If you want your dog to recall back to you, no matter what, you need to be more interesting than anything else on offer. This takes training and needs topping up over time. Let’s be honest: another dog or a stranger is likely to be more fun than you unless you put some effort in.
Here are some simple but effective recall tips to teach your dog.
Having your dog off lead is not OK if they don’t have 100% recall. Some dogs and people can be badly affected by a so-called ‘friendly dog’ rushing into their space. And you don’t know what could happen to your dog. By law, you need to keep your dog under control.
Breakfast is served
One of the easiest ways to boost your dog’s recall is to take some of your dog’s breakfast or dinner with you on a walk or to the park. Depending on when you take them out, it may be better not to give them a meal beforehand. If your dog is a little hungry, they will be more motivated by the food you have.
Get them used to being fed a piece of food when they are walking along by your side. Or, if they’re off lead, get them used to ‘checking in’ with you and reward them with food every time. If you’re using breakfast, you don’t need to worry about overfeeding them.
You can also take a favourite toy that will fit in your pocket, like a tuggy toy, to pull out and have a fun game partway through your walk. Give your dog a reason to want to come back to you. Toys are brilliant if your dog isn’t that foodie, especially somewhere exciting like the park.
There are some great all-in-one toys that you can throw, practise recall, and have a game of tug with your dog. These 2 Tug-E-Nuff toys have been with us for years and still going strong! They are fantastic for boosting recall and building the relationship between you and your dog.
What’s in a name?
It’s helpful to use your dog’s name less and grow a strong ‘attraction noise’. If we use their name to get their attention all the time or try to stop them from doing something, it can become ‘white noise’ and it won’t have any value to them.
You can teach them an attraction noise by making a noise (I like a high-pitched kiss-kiss or horsey-style click-click noise) that makes them look at you. Feed them straight away! Practise it where there are minimal distractions at home or in your garden.
Then keep practising it when you’re out on walks. But make it easy to start off with. Their ears are often shut if their nose is on an exciting scent! We don’t want them to practise hearing and ignoring your attraction noise. And make the food something that they love. You want them to ping back towards you whenever they hear your noise.
You could carry a squeaky toy in your pocket if you struggle to make a noise that gets your dog’s attention.
How will they ever learn if they’re not off-lead?
If you’re not 100% certain your dog will return to you, use a long line (this is not the same as an extendable lead). They are affordable and give your dog some freedom while giving you peace of mind. It is important to note that, dog owners are legally required to keep their dogs under control at all times which, for insurers, typically means on a lead.
A 10m line like this one is great for most situations. You can also get biomethane and waterproof long lines, which are great alternatives.
Remember that when you buy dog insurance from Perfect Pet, you will also have access to Perfect Pet Perks, where you will benefit from huge discounts at pet accessory brands such as DoodleBone and more!
When using a long-line, I recommend not holding the line with your hands as it can hurt or cause injury as it runs through them. Tie knots in it every 1m or so and let it trail on the floor. Stand on the line if your pup starts to move too far away. The knots stop the line from sliding too far under your foot, especially in wet and muddy conditions.
Long lines should only be attached to a well-fitted harness. You don’t want a jolt to go through your dog’s collar to their delicate neck.
Long lines are a great tool but need thoughtful handling. Don’t let your dog run around with other dogs or near people whilst on a long-line as they can get tangled and may cause injuries to themselves or others. I recommend using a long-line somewhere safe and secure without other people or pets around, like an enclosed garden or a secure dog field.
Practise makes perfect
Practise recall games at home. Playing games at home that you need in the park might feel weird. But if you try to teach your dog something new in an environment that they find exciting or possibly a bit scary, they will not be able to learn.
These recall skills must become second nature to both of you before you take them out to progressively more distracting environments.
You can also build up reliable games if your dog starts to run off towards something. Teaching an emergency whistle recall is really useful. But a whistle isn’t magic. You must teach your dog what it means (yummy treats or a favourite toy). Here’s a quick how-to on TikTok.
You can also teach them an instant down at a distance. It’s worth getting help from a qualified dog trainer or behaviourist; these games are life savers.
Be with your dog, not your phone
When you’re out with your dog, stay connected with them; this isn’t the time to listen to a podcast or make a call. Enjoy the time together, have fun, and your dog will want to be with you over anything else.
When it comes to recall, if you’re not sure your dog will come back to you, don’t let them off the lead.
Training games are great for growing recall skills at home. If you want to learn some simple and fun games to play with your dog, Niki’s best-selling book STOP! Walking Your Dog includes 17 games (with videos) and is available in paperback, on Kindle, and on Audible.