will have to press a little harder, and you still might barely feel it, but it'll be effective.
* The stim option is not electrocution. It stimulates the nerves and sensory receptors of the dogs. This does not cause pain, it can cause a small level of discomfort, which without it it truthfully would be a pointless tool; your dog would simply ignore a pleasant feeling if it so chooses.
I do not recommend just anyone buys a e-collar from just any website. I was trained by a professional at UPK9 on how to use an e-collar effectively for a reactive dog. I've used this training for my two others dogs and taught my boyfriend the same methods. I highly recommend getting a trainer to show you how to use one, or bare minimum, doing your research, a lot of research. E-collars are a great tool but can cause negative effects if used improperly or not conditioned right for your dog.
There is so much more to be said about e-collars, but I will save that for a later post. The moral here is that e-collars are wonderful for recall training and maintaining. They can save your dog.
These are my personal views and if you are against them that is totally okay. You know what is best for your dog and you have every right to do what you need to do.
If you have any tips on training recall, any stories about your training woes or successes, questions or comments, please reach out!!