Dear Dr Jo,
My dog is fairly obedient. She sits, stays (for a few seconds), drops and shakes hands but she will not come to me when she is off leash. It worries me when we go to the park or take her on our weekends away. What if she runs away and I can’t recall her? Can you give me some tips to get a better recall?
You are right to be concerned. When a dog gets lost in an unfamiliar environment it is much harder to find them again. So working on your recall is essential. Here is my 3-step process…
Recall step 1: Start in your most comfortable environment, where your dog responds more reliably. For most people this is within your home, perhaps your lounge room or the back garden. Have two people, armed with dog treats, call your dog from one person to the other. When your dog comes, give them a treat. If your dog still find this difficult, you can attach a long lead and reel them in when you call them. We are setting your dog up for 100% success.
Recall step 2: You can then practice this in your local park, where there are more distractions. Begin at a quiet time so your dog can focus on you and repeat the recall process. Use your dog’s favourite treats and reserve these just for this command. You can reduce the treats gradually and replace them with praise and pats.
Recall step 3: When your dog has mastered coming to you, let her have a little more freedom but show her the tasty treat prior to letting her go. If your dog will not return, again use a long lead to ensure she comes when called. At this training stage, don’t call her, if you think she will not come. Remember we want 100% success.
At all times: Always make the recall a pleasant command. When you call your dog, be animated. Dogs respond more to movement, so move around and use a light, happy tone. When your dog comes, give praise and then let them go again. So often, a recall means the end of fun for the dog. If your dog starts to run away from you, try running in the opposite direction while calling your dog’s name. This often gets them running to us, instead of away from us!
When you are travelling away from home, it may be sensible to keep your dog on a long leash or to exercise within a fenced area, at least until you are sure that your dog will always return.