Do you struggle with your dog coming back to you? Do you want to let your dog off their lead but dread doing so? Do you look at other people’s dog coming back and wish your dog was like that?
We all have all witnessed those moments when someone is desperately trying to get their dog to come to them. The dog thinks it’s a great game to play ‘keep away’ or are simply more interested in something else. Maybe that’s you? Nothing seems to work and the dog only comes back when it’s ready. I’ve been there standing on one side of a fence calling my dog, while they just ignored me. Like you, I’ve had those feelings of frustration and embarrassment.
Getting your dog to come back to you is relatively easy to train if we do the work to teach them. It is a learned behaviour, so it is important that we understand that our dogs do not come with a setting button that makes them come back. We have to teach them what we want and work to maintain this behaviour
We want our dogs to have freedom to make choices. For them to be able to decide where they want to sniff and which direction they want to go. But we need them to come back to us when we ask them to. There are times when we need to go out for a specific amount of time or the environment is becoming uncertain. And we definitely don’t want them chasing other animals and getting us or themselves into hot water. There are hefty fines and penalties for chasing wildlife and the endangering livestock is not something we should ever allow our dogs to do. We don’t want our dogs haring up to people barking and being a nuisance.
So what can we do about it? How can we strike the right balance of allowing our dogs off their lead while keeping everyone around them safe?
Keep Motivation High
Find out what your dog likes, what do they find rewarding? Some dogs will like small pieces of chicken, cheese or smelly fish pieces. Others will like carrot, blueberries or pieces of apple. Our dogs are individuals and each will have their own preference. You can create a smorgasbord for your dog and find out what they like best. Once we have found out what they like we can use this to reward behaviour we want to see more of.
Reward your dog every time they are naturally close to you. This will teach your dog that hanging out around you is a good place to be. Dogs are natural opportunists. If there is a chance that something good is going to happen near you, that’s the place they will want to be.
Don’t Make It Too Difficult, Too Quickly
We have to begin teaching recall slowly. Gradually we can build the behaviour to be consistent in more distracting situations. It is wrong to think we can train our dogs to recall in our garden and then expecting them to come back to you when you take them to the park where other dogs or people are. We begin by teaching in a low distracting environment. When our dog knows how to recall, we need to practice it so that it occurs regularly and fluently. Great, you have got that bit. Next we need to generalise the behaviour so that it is happening in a variety of different places and around distractions. I recommend that your dog wears a harness and a long line while we teach this next bit. Remember gradually increase the distractions. Use a journal to record how well your dog is doing and only increase your criteria if your dog is performing recall in 80% of the times they are asked. If it is only 30 – 40% of the time, then you are making it too difficult for them – go back to lower distractions. If you gradually build this rather than try to go fast, you will with any doubt get better results in the long term.
Quite often we see dogs performing lovely recalls until the end of the walk. They have learnt that their free time is about to end, they are going on their lead and going home. That’s no fun to a dog that would like to stay out longer. Our dogs read our body language all the time. In fact they are genius at it. They watch our routines and the way we move and can accurately predict what we are going to do next. To stop this problem, practice recalling your dog on their walk, clipping their lead on for a few seconds and then letting them go off lead again. Do this in a variety of different places during the walk so they learn that having their lead put on doesn’t always predict their fun is about to end.
Punishment Doesn’t Help
At some point frustration may take over and we may find ourselves yelling at our dogs to come back. Trust me, this never works. Have you ever had someone yell at you and thought you would like to get closer to them. Nope never, that’s what I thought. In dog training, anything that makes a behaviour less likely to occur is considered a punishment. Our dogs, like us will try to avoid punishment. I mean who wouldn’t? All, we do when we shout at our dogs for not coming back is teach them that we are scary, unpredictable and not someone they can trust. In a dog’s mind, their safety is always of the greatest importance to them. If you turn yourself into someone they consider a bit untrustworthy then guess what they really aren’t going to want to hang out with you. I know it’s frustrating, I’ve been there but please do not yell at your dog for not coming back. Go back a step, realise that their training is incomplete in that particular environment and build it up again. In my opinion, no recall can ever be thought of as 100% bombproof but we can practice to make it pretty close.
Make It Fun for You & Your Dog
There are lots of ways to teach recall but it is important to keep it fun and not repetitive. If we go to our favourite restaurant every night, eventually it becomes boring and just ordinary. I encourage you to get creative and think of as many different ways to teach your dog to come to you when asked. Get your friends and family involved. If you are struggling for ideas, give me a call.
Practice Makes Perfect But Don’t Become a Nag
One of the commonest reasons for recall failing is the dog’s guardian has become a nag. They are constantly asking for their dog to come back to them. It is important to practice our recall training, but keep sessions short and focused. If you spend your entire walk getting your dog to come back to you, your recall cue will lose its potency. Your dog will learn to tune it out, in favour of doing something that they would rather do. We can ask for a recall several times on a walk but don’t become repetitive. Our cues should predict something good for our dogs. If your dog needs to be consistently asked to recall, this should act as an indicator that they are not ready for that environment. Use a lead in this environment, it will save you a lot of time and angst.
We can very easily corrupt our dog’s recall by not taking things slowly and teaching them well. We set them up to fail by asking them to do too much, too soon. Using rewards will encourage your dog to be with you and remember punishment only teaches distrust.
Do You Need Help?
Are you struggling with your dog coming back to you – if so I can help? I offer individual tailored 1-2-1 Canine Coaching Sessions. Each session is 1-2 hours long and includes a follow up email report and telephone support. Sessions start at £45, packages are available for multiple sessions.