Dog recall: get your dog to come back reliably

Blog post about training a great recall
By Laure-Anne Viselé, April 2011

What is a recall?

It’s a fancy word meaning: ‘The dog comes back when called’.

My dog’s recall: keen and happy

A good recall means:

  • The dog comes back quickly and enthusiastically
  • The dog stops close to you
  • The dog waits until you allow him to leave again

Why is a recall important?

There are at least 3 reasons:

Safety

Not to be dramatic about it, but a good recall could save your dog’s life.

If he’s approaching something dangerous like a road, he HAS to come back to you immediately.

Civic duty

Parents, other dog owners, and joggers (rightly) expect your dog to come back to you the second he bothers them.

Every time your dog is being a pain, you’re giving anti-dog lobbyists more ammunition, and dogs will be less and less welcome in public spaces.

Convenience

Nothing is more irritating than waiting for His Excellence to be good and ready when you’re in a rush or on a rainy day.

Life is a lot easier when ‘Come here’ means ‘Come here now’.

Does he need to be off leash?

Dogs need opportunities to be dogs. Failing to provide them with regular outlets for their ‘dogness’ can result in chronic frustration, and possibly serious behaviour issues.

This stuff definitely can’t be done on the leash:

  • Walking at normal dog pace (way faster than humans);
  • Running like maniacs;
  • Rough-housing with other dogs;
  • Following random tracks;
  • etc.

Try doing THAT on the leash

Why write about the recall?

I see this easily vicious cycle develop all the time: poor recall, less trust, less freedom, poorer recall, even less trust, even less freedom, etc.

It is very frustrating to see, because it’s nothing a few good tips can’t fix.

That’s why I put together a list of the best 9 tips for a great dog recall. Enjoy!

1. Don’t intimidate, seduce

Why not force him?

  1. Put all your received ideas about dominance aside for one moment, and really look at how dogs interact. They entice, rather than intimidate each other. Dogs who bully other dogs become pariahs. If you have a sensitive dog, using force and confrontation can lead to poor performance. So, why not save yourself a lot of hassle and just do it the nice way?
  2. The dog must want to come back to you because you can’t physically control him when he’s off leash.

What’s ‘seducing’ a dog?

During the recall, your tone of voice should sound more like

Want a treat and a game of tug-of-war?

than

Get over here now“.

Competing for your dog’s attention can be tough. If he is rough-housing with his mates, you’re going to have to get the big (motivational) guns out. We’re talking:

Want a treat, a game of tug-of-war, AND a million dollars?“.

So, the golden rule is: The bigger the distraction/temptation, the more irresistible your voice.

Ultimate goal: The dog prefers coming back to you over anything else.

2. Teach the recall

Teaching a great recall is nothing more than a game of ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’. It’s a game of patience, with two main principles:

  1. Lay down good foundations, making sure that the dog masters each level before stepping up; and
  2. If the dog fails, go back a step, and practise, practise, practise until it’s perfect. Then step up again.

Using the ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’ philosophy, you will work on four different criteria:

Distance

  • Practise the ‘backward recall’ on the leash:
    • Walk forward (dog walks forward next to you)
    • Call dog (dog turns and faces you)
    • Walk backwards (dog follows you)
    • Reward him (when dog is right against your legs).
  • When he’s got that, practice the backward recall offleash.
  • When he’s got that, have someone (nicely) restrain him and call him from a (short) distance
  • Gradually increase the distance

Ultimate goal: Dog comes back to you no matter the distance.

Distraction

Start practising at home, then in environments with gradually more distractions and temptations.

Ultimate goal: Dog gladly runs back to you through a sausage factory.

Duration (staying close to you)

  • To start with, release him nearly at the instant that he comes back to you (remember, ‘come here’ means ‘come here and stay here until I release you’).
  • Then gradually build up the duration between coming back and being released.

Ultimate goal: Dog stays put long enough that you can hook up the leash without rushing.

