The complete beginners guide to how do I teach my dog a recall?

Dog recall training in the Wimborne area

recall training classes in dorset

So you have a dog who ignores you when you call them back and are wondering how you teach my dog a recall?. Do you have to ask more than once for them to return? You have one of the most common dog training issues so you are not alone. Muttley Solutions offers recall training classes to help you turn that around. I specialise is providing teaching and support around this training issue on a one to one basis.

Do you have a gun dog breed who has a poor recall? Muttley Solutions specialises in training and understanding these breeds. We do need to approach recall training in a measured manner.

Do you live in Wimborne, Merley, Broadstone, Corfe Mullen, Poole and surrounding areas of Dorset? If you have recall issues then I can help turn this around.

Does your dog ignore you when you try and call them back?

I will usually find that a poor recall and the dog pulling on the lead go hand in hand. These can sometimes be symptoms of a wider issue such as poor leadership. Will your dog sit and wait or do they have to be busy busy. Again if they will ignore your command to wait they will ignore your command to come back.

So how do you know you have recall issues? Most clients I see will say they have some sort of recall. This is usually in the house or the garden.

However, the usual indicator that the recall has gone wrong is they say they were down the park. They had the dog off the lead and it was playing with other dogs.  The owner calls the name and the dog totally ignores them.

On further discussion I will ask if the owner started to get angry and frustrated and shouted louder.  Usual reply is yes. Of course this just makes the situation worse.

Remember the failure of the recall starts as soon as you get your puppy. You need to start the correct training before you let them off the lead

One client told me the dog would ignore her for 1-2 hours. In the end she used to sit in the car in the car park and the dog would return when ready.

This may sound extreme, but owner experiences of when the dog doesn’t come back when called is actually very common.

What is meant by the term ‘Recall’?

Simply put it means the dog will come back to you first time when you call them.  If only the actual process was that simple!!

I have my own way of explaining the recall and that is the dog will return to you when it doesn’t want to.

Every waking moment the dog is working out ‘What’s in it for me?’ They will perform behaviours and actions which potentially deliver the greatest reward.

If those actions deliver a great reward they quickly become learned behaviours.  From my experience as a dog trainer, I usually find the behaviours the dog discovers itself. These are highly rewarding, are not the behaviours we desire.

A dog who doesn’t come back when called has most likely learnt it is actually more rewarding to ignore the owner and carry on playing.  The owner reinforces this when they start yelling and shouting what they will do to the dog when they get hold of it!!

The dog determines if you have a recall not you

Many owners tell me they have a recall. They will say they only have to ask a couple of times then the dog will come back. To me they are asking once to often!! We will check your technique of calling them back is correct. If it is then you should only be calling them once and they respond. The reality, in many cases, is the dog has nothing better to do so it comes back to the owner.

The scenario I often see is the owner has practised the recall in a hall at training classes or in the garden and assume they have a recall.  Out into the park and off lead and the dog quickly proves that the owner has no control of the dog and it is actually the dog who determines if the owner has a recall or not depending on where the greatest reward is.

The dog quickly finds that ignoring the owner is rewarding and this becomes an established behaviour.

Here is a now famous video clip of a recall gone very wrong for many reasons and I use this to highlight this to my clients when training.  This could be you on your next walk without having a good recall in place.

Over to Fenton and turn the volume up!!

YouTube Video: Fenton

The dog doesn’t come back when I call them: What does this mean from the dog’s perspective

It is important to view the world from the dog’s point of view when looking at training issues.  However, most owners only see the problem from a humanistic point of view and so fail to see why the dog ignores us when we call them.

What we also need to understand is these bad habits are learnt in the very early months of the puppy’s life and then reinforced each time the dog ignores the owner.

By about 6 months many dogs have really honed their skills of ignoring the owner when out in a moderate to high distraction environment.

It has already been highlighted that the dog works on the basis of ‘what’s in it for me?’.  From a human standpoint this might appear selfish, but that is a human concept and dogs have no understanding or need of selfish, morals, guilt, sharing, right or wrong etc……you get the picture.

For a dog it is important to consider ‘whats in it for me?’ because it is an old survival trait. It is pointless expending energy if there is no reward.  Nearly all modern dogs no longer need to hunt for their food so it it more about fun rewards than pure survival.

Of course prey drive can be a great reward and playing the simple game of fetch the ball is rewarding their prey drive. Gun dogs work for us because we train and setup scenarios whereby we can harness their great skills of finding, hunting and retrieving.

Recall from a dog’s perspective

So from a dog’s perspective what does it mean when they are called back by their owner?  The answer really depends what they were doing at the time they were called back? If the puppy is in familiar territory like their garden then the reward scale is going to be quite low.

Therefore, if the owner calls them it could be going for a walk, get their dinner, play games or to have some fuss. In this situation the owner is going to be the most rewarding and the pup decides to go back as there is nothing better to do.

