A few weeks ago, I was at the beach with my dogs. We were taking a break near an access point close to a road, so I had them leashed. Although my dogs have really good recalls, I’m not willing to bet their lives that they’ll be 100 percent correct and timely around traffic. Anyway, we were sitting there and suddenly, I saw a large, powerful dog running hard, dragging a retractable lead bouncing along behind. She was heading for the “safety” of the beach.
The dog was terrified and that lead-handle just kept chasing her!
When she saw me with my dogs, she paused a moment. I used one of my dogs as a playful magnet; we lured the frightened dog close enough that I could step on the line. She bolted again, but my foot stopped the plastic lead casing. I caught her, but she wanted nothing to do with me and was trying to escape. I lowered my body and turned sideways to wait while she calmed down. When she was distracted, I unhooked my dog’s sturdy leather leash and stealthily clipped it to the lost dog’s harness. I put my now unleashed dog on a down-stay while I reunited the terrified dog with her equally distraught person who had finally caught up.
So many lessons, here! Last week in this blog series, I listed a bunch of things to NOT do while trying to train recalls. This week I’m going to add: DON’T USE RETRACTABLE LEASHES! They slip out of your hands too easily and are dangerous as well. Now, let’s move on to some training games you SHOULD do to teach your dog to come every time you call her.
One of our favorite games is called Speedy Recall Jackpot. It’s also so simple a child can do it. For this game, I choose a very special cue—a shrill, high pitched whistle noise—it means, ALL THE GOOD STUFF… HURRY! I started in the house, when my dogs were attentive to me, but bored with the environment. I made the noise: “Shreeeep!” Then I drop a handful of the best yum, ever: chicken, cheese, lunchmeat—and a lot of it.
When they finish excitedly eating it up, we play together, I praise them. Then I release them to freedom again (no yucky stuff!). When they were good at that, we went outside to the fenced backyard and played the game there several times at different times of day and with different distractions (guests, visiting dogs, etc.). In my next step, I took it “on the road” with the dogs leashed (of course) and played it out and about. I always gave a huge jackpot of yum in different locations when I made that crazy whistle sound.
Success tip: One dog (my Aussie) prefers to eat from my hand. My other dog (a Vizsla) prefers to sniff around and excitedly hunt for the treats I’ve scattered on the ground. Try both methods and see which jackpot delivery your dog prefers!
Finally, I added a little distance, then a little more. You can use a long-line, here, to build distance. I just used bigger spaces with few distractions. Then, I took off the leashes and played it frequently on multiple outings.
While working through these steps, I kept my dogs leashed any time there were distractions too close or too tempting. I never gave them a chance to believe that NOT coming was ever an option. If they heard the noise, they got a HUGE pay-off AND their freedom again. Why not come, fast!?
Since I have two dogs who move at the same speed and get along well around food, I sometimes modify the game. In the modified version, only the FIRST dog gets the goodies. A little competition is not a bad thing for motivation! However, I’m careful with this so we don’t build in any snarky retorts… I do have bitches, after all! Most of the time, both girls get fed.
That’s one good game to start your recall practice. In the next few blog posts, I’ll share some more. If you would like some personalized coaching on training your dog to come when called or on any other issues, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
We are happy to help you enjoy your dog more. It was a good thing my dogs and I went to the beach that day and were able to help get that scared, lost dog home. You can avoid the panic that dog’s owner felt by doing a little fun recall training, so I encourage you to keep reading our blog and putting these tips to use. See you next week!