Want to build a reliable recall? Call your dog less.

by 22 May, 2022

Recall

That’s right, call your dog less. Much less. Think about it this way: each time we call our dog to come to us, we are calling them away from what they were already doing, and quite often this means calling them away from reinforcement. Even if we offer them something great for coming when called, we’re still pulling them away from the reinforcing activity that they were already engaging in, and this can get annoying. Calling our dogs too much on walks can actually lead to increased latency to come when called, or potentially even ignoring us. So how do we build a good recall?

  1. Reward attention

Pay your dog for checking in with you. Young puppies usually check in frequently with their owners when out for walks, so use these opportunities to build a strong reinforcement history for being close to you! Reinforcement builds behaviour, so reward what you would like to see more of.

  1. Pay recalls generously

I pay my dogs for every single recall, for the rest of their lives. Why? Because I want to maintain a snappy, enthusiastic, run-straight-back-to-me behaviour when I give a recall cue. Reinforcement doesn’t just mean food, remember – this can be whatever your dog likes. It could be releasing them back to play, having a game with you, maybe even chasing birds or squirrels, if that’s ok for all involved!

  1. Engage in interesting activities on your walks

If your dog does not have a natural inclination to stay close to you (mentioning no names, but: Chief), you could use some games or fun activities to make staying close to you interesting. Chief loves his orange ball, so I would hide that for him to find, or I’d let him stalk it – that’s one of his favourite activities. Kip loves to snuffle, so I often hide food in areas with lots of long grass or leaves, and she takes her time to enjoy that.

  1. Use management if necessary!

I tend to bring a long line with me on walks, especially when exploring new places. If I find myself in the position where I need to constantly call my dogs to help them make good decisions, I put them on lead. It is important that we set our dogs up for success and don’t let them off lead in environments that are too hard for them – we can always put in training time to help them make good decisions even in difficult environments!

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