It’s a ninety degree summer day and there’s no better way to spend it then chasing your rampant dog through the neighborhood. You call his name over and over, and from time to time you’re lucky to get a glance of his attention, before he darts off the other direction to a new smell. Does this sound familiar?
Teaching your dog to recall is probably one of the most important things you can ever teach him; unfortunately it also tends to be the hardest. If you have the opportunity, it is best to teach your dog the recall as a puppy so it can be just as ingrained in his mind as the word “sit.” However, since most of the time this isn’t the case, there is still hope for the older dogs!
1. Get him following with treats: Practice this maneuver around the house. Get his focus with a favorite treat (the smaller the treat the better) and get him heeling by your side. Ask your dog to sit and wait, tehn practice the recall from across the living room. The command must be consistent, so use whatever works best for you. (Kiss noises, saying the dogs name and then come! or Here!) When he comes, immediately give the treat and praise. If he does not, you will probably want to practice from smaller distances. If your dog ignores you, it may help to put on his leash so that you can give him a little tug to get his attention. The goal is to keep him from ignoring you and to respond on the first call! If he doesn’t, he will learn that he can ignore you and get away with it.
2. Play hide and seek: Once you have your dog coming consistently with you in sight, practice making him wait, then hide in another room and call him. This will teach him to listen for your voice even when you aren’t in sight (such as when you’re wandering the neighborhood and calling for him!)
3. Practice in the yard: Moving outside tends to put a whole new perspective on things because the dog has freedom to move and many things to distract him. Practice these same exercises in the yard with having him wait across the yard and then come when called. Try it a few times without making him wait. Turn your dog out into the yard, wait a few minutes, then go out and call him. Remember to put the leash on if needed and don’t progress until you are confident your dog will come!
4. Go for a walk: This may be best to practice in a fenced area, such as a dog park, so that you don’t run the risk of having your dog escape down the road and potentially getting hit. Use either an extended leash or let the leash drag on the ground as you walk. When you ask your dog to come you can step on the leash or give a tug with the extended one in case he ignores you.
It is important to wean off the treats after some time and only give them occasionally, otherwise the dog will only come when you have treats in your hand. The most important key at first is maintaining focus; when the dog loses focus from you, is usually when its a struggle to get his attention back and get him to respond.
It is important to remember that dogs will respond differently. The loyal dogs are easiest because they never like to be away from your side, however, the more independent dogs (such as a Husky) may take a little more practice. When you call them they think, “Why? What’s in it for me?” With lots of patience and practice you will soon be able to trust your dog off leash!