Selective Recall


A reader asks for advice on sharpening up his Labrador's recall skills.

Q: My Lab’s recall — never the best if I’m honest — seems to have got worse now she’s older. She’s got quite selective about when she chooses to respond, and if there’s an interesting scent or a dog walking behind her, she’ll ignore me completely and wait for the dog to catch up, or will carry on sniffing. Eventually, she will come, but it’s very much in her own time. Can you advise on how I can sharpen up her recall?

Martin Harrison, Somerset.

Tony says: It is worth noting that no recall is 100 per cent successful. However, with any dog, of any age, you can always go back to basics. For a successful and reliable recall, you need to carry something to reward and motivate. Find a tasty treat, which your dog will only get when she returns and checks in with you — chicken, low-fat cheese, and liver cake are options.

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Your dog’s old recall has clearly lost its shine, but you can create a brand new, shiny recall cue. A whistle makes for a good recall signal. Start pipping it and the second your dog looks at you, give her a small, tasty treat. To progress, pip the whistle and move backwards, allowing her to approach you. When she does, she gets the reward. Don’t wait until you have to recall her; practise this frequently in many locations, including the garden and house.  

Once she is returning reliably to the whistle, you can proof it in an area of low distraction. Pip the whistle and start moving away from her. A major error is to move towards the dog. Make out you are leaving and taking the treats with you. When she understands why she gets the treat, you can start rewarding her for fast recalls only! A good ratio is four out of five recalls receives a treat.

For more on the whistle recall see Tony’s ‘Three Minute Tips’ on our YouTube page;