Response speed

When practising the off-leash recall, get increasingly picky with the speed of response by giving a juicier rewards for speedier performances.

Ultimate goal: Dog darts back to you.

 

Safety note: When teaching the recall, only  practice in safe places, where the dog is in no danger, and poses no hazard to anyone.

3. Get him to beg to be put on the leash

Don’t leap and grab

If you regularly leap and grab him by the collar when he’s close enough, he’ll quickly learn to keep just far enough away from you so that you can’t grab him.

Don’t even think of chasing him then. When it comes to speed and reflexes, let’s face it, we’re hopelessly outclassed.

So the trick is to get him to desperately want to be on the leash.

Make the whole business less unpleasant

  • If you have a small dog, kneel when calling him. You won’t be this imposing mass towering above him when you bend over to attach the leash.
  • Take the collar gently and discreetly.
  • Place the buckle under the chin to clip the leash (not above the neck). That gets rid of the neck-grabbing effect.
  • Do not directly end the walk after attaching the leash. Leash him up several times per walk, and instantly let him go again.

Make the whole business more rewarding

(‘counter-conditioning’ to us geeks)

  • Hold a treat in each hand, plus one in your pocket.
    • Position your hands so that they are in-line in front of you, at the dog’s eye level, one in front of the other
    • The distance between your hands should be (roughly) the distance between your dog’s throat (where you’ll hold the collar) and the tip of his nose (where he’ll be nibbling at a treat)
    • Hold the treats between the thumb and index finger, pointing upwards, so it is obvious to the dog you are holding something (even at a distance).
  • Call the dog to you
  • (He comes to you) Let him have treat #1, and let him sniff at treat #2 (in second hand).
  • (He nibbles at treat #2) Discreetly take hold of the collar with hand #1, and clip on the leash, when he’s being distracted by nibbling on treat #2.
  • (When the leash is clipped) Let him have treat #2.

Ultimate goal:

  • Dog comes close to you when you call him,
  • Dog stays put until you have clipped on the leash
  • Dog hangs around for a bit once unleashed

4. Don’t get angry

What am I talking about?

Picture this:

  • Your dog does something really stupid (mounting a picnic blanket, provoking a Pit Bull , you name it).
  • You call him back – he ignores you.
  • People start to gather and watch, some with reproach, and some with pity. Humiliating stuff, particularly if you’re wearing your dog training company t-shirt…
  • You get REALLY irritated, but keep calling the dog.
  • The dog eventually comes back
  • You give him a piece of your mind for being so bleeding cheeky.

Perfectly understandable, but hopelessly ineffective.

What to do instead

  1. Remember Jessica Rabbit? Entice, seduce, tempt. Crank the charm right up.
  2. Religiously follow the ‘Teach the recall’ bit (the monkey stuff), and practise again in a less challenging environment (e.g. when the park is less busy).

5. Avoid mistakes

Why avoid mistakes?

Mistakes here are self-reinforcing, in a ‘I tried it and liked it‘ kind of way.

Also, every time your command fails, it becomes that little bit less relevant to your dog, it loses a little bit in meaning (as it wasn’t actually followed by going back to you).

So if you want to keep your dog’s recall sharp, avoid recall mistakes.

How to avoid mistakes?

By knowing your dog and his limits. If you can’t vouch for his recall in a particular situation, try this:

  1. Avoid the situation (temporarily, until you’ve practised, practised, practised up to that level. Remember the monkey bit?). Leash him up in the more tricky locations; or
  2. Be sure that you have the time to wait until he’s bored and comes back off his own accord; or
  3. Anticipate, and wave something irresistible at him before he goes off (we’re talking beef steak here) if you’re in an area with particularly irresistible distractions.

If you keep practising (see the ‘monkey paragraph’), there will soon be less and less situations where you’re not 100% sure of your recall.

6. Keep your hands off

What am I talking about?

