You wont be surprised to hear that, on average, the most common “call for help” that we get is centred around RECALL!
“My dog is always running off into the bushes or woods after rabbits/ squirrels/ pheasants when we are out on a walk and won't come back when I call”
“When we are out on a walk, my dog runs off to play with other dogs that he sees and won't come back when I call”
“My dog has selective deafness when we are on a walk – if he has found an interesting smell and I call him, he pretends he can’t hear me”
These are comments that we hear almost every day from people who are frustrated that their dog is rushing off, making up his own form of entertainment when out on a walk and simply will not come back to them, when they call.
And let’s face it, when we decide to have a dog in the family, a huge part of the “vision” is enjoying lovely long and relaxing walks in the countryside, with the dog off lead having a super time.
When the dog keeps rushing off and disappearing, this is a major blow to that vision.
Walks become far less enjoyable and often get to the point where the dog is kept on a lead throughout. In fact, walking the dog becomes a chore – not a pleasure; and that wasn't the vision at all!
If you are reading this and thinking “Oh yes, that’s my dog all over”, you probably need to get some help (obedience classes, one-to-one training) to make sure you start your training at the right level.
You have some work ahead of you – training to correct problems takes structure, time and effort on your part - but it can be done.
However, this article is aimed at those people who have a new puppy... a blank canvas if you like, because, as in most things, ‘prevention’ of the problem is far better than ‘cure’ once the problem is present.
Walking your puppy
Walking a young puppy is where your recall progress (or lack of progress, as the case may be) begins...
Firstly, as soon as your pup has had his jabs and is ready to go out, take him to a safe environment (not somewhere near to a road and not where there are lots of other dogs who may charge up to him and scare him) and get him off lead.
At the early age of 10, 11 or 12 weeks, your puppy will still want to stay close to you as the big wide world will still be a bit awesome to him.
If you keep your pup on lead until he is 5, 6 or 7 months old and then let him off, he will be much bigger, more confident and being off his lead will be a huge novelty! He is much more likely to run off at the slightest distraction at this age!
Take some tasty treats with you and his favourite toy. Whilst he is off lead, call him back frequently, using encouraging and happy tones.
When he comes flying back to you, give him a treat EVERY TIME (don’t be mean with the treats!) or play with him and his toy. Praise him! Tell him what a super pup he is!
The pup needs to get the idea early on that when he returns to you, great things happen! He gets some quality food or he gets an exciting game! YOU need to be the centre of his world – the most interesting thing out on the walk and the nicest person to be with.
Coming back to the “vision”... In your mind’s eye is probably this wonderful picture of a person walking, braving all the elements, wrapped up in their own world and thoughts whilst they de-stress after a busy, hectic day – their dog never goes further than about 40 feet away and is running about having a great time – never ONCE does it disappear at a 100mph in the opposite direction to harass someone else’s dog, chase a rabbit or investigate what that pinprick object is on the horizon!!!
That’s what most people envisage and what most of us want and ultimately, yes, that’s exactly how it can and should be.
BUT... for the first 18 months (at least!) of your dog’s life, you actually have to put some effort in, in order to achieve that vision!
Interacting with your dog
INTERACTION with your dog, when out on a walk, is the key to the dog paying attention to you and returning when you call him.
When you are walking your pup/ young dog, you MUST interact with him. Don’t leave him to his own devices and let him go exploring on his own. If you do that, you must be prepared that as he gets older and more confident, these expeditions will become more intrepid!
He will go further and further away and at a much faster pace! Of course, he needs to explore his environment but you must do that WITH him!
Invite him to come with you to investigate hedgerows, ditches, little streams, etc and keep chatting to him! Make yourself an interesting walking partner! Not someone for the dog to just catch sight of now and again when he feels like it!
Again, call the dog back to you frequently and give a reward (food/ game/ praise). If the only time you call your dog is when it’s time for the lead to go on and go home, he is unlikely to respond very quickly to you!
If the only time you call your dog back to you is when you see something that you know the pup will run to or be heavily distracted by, the pup will soon get the idea and as soon as you call, he will start looking for the distraction, rather than coming back to you!!
Play Hide & Seek with the pup (only choose safe places to do this!) – for example, if the pup has become engrossed with something and isn’t looking at you, quickly zip behind a bush (make sure you can still see the pup but he can’t see you very easily, so that you can keep an eye on him), when he looks up and starts looking around for you, leave him a few seconds and then call him!
When he finds you, big reward, lots of praise! After a few times of doing this, you will find he will be less inclined to become too engrossed in other things and will keep his eye on you in case you disappear again!
There are many ways of proactively and positively interacting with your dog on walks. Again, as early as you can, enrol in puppy classes and learn lots of little training exercises – you can practice these when on your walks, rewarding your pup with his tasty treats for everything he does for you.
Well, there are lots of "Do's"... now a couple of "Don'ts"
DON’T encourage your pup to chase rabbits when out – people often see rabbits and then say to the pup “Where are the rabbits? Where are they? Get them!” – the pup rushes off all excited, sees all the little white bobtails flashing and yes, admittedly has a super time chasing them off into the bushes.
In fact, the simple act of the rabbit running away is an enormous reward for the dog – it certainly doesn’t need any encouragement or praise from you!
We see this quite often and it always ends in unhappiness... at best, the dog starts chasing the rabbits further and further and disappears from sight, worrying the owner silly and often making them late whilst they trudge around, calling their dog and waiting for it to finally give up trying to catch bunnies and come back. Frustrating, inconvenient and embarrassing!
Or there are much more serious consequences, such as the dog getting run over or causing a traffic accident as the rabbit heads across the road with the dog in hot pursuit.
Another example (and this happens more frequently than you would suspect) the dog mistakes another smaller dog (such as a Yorkshire Terrier) for a rabbit and chases that down instead – very distressing for the dog concerned and most upsetting for both owners.
DON’T expect your dog to behave like a programmed robot! Dogs have their own minds and they will make mistakes. There will be times, however hard you have worked, when they will forget themselves and whizz off to investigate something and appear to ignore your calls.
This happens! That’s life with a dog! Just redouble your efforts to be an “interesting and interactive” owner and give yourself a swift kick up the backside for not being alert enough to notice that your dog had spotted something interesting! And DON’T scold your dog when he does come back to you – if you are shouting for him to “Come” and he does eventually run back, however cross you are, telling him off at that point will not aid your cause!!
Finally, DON’T walk your puppy for too long! Don’t be tempted into thinking you need to physically exhaust him in order to get a bit of peace and quiet!
Too much physical exercise on those soft puppy bones can be damaging – puppies need more in the way of environmental learning and stimulation at this stage and this in itself will be tiring for them.
Take advice from your breeder, vet or trainer as to how long you should be walking your particular breed of dog in order to safeguard their health.
So, the simple message is DO be INTERACTIVE, PROACTIVE AND POSITIVE when out on a walk with your dog and you will reap the benefits and achieve the 'vision' when your dog is older and knows that the best place in the world to be is at your side.
Happy walks everyone!
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