Recall Training for Off-Leash Dogs: 6 Tips for More Reliable Recall

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Dog recall training is about more than ensuring your dog returns to you reliably when called; it is also about safety in dangerous – even life-threatening – situations. Building confidence in your dog’s off-leash recall requires consistent recall training. Read on for tips to help you to build confidence in and reinforce healthy recall habits in your dog!

The Importance of Recall Training for Off-Leash Dogs

Recall is a necessary part of any canine training program, but if your dog spends time outdoors off-leash, recall is more than necessary – it is critical.

Without proper training, your off-leash dog may encounter

  • Stray animals
  • Unfriendly off-leash pets
  • Hunters
  • Dangerous wildlife
  • Diseased wildlife
  • Roads and traffic
  • People with ill-intentions

You might also run into trouble yourself and need your dog to return to you straight away. So, for your and your dog’s safety, you must be 100% confident that, when called, your off-leash dog will return to you immediately.

6 Recall Training Tips

Below are six tips to help you and your dog get the most out of off-leash recall.

Start Slow

Try to eliminate distractions at first and work your way towards more stimulating environments to test your dog. Learning anything new can be overwhelming, but imagine trying to learn something new while having your senses bombarded with other exciting stimuli! With so many demands on your attention, it is hard to focus, and your performance suffers.

Like you, your dog can be distracted by their environment, making learning new skills challenging. Inevitably, frustration builds, and voila – training is no longer fun – it is a chore you both dread.

To keep training a positive experience, always begin your work together in a distraction-free environment (for example, your backyard at home). A distraction-free environment allows your dog to build a strong skill foundation and become more confident so that when you gradually introduce distractions, your pup is less overwhelmed.

Find the Right Motivator

Know which treats your dog values the most and utilize low-value & high-value treats correctly. Treats are much like a currency for food-motivated dogs – you give a command, they follow that command, and they receive payment in the form of a treat. This “payment” is a reward and motivation for your dog to continue to follow your commands.

Like currency, different treats hold different values to your dog. So, a fragrant meat-based treat is more likely to get your dog’s attention than a small, dry biscuit treat. It is your job to know which treats your dog values most so that you can use the most desired treats as motivation to carry out the most challenging tasks.

For example, recall work is challenging and pushes your pup to choose to return to you over playing or running in the open. This choice can be difficult, and a small dry biscuit treat will not persuade your dog to give up on running free. An aromatic meat-based treat, however, might do the trick!

Use your high-value treats for more demanding activities when you use treats as a training tool. Let your dog know that they need to work for good rewards!

Use The Right Recall Words

There are many different words for recall training dog parents use to recall their dog, but whatever command you choose, be consistent. Always use one specific word for recall, and be sure your dog knows what you expect when you say that word.

For example, teach your dog that every time you say “Let’s go!” you want them to recall. Since you have assigned a specific meaning to this command, do not use it in other contexts – for example, when loading them up into the car for a road trip. Overusing commands for multiple tasks only creates confusion.

If you have been using a recall word for multiple tasks, it is a good idea to go back to basics. Choose a new word as your recall command and train your dog to recall to that word. Once you assign a new recall command, make sure you don’t allow the same task-crossover again.

Never Chase Your Dog

If your dog has ever taken something they shouldn’t have, you will know that chasing them – usually while shouting “drop it!” or “get back here!” – does little to help your cause. Chasing your dog only sends them running, tail wagging at the prospect of a game of “catch me if you can.”

When you chase your dog, you turn a teachable moment into a game and reduce the chance that you will come out on top. This same concept applies when teaching recall – if your dog runs from you, one of the best things you can do is to run from them.

Where chasing your dog sends them running, running from your dog turns the tables and encourages them to come after you. This role reversal makes it much more likely that you will recapture your dog's attention and get them to return to you. 

Make The Training Fun And Engaging

Which class do you remember most from school? Was it the class where you sat at a desk and watched the teacher write on the blackboard? Or was it the class where your teacher made the extra effort to make the class fun? The chances are that it was the latter of the two – boredom does not facilitate learning.

Like you, your dog is much more likely to remember what you teach them and engage with the training for longer if you make the learning process fun (and you’ll enjoy it more, too)! For example, playing recall games like Hide and Seek helps your dog to practice recall skills while feeling like they are playing rather than training.

ALWAYS Reward The Recall

Dogs thrive on praise and reward, which is why positive reinforcement is the key to successful dog training.

Rewarding your dog for the desired behavior creates a connection between your command, their action, and your reward. The more you reward a behavior, the stronger that connection becomes and the more reliably (and quickly) your dog will respond to the command.

Failing to reward your dog for the desired behavior means that your dog fails to make the connection between command, action, and reward. Without a connection between these three things, your direction becomes much less significant, and it is less likely that your dog will recall or repeat the desired behavior.

Prioritizing Safety While Learning Recall Training

Safety should always be the top priority when working with your dog on recall. Unless you have 100% confidence in your dog’s off-leash recall, you should not allow them to be off-leash in an open area.

An unfailing recall is essential for any dog that spends time off-leash, but developing that reliable recall requires constant training and reinforcement. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that you can use to your advantage to train your dog to recall. These include eliminating distractions, using treats effectively, using clear and defined recall words, never chasing your dog while training, creating a fun learning atmosphere, and creating a reliable reward system.

Looking for more training advice? Learn more about what makes your dog tick so you can use their natural instincts to your training advantage.

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