When the dog comes back to you, avoid stroking him, patting his head, scruffing up his hair, etc.

In other words: hands off.

What does it do?

Think back of your grandmother’s wet kisses, or when she was scruffing up your hair or pinching your cheek. They’re loving gestures but, man! they’re annoying

It works the same for dogs. Sure they need affection, but there’s a time and a place.

Most dogs find being touched when running back to you off-putting, so observe the dog’s body language. Unless the dog is wriggling with joy at your touch, as you can see in the video under point 7, I can guarantee that he won’t prefer your touch over a juicy treat when coming back to you.

Need evidence?

It is a tough habit to drop, so pay attention next time you call him:

  • Do you systematically touch him to ‘reward’ his recall?
  • How (pat on the head, scruff on the side, kiss)?
  • How does he react? Does he:
    • retreat,
    • cower,
    • flatten his ears,
    • drop his tail lower between his legs,
    • lick his lips,
    • yawn for no good reason?

Those could be subtle signs that he’s not enjoying it so much, which could make him that little bit less keen to come back to you.

7. Deal with the slow come-backs

What am I talking about?

I see this one all the time:

  • You call dog
  • He comes back reluctantly
  • You call him more impatiently
  • He slows down even more
  • You call him angrily
  • He starts sniffing around, and comes back in a (slow) zig zag

Why does it happen?

For dogs, bolting straight towards someone can be confrontational. If they detect tension (you’re irritated), they will go through great pains to reassure you they’re being peaceful when they’re approaching you.

How do they do that? They slow down, zig zag and sniff around, basically saying: “I want no trouble.“.

Spotted the catch 22 yet? The more agitated you get, the more they try to appease you, the more they slow down, the more agitated you get, etc.

For the smartie pants asking how I know the dog is not slowing down or sniffing around because of some genuinely interesting smell, rather than a diversion tactic, do the test. Does the dog keep sneakily looking up at you, or does it seem engrossed by the smell?

What can I do?

If he starts slowing down when he’s approaching you, make your body language more relaxed:

  • Breathing: from fast, shallow breaths to slow, deep breaths,
  • Posture: make yourself a little smaller,
  • Tension: try to relax your muscles,
  • Eyes: Do not stare at the dog, but look slightly to the side,
  • Position:
    • Do not face the dog squarely, but adopt a slight side-way posture, and
    • Put your weight on your back foot, rather than the front one.

8. Play hard to get

To keep your dog on his toes and wanting to regularly check in on you, make sure you are sometimes unavailable.

So, when he’s not paying attention, you could:

  • Hide yourself;
  • Take an unexpected turn; or
  • Run away in the opposite direction.

Safety note: Only do this in places where it’s safe to not supervise him for a sec.

9. Re-teach a lost recall

What am I talking about?

This happens all the time: the dog used to do it fine, then somehow the recall eroded.

How to re-teach a damaged recall?

Just get a fresh start:

  • Train the recall again (see the ‘monkey paragraph’)
  • Using a new command.

How to choose a new command?

Choose a sound that:

  • Carries far,
  • Your entire family can do (not a complicated whilstle), and
  • Won’t make you feel like an idiot.

Note: The name of the dog is not a recall command. It means ‘Pay attention for a sec‘. It does not mean ‘Come back to me’.

When to use the new command?

Only in situations where you’re sure to succeed (i.e. basic stages in the monkey bit). Keep using the old command for other situations.

Before you know it, you’ll be able to use the new command pretty much every where (because you’ll have followed the instructions in the monkey paragraph religiously).

Using your new command too early could ‘pollute’ it with too many mishaps and failures (remember the bit about avoiding mistakes?) .

And another couple of tips…

  1. Don’t forget to release the dog (e.g. say ‘free’, or ‘OK’) to let him know he can move about again after he’s come to you. Remember, ‘come here’ means ‘come here and stay here until I release you
  2. Put aside a daily ration of food for treats and staple. That means he’ll get slightly less at meal time, and he’ll be trickle-fed the rest during training sessions. That way, using treats for training won’t make him fat(ter).

