Teaching your dog to come when called…….. …….. it can be done!
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
The environment is way too much fun and there is so much to see and smell!
Coming back is punishing as it means the end of the great game they are having with their new doggy pal, the end of the walk, getting back in the car which they don’t enjoy or possibly if they have a history of getting told off for “finally coming back”.
So what can you do?
- Teach your dog to respond to a “come” or “here” cue in the safe confines of your home building up to practicing in the garden. This way you have the foundation of the training solid before venturing outside where it will be much harder for your dog to focus on you.
- Exercise them on lead while working on their training – remember practice makes perfect so if your dog is allowed off lead before they are coming back when called you will find it much harder to perfect your recall training.
- Teach your dog various focus cues that you can use with them when they are on lead. This will also have the added bonus of helping your dog to learn to walk nicely on a lead.
- Identify what your dog really loves in life so you can ensure they are having as much fun as possible – after all if their off lead time is the only mental and physical exercise they are getting – we need to replace this with something equally rewarding while we work on their training.
So let’s get training!
Teach your dog the recall cue you plan to use – “here” “come” etc.
If you have previously attempted to get your dog to come back to you without success make sure you are using a different word to ensure there is no negative association.
- Start this 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 – if the dog moves towards you, touch their collar then praise and treat. 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 reliable 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.
- 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. Invest in a comfortable harness for your dog along with a Long (or Tracking) Line – this is a fixed length of rope or lead that can extend up to 30ft. Bring your dog out to a quiet area with minimal distractions i.e. the park on a rainy evening. Practice calling them to you while on their standard lead. Once they are responding each time you say the cue you are ready to swap you lead for the long line. Encourage your dog to continue focusing on you by regularly calling them back to you while gradually letting out the long line until they have the full length of the line. This way you are able to practice your dog’s recall from up to 30ft away.
Note: you don’t want your dog to take off at speed as when they reach the end of the long line they are going to jolt both themselves and you which is unpleasant for all involved and can make them see the long line as a negative. Avoid clipping the lead onto the dog’s collar (as in the picture above) as this could do some serious physical damage. You should be watching the entire time to make sure as they are approaching the end of the line you are calling them back in order to avoid this happening. Once your dog is coming back 100% on the long line in a non-distracting environment you are ready to up the criteria and make it a little trickier for them such as 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 instead of you holding it in your hand. Again you need to start this in a quiet area with minimal distractions. 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 30ft of them and pick up the long line. If you 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 is a non-distracting environment you are ready to up the criteria and make it a little trickier for them again like 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 lead!
I 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.
Happy training everyone!