Recall- Yes it IS possible!
I was shocked to read a post on our Facebook page recently about a dog having very patchy recall and running across roads and railway lines- apologies to the poster for using you as an example!
I often hear people tell others that all sighthounds should stay on the lead at all times when on walks. I totally understand the reason behind this statement, but it isn’t true. You can teach sighthounds to have good recall.
Ok, dogs with very high prey drives are more difficult nuts to crack, and dogs that see small dogs as prey need to be kept muzzled and on lead as that is the responsible thing to do. However there is no reason why the majority of sighthounds cannot have off lead exercise in SAFE areas. I never let mine off near roads, railway lines, farms, livestock or cliffs, because i refuse to put my dogs at risk.
- A correctly fitted harness, such as a Perfect Fit harness or Ruffwear harness
- A long line- not a retractable lead.
- High value treats- mega smelly and mega tasty. Mature cheddar, sausage, tuna cake, liver treats- Anything that your dog responds to really well. If your dog isnt food orientated then use a special toy as a reward
How to train
- Start training in a distraction free environment
- Choose your recall cue- ie here, come. (i will use come in this blog post)
- Stay within several feet of your dog, get down to your dogs level and make some silly noises to get your dogs attention and show the dog your treat. Your dog will begin to move towards you (if not make more noises and be mega silly). As soon as they move towards you say their name and your recall cue ie come.
- As soon as your dog gets to you give him the treat and lots of praise. No matter how long it takes your dog to come to you, reward and praise is essential!
- Keep repeating this slowly lengthening the distance between you and your dog. Get someone to help by holding your dog if needed.
- Once this is going well and you have been able to increase the distance inside turn it into a game and get someone else to call your dog too. Hold your dog while the other person is making silly noises and getting your dogs interest and then let go of your dog. At this point your helper should say the dogs name and come. Get them to reward your dog for coming, and then do the same the other way round.
- You can add hand signals to this training, so that your dog learns to come back to both your cue word and the hand signal- which is very helpful on a windy way!
You can also use a special toy as a reward as well as a treat
Go into your garden
- Put your dog on a harness and long line and take your dog outside.
- Go through the steps above again, and once your dog is coming every time then you can see if your dog will come with you simply saying their name and come. Remember to reward and praise your dog every time they come back to you.
- Please note– repeating their name and the cue word several times will not make them come and they may end up ignoring the cue word. If they are ignoring you then you need to make yourself more exciting- make silly noises, lay down, run away from your dog. Do whatever you can to make your dog think ‘what on earth is going on over there? I must go and find out’.
- Once you have your dog coming back every time to *name* *come* then it is time to leave your garden
Off to the field
- Choose a small secure field/area without livestock in, or many other dog walkers.
- Go through all of the above again in the field
- Then get moving- move around the field and recall your dog as you go.
- When your dog is coming back all of the time then drop the long line (keep it attached to the harness (so you can grab it if needed) and go through the above again. Always sound cheerful when you call them, and dont forget- reward every time.
Try your dog in an area with distractions
- You will need to keep your dog on the long lead while you do all of the above, and never let them off until you are sure that they will come back- never let them off near roads, railway lines or livestock.
- You may need to use even more exciting treats at this stage!
Once your dog is coming back every time with distractions then you can try letting them off lead- in a secure area. Please be aware that this can take weeks, if not months to perfect- not hours. So be prepared for ongoing training.
What if your dog has a high prey drive?
So your dog comes back nicely every time, but whenever prey animals appear your dog runs off. Can you fix this?
Yes- although it isn’t easy and you will probably need help from a sighthound experienced dog trainer. Ex racing greys for example are highly conditioned to chase, so undoing this is not always possible.
Obviously you always have to be aware of your dogs history and also the fact that sighthounds are born with the instinct to chase. So management is important here. Don’t set your dog up to fail. Don’t let a prey driven dog off lead in an area full of rabbits if you know that your dog will chase off into the sunset after them.
We want to teach your dog to make the right decision when it sees a prey animal
Teach your dog to focus on you.
- Pop your dog onto a lead in an area without distractions.
- Hand feed your dog a few small treats to get their interest going.
- Hold your arm out in front of you with a treat in a clenched fist. Stand still and wait for the dog to look directly at your face. When he does say yes or click your clicker and give him the treat
- Repeat the above lots.
- Start building on the length of time that your dog holds the gaze and try and get it to a couple of seconds, then yes/click treat. Repeat this lots.
- Build on this both inside and outside the home.
- Then start moving the treat to the top of your nose with it in a pincer grip between your finger and thumb. Yes/click and reward the dog with the treat as soon as it makes eye contact. Repeat.
- Then move your index finger up to your face without a treat. When your dog makes eye contact yes/click treat.
- Repeat lots.
- Start holding your dogs gaze for longer.
- Once he is doing this well in different environments introduce your cue word ie look or watch.
- Build on this with your dog on a long line outside.
So you have your dog looking at you on cue. Now what?
Head out into an area where you will find things that your dog will normally chase (ie rabbits), now we will put the watch cue to use.
- Pop your dog back on the long line and harness, but only give the dog half of the line.
- Keep at a distance from the rabbits. You do not want to get close enough for your dog to get too interest and over excited.
- Allow your dog to watch the rabbits and then distract them with a silly noise, or a squeak of a toy and as they turn and look at you say yes or click your clicker and treat.
- Repeat plenty of times until you have them turning and looking out of choice. You can then introduce watch me/look again to get them looking straight at your face again.
- As your dog gets better at doing this reduce the distance and lengthen the long line. If your dog starts taking too much interest then go back a step and increase the distance.
The aim of this is to get the dog to briefly look at the rabbit/deer/duck or whatever for a very short time and then turn their attention to you when on lead. Basically you condition a behaviour to the point that it becomes a natural thing for them to do when they see the rabbit/bird/deer/whatever else.
Ideally bring toys into it too- get their favourite toy and only use it for training. As they turn and look at you toss their toy to them instead of giving them a treat. You can also do both!
This takes a lot of work, practice and time. Don’t then just let them off lead and expect them not to chase until this is so engrained in them that they are making the right decision every single time.
Off lead exercise is NOT essential. Dogs can have fulfilled lives even if they are kept on lead, as long as they get plenty of lead exercise and mental stimulation.
If your dog has a high prey drive then muzzle train them to keep everyone safe while working on the above training. You can pop treats through the muzzle.
Whatever happens, no matter how well trained your dog is never put them in a position where they could end up going off of the edge of a cliff, across a road or railway track. Never allow them off lead near livestock (unless the dog is stock trained and they are your livestock!)
Set your dog up for success!