It can’t be done?

Check this video by dog trainer/dog blogger and all-round nice guy Dino Dogan and his dog, Dojo, performing a stellar recall.

Comments

I love to read your comments. If you read this and have anything to share, leave a comment.

I’d particularly like to hear from you if you:

  • Have funny recall stories;
  • Have encountered challenges or problems during your recall training, or are downright stuck;
  • Would like to share a video of your dog performing a great, or appalling, recall; or
  • Have other tips.

I always love to hear from you, so join the discussion!

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23 Comments

  1. Posted 26 April 2011 at 21:52 | Permalink

    OMG…I cant believe you used us in your recall post…how cool 🙂

    I LOVE training recall and its because I LOVE having my dogs off leash.

    Having them off leash -as you pointed out- is great for their doginess, but its terrible considering we live in a distinctly human world (with streets, cars, and all sorts of other things that can harm a dog)…so having a strong recall is paramount…and Im not exaggerating when I say that it will save your dog’s life.

    Great stuff..thnx for including us 🙂

    • Posted 26 April 2011 at 22:13 | Permalink

      he he he, no problem, Dino. I looooove that video.

      It’s combining so many criteria: speed of reaction, distraction, distance. Fine art!

  2. Posted 28 April 2011 at 17:36 | Permalink

    I was just talking about recall on my blog recently because of the big buzz around an uber expensive online recall class happening. I’m going to be doing an intensive recall blitz on my own in May.

    I’m not sure that I’ll ever fully trust Darwin – breeds like field English Setters and greyhounds are dogs that many breed afficionados say will just never be reliable. Hunters who use setters & pointers in NA are often using gps collars on their dogs because they go missing so much……Hwvr, so far, in some of the prelim groundwork I’ve been doing, he’s been awesome. In fact my dd was joking that he’ll probably end up the best of all 3 dogs simply b/e I’m putting so much effort into him LOL.

    And great point about hands off the dog! My malamutexgsd actually likes touch a lot & she can be rewarded with it, but the setter DETESTS being touched when we’re ‘working’. It has been SO hard for me to learn to keep my hands to myself because I just want to shruffle him all over.

    I do incorporate a collar grab into all my recall work. I tend to grab from the side, kind of straight back from the jaw hinge. As usual, start indoors with easy peasy come to me from 2 feet away….With a hand shy dog treat first and while dog is taking treat right away do the grab with the other hand. Gradually grab comes first then treat.

    Reason I do this is that in an emergency situation, especially if it’s not ME that manages to get close to the dog, I want anyone to be able to just grab that collar.

    • Posted 28 April 2011 at 22:29 | Permalink

      Online recall class? How does that work? Interesting.

      Yeah, chasers… A 99% reliable recall is manageable if you can anticipate, but, with the sense of scent of trackers and grayhounds, you don’t have a chance to notice the distraction before they do. But actually I don’t trust any dog 100%. You just never know. There’s just so much temptation you can compete against. But if you can have him off-leash in most places, then it’s good enough, no?

      He he he, hands off is a tough one to leave, isn’t it? We really mean well, but only a minority of dogs will see it as rewarding when working, from what I can see.

      Oh very very very good point about desensitising to the hand grab. I have done the same with my dog, actually. Maybe I should mention it, but the article is so long already.

