How to Train a Junior or Adult Dog to Recall Off Lead
Common Problems: With regard to basic training rather than behavioural issues.
I am asked to correct recall more than any other problem, especially with working and gundog breeds.
Having said that all breeds suffer from this problem. We are told that some breeds are untrainable or that they can never be trusted off the lead.
Beagles and Huskies fall into this category as do some of the Terrier breeds. I do not subscribe to this myth, I believe all dogs can be trained on a reliable recall.
Recall Video: There is a little Video taken on my phone recently. I am with four of my dogs, just messing about with a bit of whistle and voice control work at the bottom of this page
I am will be starting to film with all proper cameras and professional team in the next few weeks starting with Puppy Recall training for the first video, and then filming adult recall training on a second video. I will keep you posted.
Instinct: Border Collies are supposed to be the most intelligent of all the breeds, but surely intelligence is relative.
I doubt if anyone could train a Collie to win a gun dog field trial championship, or a Labrador to win one man and his dog.
The one thing both have in common is a great recall to be able to perform the tasks required of them.
The problems we see with some of the breeds is that instinct takes over, that instinctual trait reduces some of the senses.
The sense that is often de-tuned or switched off is hearing, we imagine our dogs can always hear us clearly.
That it is just selective deafness or stubbornness that is the cause of dogs ignoring our recall commands.
In actual fact, genetics often takes over. Without early counter conditioning, we cannot cut through the desire to either hunt, chase or herd,
We Also Show This Behaviour: Imagine you are watching a gripping wildlife program or the world cup final and England are in it and winning. OK, I accept that is stretching credibility to the absolute limit. Someone then starts talking about shopping, we hear the sounds, but often do not understand the content. Our brain has effectively de-tuned anything that is not related to what we are concentrating on.
We are not being rude or ignorant (though try telling the other half that) the brain is genetically hardwired to react this way. However, if we were specifically trained to react to an audible cue/signal rather than words, then we would shift our attention to the person emitting that signal much more readily.
Therefore, a whistle is ideal for this exercise and purpose. I am sure we have all read the books or been told we should not start training our dogs until six months of age, or in some cases a year; that is totally and utterly incorrect.
Dogs learn more in their first 16 weeks than the rest of their life, times 10. It is at this time that they are at their most receptive; they soak up information and experiences like sponges. Learning tends to be permanent when learned at this age.
The Sit Stay: Recall cannot start until you have a solid Sit Stay this is the base you build on for all recall training.
If you are already having recall problems then you need to go back to basics you will need to practice the sit stay command at home.
To teach this correctly the dog should be on a lead preferably a minimum of 5.8 foot long.
To set this quickly you will also need a (2) Jingler to see my website for this incredibly effective device. It can be done without a jingler, however, it is never as strong or as quick
For the sit stay, you must first get the dog to sit, then with the dog on your left side hold the lead in your left hand. Then using the cupped palm of your right hand bring it to the dog’s nose saying “Stay” very quietly three times.
Swivel in front of the dog so you are facing, it pick up the loop of the lead with your right hand make sure you keep your left hand on the lead, but only as a guiding hand, this is your control hand. Slowly back up to the length of the lead with the left hand about a third of the way back up the lead.
Then with your right hand only put some pressure on the lead if the dog moves lift the lead upwards with your left hand and say “Stay”. This will activate the Jingler,
Keep repeating and putting on the pressure with your right hand only, until you think the dog has the message and stays. Then treat and praise-giving a tasty treat. I use whole Sprats as an extra special treat. They are easily broken into handy sizes whatever breed or size of a dog.
Then start dropping the lead. With your index finger point to the dog and repeat “stay” Turn your back on the dog and walk a few yards away. If your dog starts moving, you have gone too far too fast. Therefore, shorten the distance again. Do this about three times a day for about five minutes per time. After a couple of days, you will only need to point the index finger rather than the three stays.
Lunge Reins: Only treat the best stays and the best results. Once you feel you have mastered this, it is time to use the lunge rein.
See my website for my specially made lunge rein that has foot-stops sewn in every two foot along the length.
Practice the sit stay in the park or field but this time with the 25 foot lunge rein; take a friend if you can who will hold the dog whilst you hide behind a tree or fence then call the dog, when he finds you give him a favourite treat cheese is the best and keep repeating the exercise.
Then start to allow the dog to walk free, but with the lunge rein dragging behind. Then start standing on it at different lengths whilst issuing the whistle command to stop One single long blow of the whistle, so the dog thinks you are in control at all distances.
The Stop Whistle: If the dog takes off after a bird or another dog; either stand on the lead or pick it up to stop the charge and blow the stop whistle for the stop command. That is one long single blow when the dog has stopped then two peeps for the recall and hold your arms out to tell the dog to come. The dog will get the message that you are in control and cease chasing after a while. During all of this work, we must give the dog lots of praise, games, and treats.
Practice the stop whistle everywhere. You can use a ball or a toy or recall dummy. Put the dog on one of my normal leads but drop it and stand on it. Put the whistle in your mouth and throw the ball the dog will only get a few inches before it is brought up short by the lead. As it reaches the end of the lead blow the single stop whistle After a short while the dog will not move. It is then you give it permission to get the ball say fetch or ball or any word you want to use.
