My first dog was a malamute named Rudy. Rudy never learned a reliable recall. I took him to two different training schools, one of which used shock collar training. Rudy did eventually learn to come with the shock collar but once I lost the collar, I never replaced it. I never felt comfortable using it. Fast forward to now. I know a lot more about training and how to train a reliable recall. So when I got a call to start dog walking an 8 week old husky puppy named Kaiya, I was excited for the challenge. Kaiya is now 6 months old. I do believe that every dog can be trained to have a reliable recall – even the ‘more challenging’ breeds.
10 tips for training Kaiya’s recall.
1. Use a long line. Yes, it’s annoying to use a long line and I get slack from other people (never good trainers of course!). But it is part of management. You must always be able to get your dog when you are working on the foundation steps of recall. Certainly if your dog learns that you can’t catch him, you will be setting your training way way back. By the way, keeping a puppy on a short leash because you are ‘waiting’ until she is better trained, is pointless. The long leash is your training and you want to do this right from the start. Once the dog is reliable you can start using a shorter leash. Kaiya has progressed to this.
2. Teach her to follow. I see dog walkers and owners that let their dogs roam around enclosed areas and ‘catch up’ with them later. I don’t recommend doing this. The dogs in my group must learn to stick with the group. When Kaiya follows the group, I reinforce her by feeding her portions of her lunch. When she was about to go visit another group, I stepped on the long line and redirected her to follow us again using the words ‘Let’s Go’.
3. Go to an enclosed area An enclosed area is a safe place for me to work with a new dog and give the opportunity for freedom so I can do the training. I like the Brickworks because it is a fully-enclosed trail. You can drop the leash and feel safe while also encouraging the dog to follow the group.
4. Reward all Check-ins. Anytime Kaiya comes to check-in with me, I give her a little goodie. She checks-in a lot now.
5. Practice recall with your dog’s name. Don’t underestimate the value of your dogs name. For some reason people are hooked on the COME word. Saying your dog’s name should bring your dog towards you. During the foundation training, I only call a dog’s name when I know they are going to respond to me. This sets the dog up for success and give you an opportunity to reward her. If you watch the video, you will see that Kaiya recalls really well for her name. This leaves me to introduce the come word as an EMERGENCY recall down the road. More on this to come…
6. Give her a reason to stay close. I try to make sure all dog’s have a reason to stick with me. In Kaiya’s case I use her lunch. With other dogs, it might be retrieving or bringing out a special toy every so often. Kaiya’s owners also leave her some meat as a special treat. This works brillantly. I am also investing time in teaching her to retrieve. Every time she shows interest in a toy, I say ‘YES’ and reward her. If she picks up a ball I make a huge deal out of it and try to encourage her to bring it back. Every dog can learn to retrieve.
7. Be prepared for a regression. Most dogs go through a teenager phase. Kaiya is only 6 months now so I am anticipating this. I also know that regression is ok because once you push past it you build a stronger behaviour.
8. Set realistic expectations Young dogs are highly distractible and want to explore. I don’t expect Kaiya to have a perfect recall. All I can do is practice everyday and always make it a positive experience for her to come to me.
8. When a dog runs off figure out why. Kaiya scared me a week ago when she took off in the ravine. My first thought was that the environment was too stimulating for her, but then I realized that she ran to the bottom of the hill to get a drink (smart puppy!). Is the dog running off to steal toys?, to visit another group? to go find food? chase a squirrel? All these need to be dealt with in their own way. Incidentally Kaiya is showing interest in wildlife and I’m always making sure that she never has the opportunity to chase birds, squirrels, etc. The practice of chasing wildlife makes a dog highly unreliable.
9. Never become too confident with a dog There’s a fine line between relaxing now that the dog is more reliable and becoming dangerously confident. Every now and then I’ll catch myself realizing that I haven’t looked around for Kaiya in the last couple of minutes and there she is following along like a good girl. It’s easy to get distracted when you are picking up poo, your phone rings, or if other dogs are causing trouble. I always have to remind myself that it only takes a couple of seconds for a dog to disappear. Now that the bond is already formed and Kaiya sticks with the group, I switch over to my other fear as a dog walker. This is the type of incident that is quite common with dog walkers. The dog wanders off following a scent. The dog walker takes a different path. When the dog looks up and can’t find her group, she panics and starts running at top speed looking for them. Sometimes she goes the wrong way. So I guess what I’m trying to say is never take your eyes off your dogs! Even if they do have a good recall.
10. Work at lots of different parks to increase reliability. We take lots of different adventures to keep things fun and exciting so the dog’s don’t get bored. But more importantly, we work on recall all over the place. Kaiya has no reason not to come to me. I never put her on leash when I call her. She gets special treat and a chance to run again.