  3. Posted 9 May 2011 at 19:10 | Permalink

    I tried to find the promo videos the instructor made for it but I think she’s taken them down now that the course has started. The students get assignments in written form & video lecture and I think there’s a forum where they discuss their progress. Some also post their own videos of how it’s going. Lots of focus games. If you search on youtube for Garrett recallers or garrett 5 minute formula you will see some examples of what they work on. Lots of testimonial videos also show up – but you can also see some of the exercises; like here:
    Like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6C_HGmDK34&feature=related &

  4. Posted 12 May 2011 at 15:06 | Permalink

    Thanks, Fiona! We aim to please ; P

  5. Susan
    Posted 28 October 2011 at 21:17 | Permalink

    Thanks for the light heatred, informative article. I have a Pit Bull/Lab mix who really irritated me this AM. We don’t have a fence, and he recently graduated from being outside on a run with me, to off leash. All was great for a few days, he stuck next to me and my German Shepherd who has perfect recall. One thing led to another, and he was in a neighbors yard, smelling their flowers, then the next house, etc. etc. Here I am yelling JACK! JACK! JAAAAAAAAAACK! and go from getting at least a backwards glance to nada. he is staying about 15 feet ahead of me, my shepherd at my side, when he decides to cut through a side yard and go out to front yards. I decide I need to hurry home and get on shoes (this was supposed to be a potty break!) and when I get them on and head back out- there he is at my back door! He followed us home once I wasn’t following him and fussing. He is a very timid dog and will not approach strangers, but loves to play with other dogs. Maybe, even though I am his person, I was scaring him too? I am going to implement your steps with him and not rush things. Thanks again for a great article.

    • Posted 13 March 2012 at 16:53 | Permalink

      Wow, Susan, thanks for the great comment. That sounds like what would have happened indeed: you’re retreating instead of running after him, so he follows you from a distance. I have the same instinct with my dog, getting really frustrated if he’s distracted by something too great to pass, then I remember that my voice has to convince him it’ll be nicer to run back to me than continue whatever it is he’s doing.

      Patricia Mc Connell, a behaviourist specialising on dogs, has a theory that high-pitched, fast, repeated syllables are more attractive to dogs (hence more appropriate for a recall) than long, low, shouting sounds (like ‘JAAAAAAACK’). I’ve this secret recall-when-all-else-fails-warcry (I sound like a maniac when I use it, but it works) that always works.

  6. Tabitha
    Posted 21 December 2011 at 23:42 | Permalink

    Hi, I adopted a 14 month old Labrador; I’ve had him a year and am still struggling with recall…!

    I’ve done everything suggested in your great article, and I also turn every recall into a game which has helped. However, if he sees another dog – that’s it, the recall fails…

    I tried hiding and yes, my dog looked for me and came instantly when I called him. However, when another dog appears, EVEN if I run away holding out a treat and yelling encouragement, my dog chooses instead to go to the dog rather than following me……

    Any advice please? Many thanks indeed 🙂

    • Posted 23 March 2012 at 10:56 | Permalink

      Hi Tabitha

      What you have here is the competition between two motivations, and the motivation to get to you has to be greater than to play with the dog. If playing with other dogs is his absolute favorite thing in the world, you need to step right up on the treat ladder. We’re talking beef steak to start with here.

      I would do two things:

      1/ Gradually increase the temptation, but never letting the dog fail.

      So, do this 5x a day or so.

      Start all this on-leash
      Whenever you see another dog (you have to be alert and see him before you do), tell the dog he’s in training (e.g. ‘training’, or ‘session’)
      Then make him look you in the eyes (hold something yummy and small at eye level, then say ‘watch me’ and reward for watching him).
      Every time he looks at the other dog, ask for his attention again.
      Don’t let him get too close to the other dog so that he would pull on the leash.
      Close every little session (that way, if he fails at the next recall with another dog, no biggie, won’t contaminated the embryonnic recall)

      Once you have that right – he reliably looks at you – decrease the distance to the other dogs. Again, slowly slowly catchy monkey, don’t decrease the distance too quickly.

      2/ Once he reliably sticks around (before he’s gone totally nuts at the idea of playing with the other dog, so at safe distance), try off leash.

      Every time, open the session with the word ‘training’ or something, and close it with the word ‘OK’ or something.

      Do this one several times a day too, until he gets more reliable, then decrease the distance to the dog.

