One of the most common questions we are asked - why is my dog ignoring me?
We need to flip this around - Why should they listen to us?
The answer is a simple one - dog's are NOT born hard wired to "please us", "work for us" or do as we ask. Dogs are animals and whilst they are a social species thriving on company and strong bonds, we cannot expect them to innately want to do anything we ask of them. This can be hard to understand if you have a dog who seemingly does anything you ask of them, or go out of their way to do things that make you happy. Whilst I would love to confirm to you that your dog is doing these things out of the goodness of their heart, the reality is that doing "X" behaviour has worked for them in some way in the past. Perhaps you gave them extra fusses or cuddles, which you value. Or perhaps you gave them some of your biscuit. Whatever it is, your dog has banked this as "yes it's worth doing this behaviour when this situation comes up!"
What does this mean for our recall training?
Now we have covered thinking dog a little, we need to make coming back to us worth our dog's while. It is no good taking out a steak on your walk tomorrow and expecting your dog to have perfect recall. Recall is all about the 100 other times you have called your dog and NOT given them steak! Dog's learn through repetition, consistency and predictability. It's time to teach your dog that it is worth coming back!
Step 1 - Pick your cue! I advise not using your dogs name! This is because you say your dog's name all the time. "ooh fluffy, aren't you a good boy, let me stroke your ears!" - This isn't a recall - so use another word. I like Come, Here or a whilste! (I am forgetful so I use come - I can't forget my voice!)
Step 2 - Charge your cue! Pair your cue up with something AMAZING. This is at home, when you are sat watching TV, reading a book or working at your desk. Have the amazing reward to hand, say the recall cue, stand up and hand your dog the food. Then sit back down and continue your day. Repeat this several times throughout the day, for several days. If your dog gets excited at dinner time, also say your cue as you put the bowl down.
Step 3 - If you are reading this and you haven't done step 2 (for several days!), get back to step 2! The temptation to jump steps is high - don't do it! So I am assuming you have done step 2? - Time to test your dog. You are now going to pick a time when your dog is not right next to you - call out your cue! If your dog comes running - rewards fall from the sky! If they don't - head back to step 2 for a few more days & double check your rewards are high enough. You should only be practicing this at home.
Step 4 - Move this out into the garden! You need to be 95% sure your dog will come back when you call this cue. Everytime your dog ignores it, they will continue what they are doing and are banking that choice as "yes, that was worth ignoring!". So don't call your dog when they are busy eating bird poo, or when they have their nose down sniffing the rabbits that came through your garden in the night. Wait until they are relatively undistracted and then try!
Step 5 - Hopefully you have been practicing those steps throughout the week. It is important you do not rush onto this step! Pop a long line on your dog - this is very important - don't skip it! You are going to take this recall out into the real world. Start in a low distracting environment with the long line attached and call your cue! If your dog comes, move to step 6. If they don't, move back to step 4.
Step 6 - Step 6 is flexible depending on your dog. Make a nice chart on your dog's distractions from 1-10. Here is Blossom's list as an example:
Field with people at a distance
Field with dogs at a distance
Field with a dog playing ball
Empty field but there have been rabbits in there!
Field with dogs close playing
Cleo playing off lead
Arthur playing off lead
Field with rabbits running around
So I need to start at 1. and build up to 10. We use the long line to prevent rewards if they choose to ignore you. It's important that your dog doesn't learn "Oh, I ignored that cue and got to chase rabbits for 40 minutes!" - no, you ignored your cue so you had to stand at the end of the line having no fun.
Some other useful games:
- Turn around and run! - Your dog is so used to you keeping an eye on them, time to switch it up! You've called your dog, turn around and run away! (do this somewhere safe - secure field is a good place to start this!). Your dog will begin to learn that when you call them, you mean business and you're leaving! Time to come with you (and its also often very exciting for your dog when you start running, so a double reward!)
Recall isnt easy as it's the time when your dog has total choice. They can choose to listen to you when they are with you all day, or they can choose to go have fun. Its not always easy to convince them of the former so we need to build up this past history of this being THE BEST! Then when the time comes, it's a no brainer.
The big DONT'S of Recall training
- Don't use rubbish rewards! Bring the good stuff!
- Don't punish your dog if they dont come straight away!! They just wont want to come back at all next time!
- Dont get frustrated if they don't get it right away. You need to go back a step and reassess if the situation was too distracting for them.
- Don't rush!!
If you would like hands on, in-person recall help, get in touch with us at email@example.com