How can I improve my dog’s rusty recall!

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Kate Ellam advises a reader on how to improve her dogs recall skills.

Q: My dog’s recall has become a bit rusty. She’s an eight-year-old Bichon Frise. To be honest, her recall has never been brilliant, but it’s always been adequate. Suddenly, she has become deaf to my commands, particularly if there is a distraction (other dogs, interesting smells, something to eat). Have you any advice on how I can recapture her interest and get her to respond to me more quickly?

Melanie Farmer, Worcestershire. 

A: Kate says: Invest in a long line, something over 10ft, and not a retractable lead. This way you can allow your dog freedom, but still have the security of her being on a lead, attached to a harness.

 This is a behaviour that is always worth rewarding every single time your dog comes back to you, so make sure you are armed with some food your dog likes. If your dog doesn’t respond, never tell her off; this will only make matters worse.

● First of all, ensure that your dog knows her name. This lets her know that you want her attention. To teach this, have her very close to you, say her name and reward her with something she really enjoys.

● Choose a special word or sound to use when you want your dog to return, like “Come” or “Here”, or a whistle if you prefer, but just make sure everyone in the household knows exactly which word you’re using. Always use a nice, happy, relaxed tone when introducing the recall cue, and, if needs be, crouch down with open arms.

● Start indoors, in your garden or another enclosed space, with some tasty treats. Get your dog’s attention with her name, then use your recall cue and take a step away from her. As she returns, reward with praise and a treat.

● You can practise off-lead as well as on-lead, but be careful not to pull your dog towards you with the lead as that might put her off.

● Gradually increase the distance between you and the level of distractions.

● To help your dog get it right, use a harness with the long line to walk her during training. Let her move away from you before using your recall cue. If she ignores you, very gently guide her back with the long line, and reward her once she is with you. This will prevent your dog from getting rewarded by the environment for ignoring you.
● Use your recall cue sparingly; give your dog at least five seconds to respond to your first recall. Don’t call again if you think she’s unlikely to return, as this can confirm it’s all right to not come back. 

● Stay calm if your dog ignores you; getting angry will only discourage her from returning to you. Instead, gently guide her in with the long line, or go and collect her. Alternatively, run in the other direction or hide (if it is safe to do so) to encourage her to come looking for you.

● Lastly, make recall a fun part of the walk, not just something you do when it’s home time! Do this by calling your dog back, then allowing her to go and play again several times during a walk.