Recall is potentially the most important command to teach your dog, and one that can also be one of the most challenging to achieve with any reliability. Recall can be a highly loaded command, with a lot relying on it too; for instance, if your dog is chasing another animal or racing at speed towards a road, being able to stop your dog and bring them back to you will potentially save lives. However, because recall is so important, this in its turn can make it all too easy for the dog owner to get things wrong, either through inadvertently overloading the command or because you yourself are stressed or nervous because so much is relying on it.
It is all too easy to sabotage what should otherwise be good, reliable recall, and in many cases, you may not even realise that you are in reality working against your dog rather than with them, speaking their language to encourage them to return to you when told.
In this article, we will look at five ways in which you might be inadvertently sabotaging your dog’s recall.
Once you have established your recall command, your dog should respond to it on the first go; in a perfect world! But if you find that your dog will come when they are called, but will not do so until the second of third repetition, you might have inadvertently trained your dog to do something other than return to you when you give the first command.
Recall should be a clear, short and distinctive command, which should not be long and complex or repeated over and over again. If your version of recall involves repeating the command over and over until your dog complies, it is entirely likely that your dog thinks that recall is only recall if you repeat the command several times; they may be literally waiting for you to finish the sentence, in their opinion!
In many households, more than one person is responsible for walking the dog regularly, and as part of this, working on the dog’s training and responses. If your dog will respond to recall from one member of the household but not another, this can be galling for the party who gets ignored, but also gives them an opportunity to observe and learn from the other person, to see what they are doing differently.
Obviously you should both be using the same command term, and saying it in the same tone of voice and the same way. If you are using different terms or otherwise speaking the command in such a way that your dog cannot identify it to mean recall, you will need to go back a step to make sure that you are all literally singing from the same hymn sheet.
Going out for a walk and being able to explore off the lead is a very rewarding experience for the dog, and they will enjoy running around, sniffing about and meeting other dogs and people as part of this. Recall is often the cue used to tell your dog that that is the end of their playtime, and that they have to go in now and stop having fun.
This means that not only does responding to recall mean that they do not gain anything for compliance, but that they are actually going to lose the reward that they currently have too.
Ensure that you do not use recall only to signal the end of play and nothing else- practice recalling your dog a few times and then letting them go on playing to keep your dog guessing- and give a reward and some praise for coming back to you every time.
If your dog is untrustworthy when off the lead and you are worried that they won’t come back or are going to get themselves into hot water, never letting your dog off the lead at all is one way to retain your peace of mind. However, this is by no means ideal for the long term, and can actually make it harder to work on your dog’s recall if they are so excited to finally get off the lead that they develop a type of selective deafness.
Added to this, if you spend ages trying to frantically get your dog to heed your command, when they do get back to you, your stress and worry may manifest as a scolding or other negative cue to your dog, who will soon learn that recall does not only mean no reward, but a negative stimulus too.
The outside world is interesting for your dog, and there is a lot of stimulus going on around them to keep them occupied, and split their attention between you and the rest of the dog park. There is little that you can do to actually reduce the appeal of these distractions, but you can make yourself, and your dog’s walks and general life, more interactive and interesting!
If you are interesting to your dog, they are much more likely to give up what they are doing to come and see what you want, particularly if they have learnt that doing so means that you will play with them, give them a toy, or otherwise give something back in place of their free running.
Ensuring that your dog is not bored as a rule in their general life too can help to lessen the impact of outside stimulus, and improve recall when out on walks.