Getting your dog to come back to you is probably the most important behaviour your dog should know! However it is usually the one that owners struggle with.
1. Make sure you always create a positive association of coming to you, no matter what!
There are plenty of times when you aren’t feeling that generous or happy when you call your dog back to you. They might have gone off to chase another dog, jumped into the lake, ignored you, rolled in fox poo, or any other such behaviour that is less than ideal! Resist the urge to be in any way angry or negative towards your dog, and never punish them. They learn through association, and if they start to associate coming back to you as something not nice happening, you can bet that they will avoid this as often as possible regardless of the context and situation! It doesn’t even have to be something that bad, anything that your dog deems to be negative can have an effect on recall. For example, everytime you call them back, they have to be put back on leash to go home!
- When the leash goes on, make it a really fun experience. Bring out their favourite WufWuf toy or a tug toy and have a really high energy game of tug, letting the leash trail on the floor if safe to do so. You can also use some sniffing exercises when they are on leash, like scattering some treats in the grass as you head to the exit with a “find it” cue to get them sniffing and searching.
- For my dog, the moment I clip the leash on, I give him one of his best toys to carry or a tasty treat, then unclip the leash for another minute or two so that the leash going on doesn’t alway mean we are leaving the park.
2. Is the reward you are offering motivating enough for your dog?
What is your dog’s most favourite thing in the world? Is this still applicable outside? I encourage my clients to have a few different ideas on what their dogs love outside and therefore what they would be willing to stop what they are doing in the park to come back to claim it!
- A lot of dogs don’t want to take the time to come back for a hard crunchy treat. It takes too long to eat, isn’t smelly enough, nor tasty enough. Look for treats that are soft, squidgy and smelly. The lamb and beef treats in the latest WufWuf box is great for this, and I also like to carry primula cheese, or peanut butter in a reusable baby food pouch as something incredibly high value! I squeeze a little of this out for my dog to lick the end of as a reward.
- The reward doesn’t necessarily have to be food. Other rewards that I like to use in the park are active and engaging. If my dog is playing with another dog, he rarely will want to come back for a piece of food, no matter how much he usually enjoys it. He is highly stimulated, playful, and energetic in that moment so I use this to my advantage! I often reward him with access to a tug toy so we can have a really crazy game of tug which is fun and also focuses on me. Sometimes this is a short throw of a ball for him to chase, other times I turn and run from him which entices him to chase which he loves! But I ensure he is always chasing me, I never chase him.
3. Recall is a lot to do with focus and engagement…work on these!
Recall isn’t just about your dog responding to “Come Here”; it is a lot to do with them enjoying paying attention to you, where you might be, what fun you might provide, and what rewards might be offered. We don’t just wait until they are 100 feet from us to ask them to come back to us, then get annoyed when they don’t, if we haven’t built into them that we are fun too!
- Your dog gives you plenty of great behaviours when you haven’t asked for it, we just rarely reward it when that happens. Capitalise on these to improve your recall. Anytime your dog looks at you while walking on leash, give your marker word (I use “yes” or a clicker), and follow up with a tasty treat. Repeat as often as possible. When you take your dog off leash, the moment they glance back at you to check-in, mark it and reward!
- If your dog is playing with another dog, or in a group, don’t just stand still and watch. Constantly move around so your dog has to be aware and pay attention to where you might be. I hardly ever walk in just a straight line or loop around a park with my dog. I change direction a lot, which means my dog has to pay attention to me to make sure he is keeping up. ANytime he catches up to me, I give him a tasty treat. I didn’t ask him to do that, but I am rewarding him for making the choice to come check in!
Bonus tip: I like to carry a little squeaker with me, you can either buy this separately or take the squeaker out of a broken toy, and keep it in my back pocket! If all else fails, I can squeak this as a distraction or to grab my dog’s attention.
About the Author
My name is Jennifer Billot, MSc CPDT-KA, and I am the owner and founder of Bone Ball Bark, a force-free dog training company in London.I have an almost 2 year old, high energy, working line Labrador who is a big fan of WufWuf boxes!