Of course, the owner is happy because the puppy came back when they called it,  so all that training in the village hall is paying of and the owner proudly tells her friends her pup has a recall.

When out in the forest or the park the owner lets the young dog off the lead confident they can call them back. Dog suddenly gets the scent of a rabbit or finds some playmates and the slippery slope starts. The owner shouts the dog’s name, with a hint of concern in their tone.  Dog looks around briefly and sees the owner holding the lead and not looking happy. You should never call your dog back and then put it on the lead.  The dog can learn that coming back is the end of the fun and will ignore you.  Instead, call the dog back, when it comes back reward and play a game or something. Then put the dog back on the lead.

When you recall your dog it has two choices

The dog is faced with two choices.  Go back to someone who is not looking happy for some reason and then be put on the lead and taken home.  The dog looks round at the play mates or the rabbit in the distance and decides this is far more rewarding and so ignores the owner. No emotion, punishment, loyalty or any humanistic trait came into play when the dog made the decision to ignore the owner.

It was purely based on where was the highest reward. It is very important to grasp and digest this last paragraph because then owners will stop taking the dog ignoring them personally and understand they are just choosing the most rewarding; then the recall success odds can be adjusted in their favour.

With this information we can start to turn around the dog ignoring us with targeted recall training classes which plays to what the dog needs.

What are recall training classes?

To me recall training is not so much a training exercise, but more a process of understanding how your dog works.

It is about understanding why the dog ignores you and the factors which contributed to this.  It is also about realising it is nothing personal on the part of the dog.  I have come across many owners who accuse the dog of being selfish given they provide for all its needs.

In these cases I have to work with the owners to get them to change this mentality before I can even consider the dog. When commencing recall training you need to dump the baggage and start with a clean slate.

We need to setup situations whereby the owner and the dog learn what is a required in a very low distraction environment.  Once they can both get it right then we increase the distraction.

Train for every distraction.

What a lot of people don’t know is we must train the dog to come away from different distractions. It is no good having a great recall, but never training for some stranger giving treats, or dogs are around. You need to look at the type of environment you take your dog and consider the distractions in that area. Then you setup training sessions to ensure the dog is exposed to those distractions and you recall them back and reward and be fun. Using a long line will ensure the dog cannot ignore you.

The general recall is the foundation. We then need to build on the with different distractions and train the dog to leave those and come back to you. You then need to practice often and perhaps add new distractions to the training list. A GOOD RECALL DOES NOT MEAN THE DOG WILL IGNORE ALL DISTRACTIONS!!

If the dog suddenly starts to fail then the distraction is most likely too high and we need to step back. However, it could also be the owner who is not raising their game if the dog is getting distracted.

We build this process up and monitor both the dog and owner for successes and issues.

Recall Failure Protocol

A key thing many dog trainers who teach recall training don’t teach is to have a recall failure protocol in place.  

This is something I teach at my Recall Training Classes and the owner will practice it many many times.  It needs to become second nature because when it all goes wrong and your dog is off you only have seconds to perhaps turn the odds of avoiding a Fenton moment in your favour.

To give you an example of why I think having a recall failure plan in place essential. My Bronze, Silver and Gold syllabus all have recall as a test. You can actually fail the first recall part if you implement correctly the Recall Failure Protocol.

The success of a recall is not the ones which work, but turning around the one that could have failed!!

Recall Training Equipment 

To start recall training with a puppy or older dog we need the following:

  1. An effective method of communication with the dog
  2. The dog to be whistle trained
  3. A long line
  4. Very high quality treats
  5. Failed recall protocol
  6. Failed recall tools
  7. The understanding that until the dog has a recall then off lead time will be limited
  8. A low distraction, live environment
  9. Bucket loads of patience and being persistent and consistent.
  10. You, as the owner, putting in the practice ‘proofing the recall in different environments.
  11. Understand there is no quick fix in dog training

What treats should I use for dog training?

One point I do want to make an that is about the rewards. Remember me talking about the notion of ‘whats in it for me?’ Some owners think their dog will be grateful for any old treat given when training. This might apply if you have a Labrador!!

The reality is dogs will only work hard for quality treats. I have seen dogs ignore the owners recall in training and when we switched to a high quality reward they suddenly engaged. We need to tune in with what makes your dog tick.

Training treats/ rewards can differ between dogs. A lot of owners will say their dog does not like treats. What I find is once with get the right high quality treats not many dogs are going to turn their nose up.

I find a low salt cooked sausage, cheese fresh chicken, beef, pork work best……you get the idea. Remember you are selecting the highest quality treat for whistle training only 

These cheap packets of biscuit type treats will not cut it and a training session will be wasted. PLEASE DO NOT TURN UP FOR TRAINING WITH THESE TREATS.

Longer term the aim is to get the dog off the food treats and onto a ball object or similar. as the reward.

Teaching my gun dog recall training

A dog is a dog isn’t it? Not when you are looking at gun dog recall training. The ideology behind recall training is the same, but we need to factor in the breed big time.