Once you think the dog has got it put on the long lunge and allow more slack throw the ball if the dog stays then treat and praise then give the dog permission to retrieve, lots of praise. I cannot emphasise how important this is to practice it daily. Make sure you have got this as tightly controlled as possible before removing any of the leads.
It is best to have a harness on when you are doing this with the long lunge rein so you cause no damage to the neck. I will be selling harnesses for this in the next week or so.
After a few weeks of keeping the lunge rein on you can reduce it down by putting on my normal lead then after a few more weeks put on a (3) Mini Lead leave this on as long as required. The weight and feel of this lead will make him believe he is still attached.
If your dog reverts you have taken the lunge rein off too soon. I sell as specialised lunge rein with foot-stops sewn in along the length of the lead. See (4) Lunge Rein for further details or click on any of the product pictures to see more information and detail.
As always, the best strategy for training is to set your dog up to succeed and to not condition in a problem that will have to be rectified later on in the training.
Whistle Introduction: I believe that a whistle is one of the most important tools for training recall. You will never see any self-respecting dog owner without one.
The reason is simple. Whistles travel much further than the human voice, especially on windy days. They also do not show emotion or panic, unlike the human voice.
More importantly, the whistle is the same tone whoever is out with the dog. I always use ACME whistles they are the best on the market. if you lose one you can get the exact same sound from another Acme 211.5 whistle. I sell these whistles. Click on the picture to learn more.
If you should lose a normal whistle, then buying a replacement means setting the new whistle to the dog again, which takes about ten days. However, this does not happen with Acme whistles. Acme whistles are manufactured to an exact tone and pitch, all you have to do is take a note of the number, then buy the same number and you are back in business.
I recommend at least two whistles if you have a partner or someone else you walk your dog with then you can blow the whistles back and forth when out training. Get your friend, family member or partner to move 100 yards away then get them to blow the whistle to get the dog to come to them. Treat and praise then you blow the whistle to get the dog to come back.
Unfortunately, silent whistles are adjustable, therefore, they all have different tones. Lose one and you will have to reset the new tone to the dog and that takes ten days. Therefore, I do not recommend them.
Start with the dog’s food. Get someone to hold the dog or instil the sit stay 10 or 12 feet away. Blow your normal recall and get the helper to release the dog.
Extend this by putting the dog in another room and repeating the process.
Make sure you have the whistle with you at all times and whistle, reward, and treat until the dog is really happy to come back to you.
Another great way of setting the whistle you will need two whistles. Position your dog in the middle of two people, close enough to touch,
Get some treats, high-value ones like Sprats. Blow one peep on the whistle if he doesn’t look at you blow again and either touch his ear or his muzzle to gain hi attention,
When the dog looks at you immediately say “good” “take it” and give the treat. Then the person behind the dog does the same. Do this for a week or so and the dog will really start responding to the whistle and will come running eagerly back.
“Good” is the same as a clicker and “take it” Is permission to take your treat. Gradually remove the treats completely when learning has occurred.
If you are having recall problems with a more mature dog it normally means you have not followed the principles of teaching pups a solid recall. see my article on Puppy Recall.
However it is not impossible, it just takes more time. Food games and affection are the great motivators for most dogs – begin by using the whistle to call the dog to each meal, even if it is eagerly sitting next to the bowl. Start by using the sit-stay from a distance with the food (see below).
If the dog is not motivated by treats try using a favourite toy to come back and play with. That is how sniffer and search and rescue dogs are trained generally with a ball game.
Move on to calling the dog from further away, whistle then treat and praise the dog when it returns. Do not make the dog sit as it will think you are praising and treating the sit rather than the recall. When you are ready to brave the big wild world then, leave out the evening meal the day before if you feed only once, and if you feed twice leave out the morning meal. Take your dog somewhere without too many distractions preferably enclosed. You must use a long training lead.
They are five feet eight inches long with a couple of innovations, such as a D-Ring for the Jingler and an O-ring at the handle end.
The O-ring is very handy for tying on your poo bags or putting the lead around your shoulder when the dog is off the lead.
It is also handy for clipping the dog to a lamppost or halving the size of the lead if you are in a busy area such as a high street. This is what you will need and the technique I have created to stop your dog pulling on the lead: Click on the picture above to go to more detail on the leads, collar, and jingler
Quality Wide Collar: I manufacture my own collars that are a similar material and feel to the lead and the same colours (see website). Make sure the collar is not thin or rolled as they bite into the neck and can cause damage. You will find all this training is far easier with a Jingler, a simple device which uses sound therapy to make the dog concentrate on your commands and actions.
Simply put, a jingler tells the dog when it has done something wrong.
It is effectively the opposite of a clicker which tells the dog when it has done something right, the jingler gives an audible cue when the dog has erred.
The supposedly modern Positive Reinforcement onlymethods are generally ineffective and wishy-washy and the trainers that are claiming they are positive only, do not understand that just putting a dog on a lead is negative punishment. See my article (5) Killing With Kindness.
I designed and developed the Jingler personally. It goes on the end of the lead near the collar. This focuses the dog by using sound therapy.
Never use a check or choke chain this is a barbaric method of lead control and can cause long-term damage. You can also throw away the halti’s, head collars, and chest harnesses that only serve to restrain rather than retrain and use pressure and pain to be able to work.
The little video clips below were taken on my mobile.