While reliable dog recall is the hallmark of a professional trainer, amateurs can achieve it too, says David Tomlinson
Stopping a gundog in its tracks and getting it to come back to you immediately – the basis of perfect dog recall – is something every gundog owner should master. Having reliable dog recall is the difference between an amateur and a professional, but with careful and consistent training all owners can master it.
The embarassment of unreliable dog recall
Most gundog owners have had embarassing experiences when their dog has completely ignored a whistle or command or charged off in pursuit of an interesting scent or quarry, watched by Guns and gamekeepers whose own dogs are probably sitting beautifully at heel.
Embarassment apart, it’s important for your own dog’s safety that you have good recall. For example so you can call them back when a car or farm vehicle approaches when they are off the lead or when stock lumbers into view unexpectedly.
Deaf to entreaties
My spaniel, Rowan had excellent recall until she was a teenager and realised she could run faster than I could. I remember a morning when she had just had a good walk, off the lead, and was almost back at my house, when she decided to take off. For the next 20 minutes she led me on a merry dance as she chased pheasants, partridges, hares and muntjac. We live in a game-rich area, so nothing was pursued for very long before she switched quarry.
Whenever I did whistle she ignored it and looked past me as if I didn’t exist. The chase finally ended when the errant spaniel overheated, and waded into a pond to cool off. She made no attempt to resist capture. I felt like murdering her, but punishment after such an escapade is tricky, as you don’t want to make the dog think it is being punished for eventually giving itself up.
Reward the good
You need to reinforce the belief in your runaway dog that it is more rewarding and fun to be with you than running off. Most dogs are food orientated and a delicious treat to reward good behaviour will be remembered.
In her excellent book, The Pet Gundog Puppy, Lez Graham describes taking her Labrador puppy to feed the ducks “because I wanted him calm around birds that were moving… I’d put him in a sit and feed the ducks; a biscuit for Ziggy, a biscuit for the ducks, a biscuit for Ziggy, a biscuit for the ducks…”
In her first book, The Pet Gundog: a Common Sense Approach to Dog Training, she advises “always use high-value treats. When you give your dog a food reward, give a treat with one hand and stroke him with the other.”
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What is a high value treat?
If your dog knows that you have a pocketful of bacon cubes or pieces of chicken, running off might not be quite so alluring after all. You will need something delicious though, crumbled dog biscuits won’t cut it. The video below has some useful tips.
Teaching reliable dog recall
- Firstly your puppy needs to know his or her name. You can teach them this by having them close to you, saying their name and giving them a treat every time they respond. Keep these sessions v short.
- Once your puppy reliably responds to having their name called you can move things on. Take the puppy outside to your garden or a small field with some treats in your pocket. Let the dog find some interesting smells but don’t let them wander more than a few yards. Call them and when they return, give them a treat. Again keep these sessions short.
- Gradually allow the dog to wander a little further and increase the distance between you before calling them. Give a treat every time but never approach the dog and then reward.
- Always use a happy voice when the dog comes back and reward with plenty of praise as well as the treat.