How’s your recall going?
Recall is the hardest ‘skill’ to master when you have a dog – and the most important. I have already talked about calling your puppy several times during the course of writing this blog and elsewhere on this website. But it is so important it is worth revisiting and revising. Having just re-read the last post I wrote about recall, I don’t have much to add. I’m just putting this here to remind you to keep on practising.
Test yourself with these challenges:
- Call your dog 5 times in the house, when you can see them. How quickly do they respond?
- Call your dog 5 times from another room. Do they still come?
- Call your dog 5 times from the garden. If you are inside and they are outside, do they still come back? Or do you normally just wait until they have ‘finished’ being in the garden and come in on their own?
- Call your dog 5 times on your walk. Now what happens?
Why does recall work?
Think about the difference in the way your dog responds to you. What makes your recall successful? What stops your dog from coming back to you? What’s the quickest you can get your dog back to you?
I have previously mentioned having a ‘Pavlovian response‘ to recall and I think this is at the heart of making it work for you and your puppy. What you need to do is create a situation where your dog has a very strong association between you calling their name and them receiving a reward. Once you have that, it is very difficult for the dog to ignore you.
Remember, your dog is not malicious. They don’t spend their time imagining ways to wind you up, or annoy you. Dogs want an easy, happy life. If you feed them tasty treats and play with them, they want to be with you.
How quickly do you need your dog back? Do you absolutely have to have them under control at all times? I urge you to be realistic and manage your expectations with regard to recall. If your dog is having a good old sniff, or has wandered off a bit in the woods to see if a squirrel is there to be chased, please be patient?
If your dog is rushing over to another dog, you need to weigh up the impact of that encounter. When you know that your dog is relaxed and happy meeting other dogs, you don’t need to panic, but you do still need to call them and pay attention to the meeting. If your dog is currently being a bit of a dick when seeing other dogs (like Quin) you need a sharper and more persistent recall. More on that later..
Breed variations in recall
Of course there are very specific breed characteristics that massively affect the quality of a dog’s recall. Border Collies have a strong desire to please, which means they will ‘work’ for a reward. However, they do run fast and far. They also have a keen eye, so if they spot something, they may well shoot off. Fortunately, they are pretty snappy to respond, even when they are heading off.
Other breeds are tricky for different reasons. Hounds and Gundogs are 100% scent driven and when they get a whiff of something interesting, can be extremely hard to turn around. Now that I am doing some scentwork training though, I feel that the smell of cheese, sausage or liver cake will carry quite a distance to a well conditioned dog!
Some dogs, such as Toy breeds, are a bit slower to respond, because they are well, slower to respond. Training them is harder because they are more laid back and less focused. Patience is required! And practice, always.
Let it fail
Nobody’s perfect. Well I’m certainly not. Try to be kind to yourself and your dog? It won’t go perfectly every time, but if you keep practising, it WILL get better. I’ve definitely seen an improvement in Quin’s recall over the past couple of weeks. He was going through a phase of not being that bothered about coming back to me, especially if he was barking at another dog. That is getting better and he really is returning to me now – hurray! But there are still plenty of times when it’s not that great.
Remember the key rules for recall:
- be positive
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.