      So, here we go: make sure you have something ridiculously juicy and yummy and conspicuous for a dog (e.g. big pieces of steak!) – or if he’s a game freak, bring his toy tug-of-war rope with you or something. Whatever you think he will be more interested in than a distant dog.

      Whilst still at a safe distance away from the other dog, let your dog go slightly towards the other dog, but not so much that he feels out of your sphere of influence and that he forgets about the steak (there’s this magic distance between you and the dog that you’re working on increasing now), then call him with a new special word (e.g. ‘steak’).

      He comes back, he gets a piece of steak, then you tell him he can ‘go play’. Then you wait until he’s bored with playing and you call him back.

      Don’t overdo this one. Only say ‘steak’ if you’re absolutely sure he’ll come back.

      Whatever you do, don’t keep calling him if not successful. You’d only fade away the relevance of your new cue.

      Don’t do this for the entire walk. Sometime (often) let him play for quite a while, and only call him when he’s looking bored with playing (chance of him coming way higher, and a good habit reinforces itself).

      Close the session (say ‘OK’) or something until another dog appears.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Delia Smith
    Posted 27 August 2012 at 09:57 | Permalink

    I had great recall with my 6 and a half month GSP bitch until about a month ago. She’s acting as though she’s never been trained and is ignoring me and the whistle. I have tried using her favourite toy as a reward, etc. but most of the time she is ignoring that too. This morning she started chasing some birds out in the fields and got herself into a larthered mess as she wouldn’t give up trying to catch them. She ran after them like a demented thing for 20 minutes at full pace. I was able to evenutally get her as she could hardly run any further and had worn herself out. I’ve read all your articles which are brilliant and will try using something very tasty as a reward. However, she’s had a dodgy stomach for a while and has been treated by the vet, so treats have been off the menu for a few weeks. Could this be one of the reasons she’s ignoring me????? Thanks so much in anticipation!

    • Posted 27 August 2012 at 14:34 | Permalink

      Hi Delia

      Ouch. It’s really frustrating, isn’t it? But you’re not alone.

      It sounds like a combination of things.

      1/ One of them is (well spotted) to do with the ratio of rewards. Because of her tummy upset, you’ve had to go ‘cold turkey’ on the treats. I’d ask your vet for the most pallatable training treat he can advise that will not contribute to her upsets.

      2/ (well spotted again)It also sounds like the motivation fight. If she’s REALLY driven by her chase drive, it would take a muuuuuuuch more tempting treat than whatever you can offer to get her to come back to you. In that case, it sounds like you’d need (I know, really annoying) ‘proof’ her recall against distractions, starting easy and hopefully ending as close to the uber distracting stimulus as possible. At any other times, just ‘manage’ her (see below).

      3/ Another one is that she’s six-months old, which means she may be entering her teenage phase, during which many dogs try their boundaries with you and when her drives are developing more fully.

      4/ The trick is to anticipate the dog going really really really into chase drive, and to get her to you before she does. It’s tricky as their perception is vastly superior to ours when it comes to detecting an interesting smell, but you could also try to look for very subtle, precursor signs of alertness in her body language.

      Be prepared, though, some dogs’ chase drive is so strong that you’re never really there entirely.

      So then it becomes a question of management: at times when you just know that the distractions will be too much and she will dart away, then she has to be either on-leash or in a completely fenced off domain. The thing is, someone could get really scared of a loose GSD and something really regrettable could happen in their panick. Also, she could also get ran over.

      Hope this helped, and thanks for the comment!

  8. Vikki Pickering
    Posted 30 August 2012 at 10:32 | Permalink

    Hi there

    I have just read your recall blog – I love the way you’ve written it, very humorous 🙂 and also some really good tips in there some of which I intend to share with my group dog training class this weekend! I am pleased to have stumbled across your website!

    • Posted 30 August 2012 at 10:40 | Permalink

      Thanks for the very kind comment, Vikki. Hope you keep reading the blog.

