By Colin C. Tennant MA
Chairman of The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association of GB
Recall Training: Addressing dogs that don’t respond to commands
Understanding Your Dog’s Perspective
From a dog’s perspective, life is an adventure filled with intriguing scents, playful interactions with fellow canines and investigations into everything happening in its surroundings. As your dog grows from a puppy into adolescence and adulthood, it revels in these experiences. Amid all this excitement, you, as the owner, may often find yourself at the bottom of your dog’s priority list. Many dog owners enjoy watching their pets frolic with others, taking delight in their boundless energy. When you call your dog, whether during play or exploration, it is a matter of whether the motivation to obey your command surpasses the allure of its current activities. This challenge lies at the heart of the issue; the distractions often prove more enticing and your command can signify the end of their fun. The more you call a dog that consistently ignores you, the more your voice becomes background noise to them.
A Fresh Training Approach
Now, let us explore a training method to reverse this behaviour. Before embarking on this method, allocate some time for play during your walks, allowing your dog to associate you with enjoyable experiences. Recall training should be a daily routine, lasting about twenty minutes, ideally while you are out on your walks. Begin in a quiet area with minimal distractions and once you feel confident, progress to places where distractions are present.
Sound and Food Rewards
Dogs possess keen hearing and most of them delight in food. This method capitalises on these attributes. However, if your dog is not particularly food-motivated, it may be more challenging. To increase your dog’s appetite, consider skipping a meal before starting the training.
You will need a dog whistle, preferably one you can hear as well, so you will know if it is working correctly and some food. Begin by withholding your dog’s next meal. The training can commence the following day in the quiet area you have chosen.
Training in Controlled Environments (Home or Garden):
- Use natural food with no chemicals or additives.
- Divide half of your dog’s usual dinner into approximately ten portions and store them in a container that fits in your pocket.
- Show your dog a portion of food in your hand and run backward while enthusiastically commanding: “Come, [dog’s name]!” Blow the whistle once.
- Reward your dog with the food as soon as it comes to you.
- Repeat this process ten times, then conclude the lesson.
- Any unused food can be given to your dog during the final recall when you attach the lead.
Now, your dog has a compelling reason to respond to your recall commands, as their stomach usually governs their decision-making. Furthermore, a new association with the whistle is forming.
Training in the Park: After several training sessions, your dog should start responding promptly. You can now find a quiet area in your local park or nearby fields to practice the same routine. When you return home, feed your dog the remaining food you didn’t take with you. Continue this training for an additional three days until your dog reliably responds to your commands and the whistle.
Once your dog responds quickly, phase out the verbal commands and rely solely on the whistle, though you may continue to encourage your dog as it approaches you. After a month, gradually reduce the food rewards during walks. Take a few small portions of food with you, using them intermittently to reinforce your dog’s recall. After the walk, continue feeding your dog any remaining food in the evening.
Over time, you will only need to offer food rewards occasionally, ensuring your dog remains uncertain about when to expect them. By “occasional”, we mean no more than once or twice a week. Nevertheless, you should consistently praise your dog whenever it comes to you, whether or not food is involved.
While it requires dedication and patience, this training will ultimately reward you with a dog that reliably responds to your recall commands.
- Call your dog multiple times during a walk, not just at the end.
- Always make your dog sit for 10 – 30 seconds after each recall.
- Interact with your dog using toys during walks to make yourself more appealing.
- Avoid giving your dog toys at home during this training.
- Refrain from offering any other food or treats, except as described above.
- Attach a trailing line about 10 feet long to your dog for emergencies.
Training Resources: For additional guidance, consider exploring the www.petsonfilm.co.uk for demonstrative videos.
Read more: Colin Tennant’s Book: 21 Days to Train Your Dog” (available on Amazon and at all good booksellers).