If you only teach your dog one thing in life, make it recall. It could save their life one day. Keeping your dog under control when needed will stop them annoying other dogs, stealing picnics on the beach and from running off into the sunset.
The first decision you need to make is toys or treats – this is up to you. Playing with toys has so many benefits to their brain and they enjoy being with you and playing, a toy for recall is also good for dogs with high prey drive. This could be a whole other blog post on how to play with your dog, but the best people to explain it all are Tug-E-Nuff. Their website is full of training tips and they also have a FREE E-book on supercharged recalls.
For any of their toys you can get 10% off with our code ‘thecotswoldspaniels’, I’ve got 3 varieties of their toys and they all have an important role in my dogs’ training.
For the rest of this post I’m going to show the other option of using treats. This is a low arousal option, I’ve trained both my dogs this way but Woody much prefers the use of toys and making recall into a game. Wilma is more laid back in life in general so will do anything for a tasty treat. But replace the treat in any of my instructions with a toy and it’s the same concept with a different reward. The following is all my opinion and what works for the dogs I train, you can take some of my points and put them into practice, or none at all. As long as you have a positive experience with your dog it doesn’t matter.
To start off you want to make a clear difference between low value and high value treats. Low value or boring treats are bits of kibble or dry dog biscuits you can buy from the shops. Then you get mid value which are a bit more exciting, I think of it as the more moist the treat the more exciting it is. So again from pet shops you can buy these and instead of snapping and crumbling like boring dry biscuits it will be easier to break in two. These are both great for training. But you want to keep them to the easier tasks like asking them to sit or lie down, so they still get a positive reward and they think ‘Oh if I sit I get this and it’s great’.
However recall is a bit more important, you want them to run back to you as fast as they can and to be excited for it. You have to think from their point of view, sitting is good and you get nice food, but running back to you I get chicken and sausage ‘Oh my goodness the best treat ever!’ So those high value treats like sausage chicken or cheese ONLY come out for recall. Over time you will use high value for really tricky obedience tasks etc if you want to get into that, and you hopefully will eventually switch to the more boring treats in a few months time when your recall is cracked. But for now they are just for recall, so to the dogs only get them as a special treat.
The outside world is very exciting, at the minute going and sniffing that piece of grass or chasing that dog is way more fun than coming back to you. No offence but you’re most likely boring (we all are) on a walk, and usually if a dog comes back to its owner they’re put on the lead to walk home and the fun is all over. So to start with we are getting rid of all those distractions. If we go right back to basics you’re not even going outside, stay in the house using your high value treats. You’re only going to do this once or twice a day as lots of cheese or sausage is going to cause upset stomachs. Decide your word, most common is ‘come’. Decide a release command, ‘ok’ is another common one. In the house you’re going to call your dogs name, then say ‘What’s this, woohoo, yay, let’s go’. Anything along those lines, in a high pitch voice so you’re happy and excited but you don’t say ‘come’ at all. For a better effect you can jog away from them, making them chase you. When they gets to you praise them, ‘goodboy, well done, yes’. For me I use ‘Yes’ as my marker, but some people may use a clicker here instead. If you’re not sure what I’m on about a marker is a sign that that is exactly what you want, as their bottom touches the floor in a sit you mark that as the sit; as they lie down you mark their chest touching the floor. Feed them 2 or 3 tiny treats in a row as soon as they get to you. Then completely ignore them and carry on tidying etc in the house. A minute later repeat it all and try again.
Once they’ve done it 5 times in a row you can move on, each step you do you want to make sure they get it right every time before moving on; you may move on quickly, you may not, there is no rush and you’ll reach the same finish line in the end. I’d do this a few hours apart just so their brain doesn’t explode. Next you’re going to repeat this, but when they get to you and you’re feeding them you’re going to say ‘come’ but you can only say come when they’re eating the food out of your hands. Something like good boy, come, good, come, good boy. You want the command ‘come’ to mean they are with you, and you reward that. Again for 5 successful goes in a row.
Next step, once you’ve said ‘come’ and fed the treats they can not run off to have fun until you say ‘ok’. This release word I think is the most important part, they can have the treats and listen to you, but you’re in charge and tell them when they’re allowed to go. For beginners it’s easiest to put the in a sit when they come to you because there is an obvious change between sitting and then running off. You’re feeding them saying ‘come’ as before, and then say ‘ok’ once and they can walk off to do their thing, you ignore them and let them get on with it.
You have now mastered the foundation of a good recall, now we put the dog in more challenging situations and work for success every time. Indoors there aren’t many distractions, but as you’ve perfected it and your dog can do it every time you can move outside. Go into the garden, it’s a place the dog is familiar with and sees multiple times a day, however there are more sounds and scents to distract them. They should always be allowed to sniff and explore, they are dogs, but when you ask them they need to come back to you before they’re allowed to go off and sniff again. In the garden let them go about their business and then call their name. Eventually you’ll be able to say the command a bit earlier, so now I would say ‘Woody’, he listens to hear what I want, ‘Come’ the command telling him what to do and he comes to me.
Try it in your garden, your friends garden, let me know how you’re progressing I want to hear! Now the big step, they do it every time indoors and in the garden, now lets try it in the real world with squirrels to chase, dogs to play with, picnics to eat. If you’re worried for your dogs safety or have any doubts then put them on a long line. This is a super long lead that trails on the ground behind them [Not an extendable lead these are deadly!] so the dog thinks they’re free and can have fun, but you can grab the other end if you need to. I use these for all of my rescue dogs, this is the 5m I use, it can get muddy and wet but I’m in control the whole time.
Your dog should have no problem at all if they’ve successfully done it every time in the other environments. It should make walks a lot more enjoyable for you without the worry of them running off and being naughty, but also more enriching for them as they can run off lead and have fun. Recall is always something that should be praised, I don’t believe in dogs doing any thing for free, you may change your reward to low value treats or a tickle on the head when you forget food.
I hope this helps you even if only a tiny bit, if you’re ever stuck just message me on Instagram and I’d be happy to help!
Thanks for reading,
Megan, Woody & Wilma xx