  9. Margaret
    Posted 11 July 2013 at 22:39 | Permalink

    Thank you for such an insightful ad wonderful blog!! Ive read it so many times just for reassurance.

    We adopted our dog (sled dog) when he was 10months old (he’s now just over 16months) He’s brilliant with temperament, however his recall is not even close to 10%.

    We only use positive reinforcement and practice distraction training (almost everyday and in the house) but he is absolutely aloof, ‘chooses to come’ only if there is a very high value treat (and it needs to a variety or he doesnt bother) he isn’t big on praises or treats as he is with sniffing about and staring at other dogs. He’s great in the lead with consistency but however his re-call even on the practice (30 ft long lead) is not even close to 1 out of 15 recall practices.

    I am patient when working with him however I am very frustrated with myself that I have been trying the proper methods and positive reinforcement however i am losing the battle against sniffing, other dogs, birds etc. Even when we practice in/around the house he rarely comes. So lately we have been practicing recall only if we are fairly certain he will come (normally around the house)

    We live in Melbourne, Australia a very dog friendly city, however enclosed parks are so far and in-between (plus all the parks are always filled with dogs..day or night time) that it is hard to practice distraction…:-/

    Any advice would be great as I would love for him to run and be free sometimes and we build a bond of trust in him knowing that coming back is a good thing and he will get to go back to playing. Its been a consistent 7 months of recall and to no avail. I am uncertain of him being not fixed is the case, however I do not believe that fixing a dog will solve all my problems. He is absolutely brilliant apart from the recall which is one of the more essential elements I feel is critical to training.

    Any support, advice or help would be grateful and very much taken upon: )

    !!!please help!!!! Thank you so much in advance for the love & support

    Regards,
    Margaret

    Ps: rambled a bit there, but we are trying all that we can to get on the proper foot. We also take him to dog training/re-hab & socialisation training once a week (2 hours from where we live….dog courses are far away in Melbourne) with tons of other dogs there training but of course…he is the most placid and balanced dog there (I dobt know if its becuse there are balanced dogs there or not but hes very pulled together there)

    • Posted 20 August 2013 at 14:09 | Permalink

      Mmmmh, tough to work on errorless training (don’t recall if you think it’s not going to work) when the dog just won’t go up one stage. Before I conclude that you’ve just met the dog’s limitations and that’s as good as he’s going to get on the recall (Some dogs just love the chase way more than the biggest steak you could dream of brandishing) – which, sadly, can happen – some ideas.

      1/ Can you pick up clues about his past as to why his recall is to poor? It could be that he has a history of collar grabs. Does he hover around you when he comes back, but just not close enough? Or is it truly a question of the attraction of the competing distraction beats coming back to your steak/cheese dinner in his mind.

      2/ Thinking out of the box here but, have you had him tested for hearing problems?

      3/ What happens with the staring? Has it ever escalated if left to run its course? Maybe I read too fast, but I haven’t read of any actual problem encounter with other dogs, right, and he’s really placid during the training class, right?

      4/ If you’re worried that he won’t be getting enough exercise with just on-leash walks, in the meantime, there are tons of way to stimulate him mentally/physically. Breed-approriate dog sport if you can find it in Melbourne; teach him to run next to you on the bike; play dates (but you’re back to needing a fenced off space).

      P.S. Melbourne! I was placed there on a work project for a few months. Loved it!

      It’s tough giving advice remotely, but I hope I’ve given you a thread to pick up on at least. And my apologies about the delay it’s taken me in responding. With the training school and the postgraduate course (applied behaviourism), it’s been quite the race!

