Five ideas to help with recall training...

I consider a reliable recall a – ‘foundation behaviour’ – and one that allows our dogs more freedom. For example, without a reliable recall, we won’t be able to let our dog off-leash in an unfenced area safely. Yet, training a recall is not always easy and can come with many challenges. Therefore, I thought I would share five ideas that I’ve personally found helpful in recall training.

1) Using a long line

I feel using a long line helps twofold – it prevents accidents from happening (dog won’t run away and get himself into trouble), and it gives you (the trainer/caregiver) peace of mind so you can relax a little bit more. While using a long line, I find it a great idea to continuously practice your recalls throughout your walk/outings. To me, it’s a tool that can help give a dog a sense of freedom and the ability to run without you stressing about potential accidents that could happen (like running after other animals and disappearing).

I consider a reliable recall a – ‘foundation behaviour’ – and one that allows our dogs more freedom. For example, without a reliable recall, we won’t be able to let our dog off-leash in an unfenced area safely. Yet, training a recall is not always easy and can come with many challenges. Therefore, I thought I would share five ideas that I’ve personally found helpful in recall training.

1) Using a long line

I feel using a long line helps twofold – it prevents accidents from happening (dog won’t run away and get himself into trouble), and it gives you (the trainer/caregiver) peace of mind so you can relax a little bit more. While using a long line, I find it a great idea to continuously practice your recalls throughout your walk/outings. To me, it’s a tool that can help give a dog a sense of freedom and the ability to run without you stressing about potential accidents that could happen (like running after other animals and disappearing).

2) Playing with your dog using a flirt pole.

A flirt pole is constructed of a long stick or bar with a lengthy string or rope attached at one end. A lure such as a dog toy, rag, or different item is attached to the other end of the rope [the construction is similar to a fishing pole]. Playing with a flirt pole is a fun game for many dogs, and it also reinforces staying near you. By playing with your dog using a flirt pole, you make staying close to you exciting and fun, and you become a source of this fun [assuming your dog enjoys this game]!

3) Training an emergency recall with a whistle (or another equally distinguished cue)

Training an emergency recall can be of great help. Why is it called emergency recall? Because in case of an emergency (like a dog starts to run towards a busy street), that’s the recall that will work as a cue for your dog to turn around and come back to you. It is a behaviour you work hard to build fluency with a distinctive cue reserved only for this recall. For example, many people decide to use a whistle.

The emergency recall training benefits from starting in the least distracting environment you can find. For example, at home, firstly in many rooms, then you might be able to move it to the backyard, only then outside the home area and when no one is around to finally work on it with people and/or other animals in the distance. The cue is [to the best of your ability] always paired with the highest value reinforcers for your individual learner.

4) Using running as a reinforcer

For some dogs, the opportunity to run or chase critters can be highly reinforcing. For example, the usual reinforcer you use at home (like food) might lose its value while being on a walk in an open field. In those cases, we likely can use running to reinforce – coming towards you. The dog comes to you, and you then let them go and run (or even join the jog and do it together). It’s a fun game, and your recall doesn’t end the possibility of running – it allows it to continue.

5) Using a large variety of reinforcers to add some unpredictability and excitement

Variety can be exciting in itself! Below are a couple of ideas to help you build on the variety offered in ideas 1-4 above. We hope these ideas are helpful for you to use when reinforcing your recalls

  • tug toys,
  • throwing balls or frisbee,
  • treat searches,
  • treat to mouth,
  • petting,
  • running freely,
  • running after critters (if it’s safe to do for all involved),
  • chasing you,
  • Cuing well-established behaviour.

I feel that the more you have in your toolbox, the better. 

How about you? Do you have other tips to help with recall training? What worked for you? Let us know if the ideas we shared here were helpful. We would love to hear from you! 

Best Regards
Anna Bartosik (Blog Writer & ATA Happiness Engineer) & 
Ryan Cartlidge (Blog Editor & ATA Founder/Connector/Facilitator).

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