Lots of dog owners struggle to get their dogs to come back when let off lead. This usually either results in the dog never having off-lead exercise or very frustrated dog owners chasing their dogs around the park!
So why won't your dog come back when you call them?
Maybe the environment is way too much fun and there is so much to see and smell! Or coming back might means the end of a great game with a new doggy pal, end of the walk, or a scolding if they have a history of getting told off for “finally coming back”.
So what can you do to change their behaviour?
First you need to teach your dog to respond to a recall cue e.g. “here” or “come” or a dog whistle in the safe confines of your home and garden. If you would like to train your dog to respond to a whistle you can pick up a Nobby Silent Whistle on-line or in any of our stores.
Make sure you are exercising your dog on lead while working on their training. Practice makes perfect so we don’t want them practicing running off!
Teach your dog some nice focus cues like to give eye contact or touch your hand with their nose, this way you can start getting their attention while on lead out on their walks.
Identify what your dog really loves in life so you can ensure they are having as much fun as possible at home if they are now foregoing off lead exercise. For example, if they love to chew perhaps start giving them some of their food in a Kong or having a munch on a StagBar in the evening
Remember not only is training heaps of fun but will also have the added bonus of helping to tire your dog out. So if you are worried about them not getting enough exercise just think of how tired you are after the mental workout out an exam or interview.
So let's get training!
If you have previously attempted to get your dog to come back to you without success we suggest you pick a new recall cue e.g. here, come, to me, using a whistle etc.
Dogs will get very good at ignoring you, if you are repeatedly calling them e.g. “Fenton, Fenton, FENTON!!!” while they are busy with something else.
- Start your training indoors, in a quiet area of the house, with as few distractions as possible. Ensure your dog is looking at you and once you have their focus take a step back and say the cue (or if using a whistle blow it once)– if your dog moves towards you, touch their collar then praise and treat. We recommend Natures Menu training treats for your dog as they are 95% meat so are hard to resist for even the fussiest pooch!
- Make the exercise fun for you and your dog – don’t be afraid to use a squeaky voice and animated gestures – dogs respond to this much better then stern voices and stiff body postures.
- Once your dog is reliably coming when called, when you are a few feet away, start to extend the distance OR increase distractions. Try calling your dog when they are sniffing in the back garden or playing with a toy – remember lots of fuss when they come. Try to avoid falling into old habits “Here, Here, HERE!” and simply say the cue once and wait for the dog respond. If they don’t you maybe need to go back to step 2 and practice some more.
It is important to set yourself and your dog up for success and understand that they learn very differently to people i.e. one good training session in the home doesn’t mean they are ready for off lead fun at the beach!
Note - It is really important to remember if your dog doesn’t come when you call them – do not punish them when they finally approach you. If you do you will never successfully teach them to come when called. This is probably the number one reason dogs fail to recall to their owners.
Now that your dog is responding every time to the recall cue in your house and garden you are ready to head outside. Save your pockets becoming full of dog treat crumbs by storing them in a handy treat pouch that you can wear on your hip out on your walk.
- Invest in a comfortable harness for your dog along with a Long (or Tracking) Line. We would recommend the Trixie Fleece Harness as it is super soft for your dog and the Clix Recall line
- Bring your dog out to a quiet area with minimal distractions e.g. the park on a rainy evening.
- Encourage your dog to focus on you by regularly calling them back to you while gradually letting out the long line.
Note - make sure as they are approaching the end of the line you are calling them back in order to avoid them jolting themselves.
Once your dog is coming back 100% on the long line is a non-distracting environment you are ready to make it a little trickier for them e.g. taking them to the park at a slightly busier time of the day.
Next step is practicing recall with the long line attached to your dog’s harness but trailing on the ground. This way you have a back-up if your dog doesn’t recall and there is an impending safety issue i.e. you just need to get within 16-30ft of them (depending on the recall line you use) and pick up the end on the line. If you do have to do this remember do not chastise your dog – instead take it as a sign that you both need to go back a step in the training process.
Once your dog is coming back 100% on the trailing long line in a non-distracting environment you are ready to up the criteria and make it a little trickier for taking them e.g. taking them to the park at a slightly busier time of the day.
Now you are ready to take the plunge and let your dog off the lead!
We always recommend finding an enclosed area to safely practice this step. There may be an off lead dog area in your local park or an enclosed public tennis court, basketball court etc. that are ideal for this exercise.
Note - many people make the mistake of only ever calling their dog to them when they want to put them back on lead. Practicing calling your dog back randomly throughout their walk so they can see coming back doesn’t mean going home. Occasionally touch their collar and/or clip them on for 30-60 seconds before letting them enjoy some freedom again.
Once your dog has perfected their recall remember to do top up training as you want to continuously remind your dog that coming back to you is always worthwhile.
Games to polish your pooches recall
- Round Robin – in this game two or more people stand apart (in a circular shape if you have more than two people) and call your dog back and forth using the recall cue and rewarding with lots of fuss and a tasty treat.
- Hide and Seek - ask your dog to “Stay” if they know this cue or if not ask another family member to wait with them in one area of the house or garden. Once you are in position call them using the recall cue – when they find you reward them with lots of fuss and a tasty treat
- Chase – if your dog enjoys playing chasing, incorporate this into your recall by saying the recall word and once your dog starts to move towards you run in the opposite direction – once they catch up reward them with lots of fuss and a tasty treat.
A touch of patience, some perseverance and a little bit of team work with your dog and even the most wayward pooch can be taught to come when called… even a Husky!
Happy Training everyone - Ali Ramsey (Author)