  10. GK
    Posted 8 April 2014 at 14:02 | Permalink

    Today I had an awful experience walking my 11 month old Spanish Mastiff cross. I let him off leash without realising that another dogwalker was close by. She was immediately terrified. I called my dog but he is at the stage where his recall is getting good- but he still is super excited when he sees other dogs to play with. I calmly walked over to where he and the other dog walker was to see her waiving a puppy above her head and running round in small circles with her other dog barking at her feet.My dog wasn’t barking – he admittedly was chasing and wanting to play – he thought it was all a great game…. The lady by the time I got to her and got my dog on the lead was crying and screaming that my dog was nasty. I had a really hard time staying calm.
    I would really like some advice for these situations – usually I would have kept him on the leash which I don’t like doing – he loves running round. What would you have done? And what would you have said to the other dogwalker? I am more than happy to accept responsibility for my mistake, but I was so cross at her for making a situation worse – and I left feeling like the bad guy because I wasn’t able to explain. This doesn’t happen often but when it does it feels like we are back square one.

    • Posted 10 June 2014 at 15:00 | Permalink

      Hi GK. Having had very large dogs, and some of the ‘scary’ breeds (like an Anatolian shepherd, a german shepherd, etc.), I know all too well of people’s fears towards them. But the thing is, the fears are understandable, and justified. They don’t know us, they don’t know our dogs. So if they see a large dog running towards them, they don’t want to take any chances. Saying that he just wants to play just isn’t going to reassure her. Maybe her pup was fearful and needed to have no exposure to wilder dogs.

      And approaching other dogs who don’t want to play in a rambuctious way might be full of good intentions, but it’s not great manners and it might scare a dog who is nervous to start with. The best you can do is show her compassion, as this will calm this down. Something like: “I understand, let me call him back. He’s never hurt anyone, but I am getting him back immediately”. She knows you respect her and you are doing something about it. This should calm down the general hysteria.

      It’s no biggie about the recall not having worked. It’s real-life, I guess. Ideally, only successful recalls would happen, but hey, that’s not so realistic. You did your best. And, yes, if your dog loves other dogs and approaches them running, it’s totally understandable too. He’s just being really friendly. Only that’s enough to scare other people and dogs when your dog happenes to be, like mine used to be, a massive giant.

      Check out Donna Hill’s video (level 4 of this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_BEXER4lGo) to get your dog to come back even when you’re far, and even when he wants to play with other dogs.

      Good luck!

  11. Leo
    Posted 15 April 2014 at 19:45 | Permalink

    Thanks for the blog and especially this very post. I look up at it every now and then when I am stuck.

    My dog is a Golden retriever and Saluki mix whom I adopted at around 1 year of age. She is 3 now and quite well trained. However I am not quite happy with her recall. She is perfect on leash, when a get her into a stay and call her or when I get someone to hold her and call her. She takes off like a lightning and runs to me for a quite long distance under mild distractions. I try to avoid situations when I know she wouldn’t listen at all costs and try to keep her recall nice and fast.

    I want to start training her under distractions but I just don’t know how to start. My greatest fear (more like a phobia now) is to ruin (or decrease the speed of) the recall she already has. She is quite reactive to dogs (but it doesn’t really bother me as there are only a handful where I live) and will likely chase small animals when highly exited (I am working on that).

    I am not sure of how to continue with the recall and how to introduce the distractions. Will training under distractions affect the speed of our current recall or how its imprinted in my dog’s head? Please help!
    Best regards
    Leo

    PS; In one of your comments a saw you mention some sort of high pitched way of calling your dog. I never heard of anything like that and would LOVE to find out how it works. Thank you!! :))

  12. Anonymous
    Posted 20 July 2014 at 23:01 | Permalink

    Hi I have a 13 month Siberian husky who is neutered male , he recall has been brilliant until now especially when he sees other dogs , I know this breed is very hard to train recall but I determined to do this , should just start from scratch again .
    Many thanks

    • Posted 9 August 2014 at 10:18 | Permalink

      Hi Anonymous. Thanks for sharing. Yes, many huskies are VERY motivated to run, aren’t they. Tip: If you start from scratch, use a new words.

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