Doggy Training

7 Top Tips for Revolutionary Recall Success

A solid recall can be a tricky thing to train, but it is super important if we want our dogs to be safe off lead. The world is an exciting place, it’s no wonder our dogs like to go off and explore sometimes! It is our responsibility to make sure they are still under control and safe when they do so.

But just how do we do that?

I am sure you have heard the phrase ‘just make yourself more exciting than the environment!’ – a fantastic concept, but how? How do we possibly make ourselves more exciting than other dogs, and rabbits, and smells, and unidentifiable brown smelly substances... (we’ve all been there!).

Firstly we need to get over the concept that we are taking our dog for a walk. How about we reframe it and we say;

I am going for a walk WITH my dog
I am going exploring WITH my dog
I am finding new adventures WITH my dog.

We also need to make sure that we have some really solid foundations in place

Dogs don’t come pre-programmed knowing how to come when called. They are a completely different species to us and have a completely different agenda to us. Walks to them mean getting outside and being dogs, doing dog things and we are inherently boring-we don’t sniff bums, we don’t see the excitement in foraging for sticks-and most of the time we are calling them away from the things they enjoy most. This can all get quite dull for our dogs very quickly.

Lets first look at how dogs learn

With all training and behaviour modification we have to be aware of how dogs learn and the science behind it. The concepts are the same for dogs and humans, and it may be helpful to think of how you have been 'trained' using these methods.

It is so important to train your dog using positive reinforcement techniques – what this means is giving your dog a reward (toys, treats, praise) for good behaviour which then increases the likelihood of the behaviour happening again. When we train using positive reinforcement, the dog will enjoy doing what we are asking them to do, because they know rewards will follow. This is called a conditioned emotional response.

Let’s use recall as an example.

Before it is trained the word “come” means nothing to your dog. They have never heard it before and even if they have, nothing has been expected of them when it has been said. “Come” for your dog is a neutral word (conditional stimulus).

Dogs generally love food. Your dog has not been taught to love food therefore this is a natural response. Food is an unconditioned stimulus, which means your dog has not had to be conditioned to enjoy it.

When we begin to pair the word “come” with food, with enough repetition, the word “come” itself will have a conditioned response because your dog knows it is followed by a reward. This is classical or Pavlovian conditioning.

For example, when talking in human terms: the sound of an ice cream truck is a neutral sound but when it is paired with ice cream or the potential of ice cream, then the noise itself elicits a conditioned emotional response.

1. Building strong foundations:

Whenever we look at implementing a change in behaviour we need to ensure we first build really strong foundations. These often get overlooked for the more traditional, fancy stuff but once we have strong foundations we can start to layer things up and make things harder. Its important that we always ensure that the dog has a good understanding before moving on to the next layer. Ensuring your dog is able to focus and provide eye contact in and around the home and garden is key to achieving BEFORE you start taking your training outside into the real world. Taking time to play engage-disengage games with your dog in multiple environments will also put you on the path to success.

2. Powerful recall word

To get a super speedy recall, a powerful recall word is key. Something that ALWAYS predicts good things for your dog, and they respond to instantly. We want this word to trigger a reflex in our dog – no sniffing around or thinking about it, just turn and run back to Mum/Dad.

If your current recall word isn’t getting you results, it could be worth changing it. This gives you a fresh slate to create new, positive associations. When choosing a recall word think about:

A word the dog won’t hear every day around the house.
A word that sounds happy and fun!
A word that the whole family can be consistent with.
Common options are ‘ready’, ‘here’, ‘lets go’, or I have even had people use ‘chicken’.

Once you have chosen a new word, power it up! We do this by pairing the recall word with something the dog loves – food is the easiest to start with.

Recall word - Feed - Recall Word - Feed

Practice this in shorts bursts over a couple of days and then test it. Say your recall word when your dog is looking away from you – do they automatically flick their head back towards you? If so, brilliant! You have begun to condition a positive response. If not, go back a stage and power up the word some more.

3. Auto check ins 

A strong recall word makes up half of the puzzle. But imagine if you had a dog that you didn’t have to shout for in the first place because they were already close by, paying attention to you? That is an auto check in – the dog glancing up at you of their own accord when out and about-lots of dogs already do this but often we fail to recognise it and reward it, because we didn’t call. But if we started rewarding for a behaviour that we want but didn’t ask for just think how quickly that is going to start to become repeated. If you are not doing this already the game outlined below will set you on a path to success.

The boomerang game. 

