I’m a dog training voyeur! I love sitting at the park and watching owners with their dogs as it lets me see firsthand how pet dog owners interact with their dogs and where their training is going a little pear-shaped. Guess what the number one problem I see is? Recall! Call as they might, some dogs just won’t come back!
I’ve even been asked to grab dogs as they run past me at warp factor 9 in an attempt to dodge their owners!
So what is a recall anyway? A recall is when you call your dog to come to you and your dog responds and returns to you taking the most direct route. A reliable recall is where the dog recalls to you majority of the time. Whilst a dog has grey matter between its’ ears it is unrealistic to expect a 100% return rate. About 85% is fabulous!
Safety! If your dog can’t be recalled then what’s to stop them from running across the road? Running up to a dog on lead that does not want to say ‘hello’? Having a reliable recall is essential.
So your dog doesn’t come back? Why? The following are some of the most common reasons I see:
- The owner encourages the dog to not recall; by allowing your dog to practice the behaviour you are enabling it to reoccur.
- The environment is more interesting than the owner.
- The dog hasn’t had sufficient training in higher distraction areas; dog will do it at home but not at the park.
- The dog simply doesn’t understand what the owner wants.
- The owner requires too much from the dog when they do come back.
- The reward for not coming back is higher than the reward for coming back, or there is no reward for coming back at all!
- The dog is punished for coming back; the lead is put on, the fun ends.
- Owners bribe rather than reward their dog; the dog won’t come back without seeing the food or toy.
- The dog is ‘nagged’; the owner calls to often or requires too much when the dog does come back.
- The owner looks cross! Would you run towards a cross person if they called you?
You may notice that I have not written ‘because the dog is naughty’ as a reason. This is because dogs are not capable of that thought process. They are very simple opportunistic creatures that just do what works.
So what can we do?
- Don’t allow your dog to practice the undesirable behaviour by keeping them on lead! Long leads can be a wonderful tool to use whilst practicing recall training.
- Be more fun than the environment! Take your dog’s favourite toy to the park and PLAY with your dog and engage in the environment with your dog.
- Incorporate fun training into your daily exercise routine using high value rewards. Keep your dog’s favourite food rewards for this!
- Attend further training so you can learn recall games; your dog should view coming back as a fun game!
- Teach your dog that the word “come” equals a high value reward.
- Teach your dog that “come” does not mean that its’ fun is ending; call and reward your dog then tell your dog to go and play/explore again.
- Take rewards with you at all times so you are able to reward.
- Reward your dog for voluntarily checking in with you!
- Adjust the environment; take your dog to locations where it can come back when called. If the environment is too distracting then this is setting the dog up for failure. Practice in a quieter location then gradually increase the distractions when your dog is ready.
There are other reasons that your dog may be unable to recall, so if you feel that you have tried training, high-value rewards and being as much fun as you possibly can be then it is time to seek professional help from a reward based trainer, as sometimes it is a behavioural problem rather than a training issue.