I cant read dogs’ minds but I’m sure many would rather be walked off lead most of the time. But in order to let your dog loose you need to know how to recall them.
Allowing your dog the freedom to run off lead has many advantages. Your dog will cover way more ground off lead than on lead, making them much more tired at the end of the walk. Off lead walking also allows your dog to stop at places of interest, and have a little sniff around. During this time, your dog will be using their brain, making them tired, and the more tired your dog is, the easier they will be to manage at home.
Walking your dog is not only about physical stimulation but also mental stimulation. Your dog will be able to interact and play more naturally with other dogs if they are off lead too. This off lead socialisation helps reduce your dogs frustration, and provides them with valuable socialisation time. Try and allow your dog to meet as many other dogs off lead as possible, this helps their confidence, and they will not be so excitable when interacting with other dogs. Dogs that socialise a lot tend to be calmer, and more controllable, meeting dogs is nothing new for them.
There are a few basic steps to teaching your dog to come to you when you call them. Whenever you are teaching your dog something new it is best to break it down in to single exercises. This encourages a strong response to each cue and then you will be able to put behaviours together. The behaviours that make up a good recall include, name recognition and running directly to you.
Name recognition is one of the most important skills you can teach your dog. Do you say your dogs’ name repeatedly? Do you say their name, and say nothing more to them? If so, your dogs’ name will have no meaning to them. Be conscious of how you use your dogs’ name. Their name should be a cue for your dog to stop what they are doing and look at you. Once your dog is looking at you, you can get them to perform any behaviour you like, including recall.
In order to get your dog coming to you, they first need to be looking at you. The best exercise that you can do to foster name recognition is to stand close to your dog, say their name, and treat them when they look at you. Do this when they are sniffing the ground at home or at the park, you can even have someone hold a treat and you say your dogs name to have them look at you, then treat them.
The idea behind this training is that you wait until your dog is distracted, then say their name and follow up with something positive. Your dog will come to realise that there is a word you use that means- look at me. Remember dogs have no innate concept of names, it has to be taught to them.
Once your dog becomes very quick at looking at you when you say their name you can begin to use their name in more distracting environments, such as around other dogs. Remember, you need to be standing close to your dog for this exercise so you can treat or praise your dog as soon as they look at you.
The second exercise to a sharp recall is getting your dog to run to you. A recall is supposed to be quick, direct and finish close to you. When you ask your dog to come you will need a quick response to keep them away from danger, but you will also need them to finish close to you so you can take hold of them or put them on lead. Again, working on the exercise separate from name recognition will help to build a fast and close recall because you will only be reinforcing one behaviour.
Have someone hold your dog and you need to run a distance away from them. The person holding your dog should be feeling some pulling from your dog towards you. When you have moved away, turn around and call your dog to you, using a hand signal. To begin, you may need to say ‘come’ as your dog is coming to you so they can pair the word with the behaviour. Treat your dog when they get to you, but give them the treat nice and close to your body to encourage a close finish. Repeating this exercise regularly will condition a quick recall.
If you don’t have anyone to hold your dog you can wait for your dog to walk ahead of you off lead, turn the other way and run, when your dog starts to run toward you you can say ‘come’. The alternative is to drop a bit of food on the ground and again, run away from your dog so you can set up a fast recall.
I have described the two components that make up the recall; name recognition and running towards you. Once you have got both of these exercises reliable in different settings you can start to combine the two. Practice saying your dogs’ name and when they look at you give them the ‘come’ signal. Be careful that you set your dog up for success. Try not to expect too much too soon, start with easy distractions to call them away from such as a scent on the ground, or a calm older dog, before you move to more difficult distractions.
Many of my clients comment on the fact that I don’t speak to the dogs much while I am working them. I am always very careful about asking a dog to do anything for me, I look for attention to me, I look around at the distractions present, and I wait until the time is right to speak. Be purposeful with your communication with your dog. Initially you will need to think about it a lot, but over time, it will become second nature not to mindlessly request behaviours from your dog.
Often your dog literally cannot hear you, if they are completely engrossed in an activity they will go deaf to your calls (very similar to me while I am reading a good book). The key to avoiding this is to capture your dogs’ attention before they ‘shut down’. Alternatively, wait a few seconds for a break in your dogs’ behaviour, or approach your dog and get their attention with some food placed right at their nose.
Recall is all about a look and running to you. Train these seperately to get a sharp response, then put them together. You and your dog are a team, spend time teaching them the name you gave them, play with them at the park, and let them know how wonderful they are when they are running to you. Be the most interesting thing at the park for your dog and they will always come back for more.
Check out the video below to see how I started training off lead control with Nemo.