  1. Place a treat out to the side of you and let your dog eat it.
  2. When they look back up towards you, mark with a ‘yes!’ and reward with a treat thrown to the opposite side.
  3. When they look back up towards you, mark with a ‘yes!’ and reward to the original side.
  4. Rinse and repeat

As far as your dog is concerned, they are getting treats thrown for looking towards you – amazing! However, we know we are teaching our dogs to; check in with us, disengage from the environment, and that amazing games happen when they pay attention.

When out walking, throw in this game 2-3 times. Just a few repetitions each time can create more engagement, and a dog that wants to be around you! Don’t forget to reward auto check ins when they are offered throughout the walk, not just when you are playing the boomerang game

4. Providing a recall experience

Recall shouldn’t be about the end of the walk or to stop your dog from doing something they shouldn’t. Recall should signify something great is about to happen. If we are only recalling away from the exciting stuff, only to go back on the lead or back in the car, is it any wonder our super smart dogs decide to start going a bit rogue?

For too long humans have been recalling their dogs, giving them a dry biscuit or a pat on the head, and off they trot again. How do you think that compares with the excitement of chasing a rabbit or meeting another dog? Not even close! We need to think of a way to make the recall experience one that your dog wants to repeat.

You may think that this means we have to constantly carry the best fillet steak to reward with, but lucky for us (and our wallets!) there are some fantastic alternatives that your dog will find just as rewarding.

Remember a reward is anything that your dog enjoys, that will increase the likelihood of them repeating that behaviour. This could be treats, a toy, a game, a trick… the list is endless.

5. Some novel ways to reward include

  1. Treats… delivered in a special way! Scatter them on the grass so your dog has to hunt. Throw them through your legs. Throw them for your dog to catch. The delivery of your treat is equally as important as what the treat is made of-for some dogs its more rewarding than the treat itself.
  2. Toys. Think about having a super special recall toy that your dog only gets when they are out walking.
  3. Boomerang game!
  4. Release your dog back to play. Harness the thing your dog is enjoying most! Recall them, and when they come back release them back to chase that rabbit or play with a doggy friend. “go play” or “free” are great cues for this.
  5. Ask for a ‘middle’. If your dog enjoys this trick they will come rushing back in to dive between your legs.
  6. Ask for a hand touch. Creates enthusiasm and brings your dog in nice and close – no more wrestling to get the lead on!

Mix these up and make it unpredictable. Take note of which ones are your dogs favourite and use them accordingly.

6. Management

Now that we are putting all these fantastic games into place, the last thing we want is for our dog to be getting rewarded for not recalling by other things in the environment. If we remember that a reward is anything that the dog enjoys, then sprinting off to play with another dog will be rewarding. Your puppy rushing up to a family and getting cuddles will be rewarding. Your Labrador stealing a pork pie from somebody’s picnic will definitely be

So, we need to prevent our dogs from practicing this behaviour. The best way to do this is with a long line – a long, flat lead that you can hold the end of or leave to drag along the floor. This means that your dog gets the freedom of being off lead, but you have a safety net should a distraction appear. You can then practice some fantastic recalls away from the tempting pork pie, and your dog learns that distractions = run to mum for games.

Enclosed dog parks are also another really good option. Most dog parks can be hired by the hour and are sole use so you can get practising all your new recall activities without the worry of your dog running off to greet another dog, human, squirrel.

7. Environment

Environment is key when practising recall. If your dog isn’t coming when called in the home or from the garden then taking them to the local dog park, beach or forest when there are loads of other distractions is going to be a recipe for disaster in the beginning. You have a long time to experience all of the above with your young dog. Yes take them for the experience but be mindful that if you are going with the thought of training in mind then be
sure to choose times where there is more likelihood that your dog is going to succeed than fail.

Still not let puppy off lead?

This is pretty common and I completely understand that it is a daughting prospect, they are still so little. Some people are scared, others have had bad experiences in the past. The problem is if not now, then when? A young puppy is much more likely to stay close by in the initial stages than a teenage dog who's hormones are raging. Having puppy close by freely or on a long line is going to ensure lots of opportunities for reinforcement. We want to ensure
that the strong foundations are in place BEFORE we get to the teenage stage/

If you have found this blog helpful why not take a look at our resource hub  Our Revolutionary Recalls Masterclass is released on 17th of February and is jam packed full of helpful training videos and interactive games that you can play with your dog to supercharge your recall.

Our Online Training
We hope you found the above helpful. If you feel like you need some more support why not look at our online training centre.
Revolutionary Recall - COMING SOON
Recall Tips Ebook
Join Our FREE Facebook Group