Gun dog breeds and recall training  

There are numerous varieties of dogs who come under the classification of gun dog. This is then complicated further by all the cross breeds within the gun dog breeds. Regardless of if they are a pure breed or one of the cross breeds they will have one thing in common. They have been bred to serve a purpose and that breeding instinct is very strong. These dogs are totally focused when out in a live environment and it can be difficult to get them back in the zone where they will respond to commands.

We are asking a lot of a gun dog when out working to come back when they are in the prey zone.  However, that is exactly what we need for the safety of the dog. If a owner cannot confidently control their dog in a prey environment then the dog should not be off the lead.

It is difficult to make the owner more interesting than the seeking out of prey.  Therefore, we have to focus on excellent obedience and manners in the dog. We need to dog to almost come back by default rather than any decision making on the dog’s part.

Gun dog recall training a live prey

I trained my own dog to chase rabbits, not to catch them, but so I could teach him a recall whilst he was in the prey zone. I would recall him when he was some distance away from them and then slowly decrease the distance as I was getting the recall successes. In the end he was only a few feet away on the chase and I would pull him off. He got to the point he expected each time to be recalled back and that became his default stance. If he got into a chase then the next part was the recall.  Henry is very ball focused so he was happy to come back for some ball reward.

Part of training a recall for a gun dog is to understand that dog and what makes them tick. The it is lots of setup practice and rewards. We only let the dog off into a working live environment when we are sure of the recall with some certainty.

If there is any doubt then we hold back until the dog is ready. A single failed recall could undo months of hard work.

The gun dogs I train are not being worked in a shoot. However, the forest or field is a live environment and your gun dog breed will find things to chase!!  Can you currently recall your dog off a rabbit, pheasant or deer? If the answer is no then you need to contact me.

How long will it take to teach my dog a recall?

We are all guilty of it.  We want a quick fix.  I often say that in dog training there is no quick fix and if a dog trainer claims they have one then it will most likely involve pain for the dog and this is not a road we want to go down.

I never give a time scale because there are too many variants involved.  These involve the owner, the dog and the environment.

If I am training a puppy recall  then we have a blank canvas. We can easily teach the puppy that the default is to return when they hear the whistle. We never expose them or give them opportunities to learn that ignoring us could be actually more rewarding.

With older dogs the journey is both more challenging. This will take longer because we have to show the dog the very rewarding behaviour of ignoring the owner when called is actually not that rewarding.

We have to set up win win scenarios where the dog is not rewarded for ignoring, but gets very high quality treats for returning to a whistle. 

If they like a ball the job is a little easier. This takes many repetitions and the dog getting rewards when they come to you, but never getting rewards from ignoring you.

Remember behaviours which are not rewarding become a pointless exercise for the dog so they will switch to those behaviours which are.  How quick will this happen?

Depends on the breed, relationship the owner has with their dog and the amount of time and patience the owner has. Anyone who thinks dog training is easy is mistaken, but it is great fun and very rewarding as you start to see the dog understand what we want.

Recall Training Classes In Dorset

Here at Muttley Solutions I specialise in working with the client and their dog to turn this around. I will take on any breed of dog with a recall issue and will put in place a plan to improve the situation from where you currently are. I make no promises and will be honest and realistic.

For some dogs it is so hard wired to ignore their owner it can be a challenge.  What I will say is we can get you to a better place than where you are now.  I often say that if the owner is being proactive rather than reactive to the dog’s decision making then the need for a recall can be avoided most of the time.

This course will be about teaching the owner about 70% and the dog about 30%.  Once I get the owner doing things right then we can expect the dog to start doing things right.

Most trainers focus on the dog when recall training.  I focus on the owner as that is where most of the issues lay.

If you want to be in a better place than where you currently are when you let your dog off the lead then contact me and we can have a chat.

Why does my dog ignore me when there are other dogs around?

The simple answer is what is more rewarding at the time? Are you the owner or the distraction more rewarding? It is nothing personal, your dog thinks your wonderful. Just not when other dogs or distractions are present. Muttley Solutions puts the odds back in your favour!!

Can I let my dog off the lead if they ignore me when I call them back?

The simple answer is NO. Firstly it is dangerous to have a dog loose when you cannot call them back and you may be breaking the law. Secondly if the dog is ignoring your efforts to get them back then they are rewarding themselves and the problem will only get worse.

How do I train my dog to come back every time?

There is no way you can guarantee your dog will come back every time. You can put the odds in your favour they will come back 99.9% of the time. At the end of the day a dog is only has good as their last successful recall. It takes practice and effort to ensure you have a solid recall in place in a high distraction environment.

Will you travel to Poole to do recall training?

Yes. I live locally to Poole so will travel there to your location to help with all aspects of training. There will be no travel costs. We can then use one of the many open areas in Poole to help you work with your dog. I do have a training field at Lytchett Matravers