How to train a junior or adult dog to recall off the lead
With regard to basic training rather than behavioural issues. I am asked to correct recall more than any other problem, especially with working and gundog breeds.
Having said that all breeds suffer from this problem. We are told that some breeds are un-trainable or that they can never be trusted off the lead.
Beagles, and Huskies fall into this category as do some of the Terrier breeds. I do not subscribe to this myth, I believe all dogs can be trained on a reliable recall.
The key is to start early see Puppy Recall. That does not mean that you cannot correct recall problems, but it is always best to train early so the problems never occurs.
Border Collies are supposed to be the most intelligent of all the breeds, but surely intelligence is relative. I doubt if anyone could train a Collie to win a gundog field trial championship or a Labrador to win one man and his dog. The one thing both have in common is a great recall to be able to perform the tasks required of them.
The problems we see with some of the breeds is that instinct takes over, that instinctual trait reduces some of the senses.
The sense that is often de-tuned or switched off is hearing.We imagine our dogs can always hear us clearly, that it is just selective deafness or stubbornness that is the cause of dogs ignoring recall commands. In actual fact genetics often takes over. Without early counter conditioning we cannot cut through the desire to hunt or herd, to initiate a solid and consistent recall.
We Also Show This Behaviour
Imagine you are watching a brilliant wildlife program or the world cup final and England are in it. OK I accept that is stretching credibility to the limit. Someone then starts talking about shopping, we hear the sounds, but often do not understand the content. Our brain has effectively de-tuned anything that is not related to what you are concentrating on. We are not being rude or ignorant (though try telling the other half that,) the brain is genetically hard wired to react this way.
However, if we were specifically trained to react to an audible cue/signal rather than words, then we would shift our attention to the person emitting that signal much more readily. Therefore a whistle is ideal for this exercise and purpose.
I am sure we have all read the books or been told we should not start training our dogs until six months of age, or in some cases a year; that is totally incorrect. Dogs learn more in their first 16 weeks, than the rest of their life times 10. It is at this time that they are at their most receptive; they soak up information and experiences like sponges.
The Sit Stay
Recall cannot start until you have a solid Sit Stay this is the base you build on for all recall training. If you are already having recall problems then you need to go back to basics you will need to initially practice the sit stay command at home.
To set this well the dog should be on a lead preferably 5 foot+long with a Jingler see my website for this incredibly effective device.
For the sit stay first get the dog to sit, then with the dog on your left side hold the lead in your left hand. Then using the cupped palm of your right hand bring it to the dogs nose saying “Stay” very quietly three times.
Swivel in front of the dog so you are facing, it pick up the loop of the lead with your right hand make sure you keep your left hand on the lead, but only as a guide hand this is your control hand. Slowly back up to the length of the lead with the left hand about a third of the way back up the lead.
Then with your right hand only put some pressure om the lead if the dog moves lift the lead upwards with your left hand and say “Stay”. This will activate the Jingler,
Keep repeating and putting on pressure with your right hand only, until you think the dog has the message and stays. Then treat and praise giving a tasty treat.
I use whole Sprats as a extra special treat. They are easily broken into handy sizes whatever breed or size of dog.
Then start dropping the lead. With your index finger point to the dog and repeat “stay” Turn you back on the dog and walk a few yards away. If your dog starts moving, you have gone too far to fast. Therefore shorten the distance again. Do this about three times a day for about five minutes per time. After a couple of days you will only need to point the index finger rather than the three stays.
The best is of course the whistle. Only treat the best stays and the best results. Once you feel you have mastered this, it is time to use the lunge rein. See my website for my specially made lunge that has foot-stops sewn in every two foot along the length.
Practice the sit stay in the park or field but this time with the 25 foot lunge rein; take a friend if you can who will hold the dog whilst you hide behind a tree or fence then call the dog, when he finds you give him a favourite treat cheese is the best and keep repeating the exercise.
Then start to allow the dog to walk free, but with the lunge rein still kept on dragging behind. Then start standing on it at different lengths whilst issuing the whistle command, so the dog thinks you are in control at all distances.
If the dog takes off after a bird or another dog; either stand on the lead or pick it up to stop the charge and blow the recall whistle . The dog will get the message that you are in control and cease chasing after a while.
During all of this work, we must give the dog lots of praise, games and treats. After a few weeks of keeping the lunge rein on you can reduce it down by putting on a normal lead then after a few more weeks remove it completely. If your dog reverts you have taken the lunge off too soon. I sell as specialised lunge rein with leather foot-stops sewn in along the length of the lead. See Lunge Rein for further details or click on any of the product pictures to see more information and detail.
