My dog has always enjoyed a free run on the beach, at the dog park, and other appropriate outdoor areas. And she had always been allowed to have free run on such occasions because she always came when called. Notice I said ‘always came’ instead of ‘always comes’? That’s because last summer my dog gave me the scare of my life when she took off at the beach and didn’t come when called. In fact, she ran so fast and so far so quickly—one wold be amazed to see how fast this little, stubby is!—it took me 10-12 minutes of full force running before she was even in my sights again…and she still didn’t come when I called or signaled her! Her entire adventure took about 25 minutes and I was absolutely sick with stress! I had the added bonus of losing my keys somewhere on the beach during my unexpected run!
One would think that a 7 year old dog, without a history of running off and who—used to—always came when called, wouldn’t decide to start acting so bold so late in life. Well, whatever her reasons are for deciding to act a fool—well, like a dog—and ignore my voice commands and hand signals, E-Dee is now finding herself on a short leash; a short leash that I am working on lengthening for her with use of reliable recall.
Think of reliable recall as your emergency call. It tells your dog to stop what they are doing and come running to you NOW!
First, find a word or a noise that will mean “come over to me NOW!” as well as a hand signal that your dog can spot from far away. Personally, I recommend selecting a noise vs. a word since many dogs, such as my own, find it much easier to ignore the sound of their human; after all, we tend to be adamant on talking to them at random times as if they can understand what we’re saying! I recommend a whistle, this gives you the option to blow it gently when your dog is near or really let it fly when they are getting too far away. I’ll do a couple ‘chirps’ on it; I find that my dog reacts better to short bursts rather than one long whistle. Just do whatever works best to get your dog’s attention. As far as a hand signal, I put my arm straight up in the air since my dog already knows other signals. Again, whatever works best to get your dog’s attention.
Second, get some good, bite-sized treats, and I mean really good treats that are not going to be used for anything other than reliable recall training. You want your dog very excited when they hear their noise!
Third, time to pair the whistle and the treat. Find an area where it’s just you and your dog. There is a fenced school yard close to me and I use it in the evening when nobody is there, but it can be in your house, backyard, garage, wherever you can be alone. Softly blow your whistle and drop a treat. Walk away and repeat. If your dog is a chowhound like mine, a few of these moves and they should be hooked thanks to those awesome treats!
Forth step is adding distractions. Wait until your dog is engaged in playing with a toy, munching on a chewy or playing with your partner or friend, and then blow your whistle…your dog should come running with the thought of another delicious treat! Be sure to praise as well as treat them.
Your next step is to bring the training to an outdoor area with moderate distractions, such as a fenced dog park at low-key times of the day. Sound your whistle and reward your dog when they come. It’s recommended to repeat after your dog is rewarded and has been engaged in something else for 5-10 minutes.
Your final step is brining it all to the great wide-open. There is no telling when your dog will be at this step, it could be a week, and it could be a couple of months. Don’t rush it! And remember, even with consistent practice and training, dogs will make mistakes; it is an exciting world after all! But don’t let that discourage you. If your dog has a relapse, take a few steps back until they have mastered the appropriate steps. And remember: A perfect recall is unrealistic. But a near perfect one—a reliable recall—is achievable.
I’ll keep you posted on my dog’s progress and please feel free to share your own experience!