We all know the joy of taking our dogs on an adventure, unclasping the leash and watching them frolic in the tall grass, chase grasshoppers, and revel in the freedom of being outside and off-leash. However, before we can even get to this point, there is one big thing we need to make sure we are comfortable with — the recall. You must be certain your dog will come when called.Recall can be a big frustration for many dog owners. Their dogs will recall in certain situations and at other times act as if they have never had any training at all. Many pet owners have said, “It’s like they shut their ears off!” or “They get this crazy look in their eye, and you know they are not coming back until they want to.”
We have all struggled with off-leash recall; it’s very difficult to perfect with any dog. Simply put, once free to explore, everything else is more interesting to your dog than coming when called. Now this doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t love you, all it means is that other stimulants like smelling a tree or chasing a squirrel are a higher priority.
You can compare the time your dog has off-leash with how a child experiences Disneyland. You would never expect them to want to remain by your side, but rather take their time to discover, experience and engage with their environment. So how do we get our dogs to listen to us with so much stimuli competing for their attention? The answer is to be more exciting and more fun than anything else in the vicinity — particularly when training!
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There are many ways to work on an off-leash recall, but I have found that making a game of it is the most effective approach. This game can be practiced anywhere from your backyard to the backcountry, and engages their natural urge to play and chase.
1. First, you will need:
- Flat collar or harness on your dog
- 15-20 foot long line
- Treat pouch or pockets
- High-value treats like Zuke’s PureNZ Bites or Z-Filets
- 15-20 minutes to have fun and get goofy with your dog
2. Pick a place of low stimulation for you and your dog. Finding a training area with few distractions will increase your success rate. If you try doing too much too soon, the potential for failure increases.
3. Attach the long line to your dog and hang onto the handle. The game is simple: you want your dog to chase you. (You don’t chase them.)
4. Start by calling your dog’s name and taking off in a slow jog in the opposite direction that your dog is facing. Taking off in the opposite direction makes your behavior harder to anticipate, therefore keeping your dog on his toes (paws). How many times have you seen two dogs interacting where one is waiting for the other to run and initiate the game of chase? During this game, we want your dog to choose to engage in play with you and ignore everything else.
5. Once your dog has reached your side in the chase, stop, grab a treat, and cookie them in a heel.
6. At this point, you can also ask them for a sit, which helps reinforce your dog’s ability to stop playing and still focus his attention on you.
7. Once you have them consistently engaged and playing with you, increase your speed and distance slowly. Keep in mind it may take multiple sessions before you can start increasing distance.
The most important part of this game is to have fun! Don’t be afraid to get goofy with your dog, it just makes them want to engage with you more. These training sessions are no more than 15-20 minutes — keep it short, fun, and use lots of treats!