As always, the best strategy for training is to set your dog up to succeed and to not condition in a problem that will have to be rectified later on in the training.
The reason is simple. Whistles travel much further than the human voice, especially on windy days. They also do not show emotion or panic unlike the human voice.
More importantly the whistle is the same tone whoever is out with the dog. I always use ACME whistles they are currently the best.
if you lose one you can get the exact same sound from another acme 211.5 whistle. I sell these whistles. Click on picture to learn more.
If you should lose a normal whistle, then buying a replacement means setting the new whistle to the dog again, which takes about ten days.
However this does not happen with an Acme whistle.
Acme whistles are manufactured to an exact tone and pitch, all you have to do is take a note of the number, then buy the same from me or any other outlet and you are back in business.
I recommend at least two whistles if you have a partner or someone else you walk your dog with then you can blow the whistles back and forth when out training. Get your friend, family member or partner to move 100 yards away then get them to blow the whistle to get the dog to come to them. Treat and praise then you blow the whistle to get the dog to come back.
Unfortunately silent whistles are adjustable, therefore they all have different tones. Lose one and you will have to reset the new tone to the dog and that takes ten days. Therefore I do not recommend them.
Start with the dog’s food. Get someone to hold the dog or instil the sit stay 10 or 12 feet away. Blow your normal recall and get the helper to release the dog. Extend this by putting the dog in another room and repeating the process..
Make sure you have the whistle with you at all times and whistle, reward, and treat until the dog is really happy to come back to you.
Another great way of setting the whistle is once again buy two whistles. Position your dog in the middle of two people, close enough to touch,.
Get some treats, high value ones like cheese or sausage. Blow two peeps on the whistle if he doesn’t respond blow again and either touch his ear or his muzzle,
When the dog looks at you immediately say “good” “take it” and give the treat. Then the person behind the dog does the same. Do this for a week or so and the dog will really start responding to the whistle and will come running eagerly back.
“Good” is the same as a clicker and “take it” Is permission to take your treat. Gradually remove the treat almost completely when learning has occurred. I always use and sell ACME whistles; they are the best on the market and are numbered. Therefore if you lose your whistle you can order a replacement with exactly the same tone. These are great ways to instill whistle training into any dog.
If you are having recall problems with a more mature dog it normally means you have not followed the principles of teaching pups a solid recall. see my article on Puppy recall.
However it is not impossible, it just takes more time. Food games and affection are the great motivators for most dogs - begin by using the whistle to call the dog to each meal, even if it is eagerly sitting next to the bowl. start by using the sit stay from a distance with the food (see below).
If the dog is not motivated by treats try using a favourite toy to come back a play with. That is how sniffer and search and rescue dogs are trained.
Move on to calling the dog from further away whistle then treat and praise the dog when it returns. Do not make the dog sit as it will think you are praising and treating the sit rather than the recall. When you are ready to brave the big wild world then, leave out the evening meal the day before if you feed only once, and if you feed twice leave out the morning meal. Take your dog somewhere without too many distractions preferably enclosed. You must use a long training lead.
They are five feet eight inches long with a couple of innovations, such as a D Ring for the Jingler and an O ring at the handle end which is very handy for tying on your poo bags or putting the lead around your shoulder when the dog is off lead.
It is also handy for clipping the dog to a lamppost or halving the size of the lead if you are in a busy area such as a high street. This is what you will need and the technique i have created to stop your dog pulling on the lead: Click on the picture above to go to more detail about the leads, collar and jingler.
A quality soft wide collar
I now manufacture my own collars that are a similar material and feel to the lead and the same colours (see website) make sure the collar is not thin, or rolled as they bite into the neck.
You are also going to require a Jingler, which is a simple device which uses sound therapy to make the dog concentrate on your commands and actions.
Simply put, a jingler tells the dog when it has done something wrong, it is effectively the opposite of a clicker which tells the dog when it has done something right, the jingler gives an audible cue when the dog has erred.
Dogs are far happier when they understand what is expected of them and that requires training tools that teach both right and wrong.
The supposedly modern Positive Reinforcement only methods are generally ineffective and wishy washy and the trainers that are claiming they are positive only, do not understand that just putting a dog on a lead is negative punishment. See my article Killing With Kindness.
I designed and developed the Jingler personally. It goes on the end of the lead near the collar. This focuses the dog by using sound therapy.
Never use a check or choke chain this is a barbaric method of lead control, and can cause long-term damage. You can also throw away the halti's, head collars, and chest harnesses that only serve to restrain rather than retrain, and use pressure and pain to be able to work.
© Stan Rawlinson MTCBPT. MPAACT A.dipCCB