Recall should never mean “if I run back to my owner, they will put me back on lead” but always, “if I run back to my owner, it’s fun fun fun time”.
Turning your recall practice into fun and games and adding lots of variety will keep your dog coming back to you.
Remember, no matter how much your dog loves a certain food, toy or game if it is used all the time, the predictability of it will eventually reduce its value and make it less rewarding for your dog.
So, here are 5 games to play with your dog on your walks which will help strengthen their recall.
Hide and Seek.
When on a walk and your dog is sniffing something, hide behind a nearby tree or bush, Call them “Come find me” and when they find you, get crazy happy and reward with a small handfull of treats or play one of your favourite games together such as tug or tennis ball. If your dog doesn’t head in your direction, pop out from behind the tree so they can see you.
* Be carefull to not make the hiding place too difficult as this may cause too much stress for your dog, which will not be fun and may frighten your dog into thinking you have abandoned them.
The “This Way” Game.
This teaches your dog to watch you, as you’re unpredictable & that they may lose you if they don’t keep an eye on where you are going.
If your dog has gone further on ahead of you than you would like, call out “this way”, before immediately changing direction. When your dog catches up, reward them by scattering a few treats on the ground. When you’ve done this a few times, you can make the game even more fun by changing direction a few times before rewarding – so as they race up and past you, immediately change direction again calling out “this way”, repeat and then reward.
When they get really good, you can also begin to change direction without saying anything.
Two Ball Fun
Have two balls ready. Throw one ball for your dog to pick up and as they turn back towards you say your recall cue. As they they get back to you with their ball throw a second identical ball as a reward and pick up the one they have dropped.
In time you will find you can perform your recall cue and when your dog comes to you produce your balls, play for a couple of minutes and then put the balls away and let your dog “go free”.
Drop treats and search game.
If your dog wants to go off sniffing, use it to your advantage.
If they come with you instead, you can show them where all the best treats are (drop them when they are not looking). Then when they follow you, encourage them to sniff and search close by.
The dogs will soon learn that returning to you is rewarding as together you always find the best stuff.
This is a great game for dogs that like to stay at a distance from you when doing a recall or when loose on walks.
Get your dog to run in to you fast and bowl a piece of food through your legs, telling your dog to “get it” then turn round quickly and be ready for them coming back and throw another piece of food back through your legs.
An alternative to this game if you have a dog too large to fit under your legs is to toss the treat out in one direction, tell your dog to “Get it,” and then, as they get that treat and look back at you for more, mark it with a verbal cue such as “yes” and immediately toss another treat in the other direction past you. Repeat until your dog is racing back and forth.
Ok so I struggled to keep it to just 5 games so here are just a few more of the games we play on our enrichment walks that help them to keep their focus on me:
We like to play this game with tennis balls but have also played it with a soft toy attached to a keyring.
Recall your dog back to you, then put back on their lead or have them walk off lead to heel, while you walk a few strides then drop the ball to the side of the path. Carry on walking then stop, turn around and release your dog back to find the ball. As they get good at this game you can increase the distance and hide the ball in varying levels of difficulty.
Teaching your dog to go around objects such as a pole, tables or chairs is a useful skill and a fun trick you can do when out on your walk by asking your dog to ‘go around’ a tree.
Natural Agility Course
We love to use the natural environment on our walks and find suitable obstacles like logs, fallen trees, tree stumps which give the dogs multiple challenges: dog can go over, around, under, through and on top of obstacles.
Cheese Trees and Cheese Walls
Quite simply hiding cheese or small pieces of sausage in the nooks and crannies of trees and dry stone walls for the dogs to sniff out using their olfactory skills.
And finally just a few more tips………..
I like to use a whistle as my recall cue as unlike your voice it doesn’t convey your emotions and is the same sound despite who is the handler.
During my time working for the Guide Dogs for the Blind, we would always whistle feed the dogs which helps to strengthen the association of the sound of whistle to good things happening.
Have your dog sit and wait while you prepare their dinner. When ready, move a few feet away and give 3 short blasts on the whistle. When your dog gets to you, put their dinner bowl down.
Any voluntary engagement or ‘check ins’ by your dog should always be rewarded with a tasty treat.
To begin with only call your dog to you when you are sure they will come back, there is no point in repeatedly calling when they ignore you.
Never tell your dog off for returning to you, no matter how long it has taken for them to decide to come back.
Now leave your phone at home and go out and have some fun with your dog.