As dog walkers recall training is one of the most fundamental requirements of our trade. The inability to recall a dog can lead to accidents, unpleasant encounters with the public and wasted hours spent trying to find a dog who has found a scent. As such we have spent a lot of time perfecting this skill within the dogs we walk.
Since this is a critical point of dog ownership, as well as guardianship we thought we’d share our top tips to getting your dog to come back when you need them.
We’ve all been there – something super-exciting grabs and holds our attention to the extent that all other sights and sounds fade into the background. This scenario is exactly what happens when your dog finds something more interesting than you! When their excitement peaks to a certain level nothing else matters. Whether it’s another dog, new humans or an animal scent, they are probably not ignoring you, they are literally filtering out your desperate calls; they simply don’t possess the capacity to process this much excitement AND something else too.
In understanding this attention mechanism we can see that we need something strong enough to break through that excitement. At Moogles we use the acme high-pitched dog whistles to achieve this. Four or Five short, sharp ‘peeps’ on the whistle is usually enough to stop their current train of thought enough for them to actually make a decision as to whether or not they want to respond.
What is the one thing that your dog prizes amongst anything else? Think about the thing that they go crazy for. Most dogs will do anything for food, but not all food is equal. The more regularly a dog has a particular type of food the less value they will place on it. When we blow that whistle, we are asking them to cease pursuit of something that they really want so we need to have something in store that they are going to want more! We use tiny bits of cheese, ham or liver cake. This is very rich food so we only offer a crumb at a time, especially during the early stages of training as too much will upset their tummies.
What do we do about the dogs who aren’t bothered about food? It’s back to the original question – what makes your dog go crazy? It might be a ball or a tug toy. It could be high praise or a tummy rub. You know your dog better than anyone, once you figure this out you can move to the next stage.
We now have a way to get your dogs attention, and we know what will make them come back. All that is left is to create an association in your dog’s mind between that whistle and the treat. If you are working with food you have at least two opportunities per day to introduce this – breakfast and dinner. As you are laying food down for your dog, blow your whistle. After a few days use the whistle to alert them that it’s time for food. Very quickly your dog will come to associate the whistle with meal time. You may also find that the act of blowing the whistle will activate your dogs saliva glands!
If you are using a tummy rub or toy, you can use the whistle when petting or when you start to play, the same association will develop.
If you don’t normally let your dog off the lead due to their recall, be careful. Take it one step at a time by blowing the whistle and delivering their treat whilst on lead. Once you’re confident that they’ve got it you could graduate to training lead . Once you’re confident that the association is strong, and the treat is of sufficiently high value then give it a go!!
Even with all of these tricks in your arsenal, there may be some situations where the perceived value of the awaiting treat just isn’t high enough to encourage your dog to come back. In this case, you will need to identify and anticipate these situations. If your dog has a thing for other dogs, be on the look out for other dog walkers. Blow your whistle as soon as you see them and either distract your dog with treats until they pass or pop them on lead for a couple of minutes. Often if you can get their attention prior to the adrenaline rush that sends them catapulting off, you can keep their interest while the situation passes.
There may be particular situations where the value of the treat is just not high enough to make your dog come back. If this is the case, then it’s often worth contacting a professional trainer, there are many reasons why recall training may not work – sometimes it could be as simple as a hearing problem!
Finally, just a caveat – although we undergo training ourselves, we are not professional dog trainers. The method we have shared here works very well for us but we do not take any responsibility for problems or damage caused as a result of following this advice.