Recall Training – The Facts and the Frustrations

So you’ve done everything right since your took your new puppy home; you used a long line and reeled him back to you when you called him and he was distracted, you did the good old ‘hide and wait’ trick safe in the knowledge that your young pup would suddenly notice you weren’t there, would panic and come immediately in search of you, you rewarded him each and every time you said those magic words and he came bounding back over to you and you waited until he wasn’t distracted in a good play session before you called him so as to limit his chances of failure.  But now, suddenly you notice that you now older puppy is starting to wander further away on walks, take that little bit longer to come back to you when you call him… or if like a lot of puppy owners, he suddenly has a moment (or several!) of selective hearing and totally ignores your calls leaving you standing in the park with your lead in your hand pleading your puppy to come to you!

Well the good news is that this is such a common occurrence and the even better news is that his recall will improve!  Welcome to the wonderful world of adolescence!

During the adolescence period (typically between 6-18 months of age) a number of things are happening with your puppy; he is gaining confidence and independence meaning he is happier wandering just that little bit futher on walks and suddenly his focus is now on the outside world and exploring all that it has to offer.  During this time his hormones are also changing and especially for male dogs, he will be interested in sniffing out what other dogs have visited his local park and he may spend a lot of his time scent marking.  Adolescence is by far the most testing time in a new puppy owners life… but fear not as if you’ve spent the time on the basics during early puppyhood and you’re willing to go back to basics again, once your puppy reaches maturity he will transform into a more obedient, willing-to-please family member!

From my own experience, my puppy was hands-down amazing with recall (and for those who know me will know I have a notoriously difficult breed when it comes to this command!), she would always check I was insight, would never wander off and would always, always come and check in with me (a tap of her nose on my hand) even when I hadn’t called her to me.  Then on 1st January 2014 when she was 9 months old this literally changed overnight! She started wandering away, choosing to either just stare at me then run off when I called her or simply completely ignore me (her ear would flick so I knew she heard me!)  I couldn’t believe it! After several weeks of this I decided to go completely back to basics and use a long line on her (a very long lead which just trails along the floor) and each time I called her and she chose to ignore me, I would step on the long line and reel her back to me and then let her go again.  You see the problem with recall is that I see so many owners in parks constantly calling their dogs over and over again, and the dogs continue moving away and doing their own thing.  So what does the dog learn here?  That nothing happens if he chooses not to return to the owner; there is no consequence of not returning.  He also learns that it’s probably slightly annoying hearing his name shouted over and over again with increasing volume as the owner gets frustrated.  Then once the owner has caught up with the dog or the dog has decided to return on its own accord, they then get reprimand for not returning (sooner).  So here the dog learns that when it does return it gets punished.  So think about it – would you return if you knew you would be punished? Probably not…

During adolesence puppies need extra work and extra praise… and never punishment.  So if you’re having problems with your recall training, use a long line, practise your recall command and reward, reward, reward your puppy for returning to you!  Remember that your puppy is now discovering a whole world of excitement and smells and you need to make sure that you are the most exciting thing in the park in order for him to want to come back to you.  My personal favourite thing I did with my puppy was to jump up and down in the park, flag my arms around and make all sorts of ‘pup, pup, puppy!’ noises to really get her attention and then to start running away,,, and you know what, it worked everytime!  It doesn’t matter if it’s slightly embarrassing… the more embarrassing the better in my book!  It always makes me smile when I hear dog owners constantly calling their dogs with a low, blunt and boring tone as would that excite you and make you want to go and see what they want?  Probably not… so use your body and a high pitched tone and excite your puppy to return to see and you’ll see the difference!

And remember, the more an adolescent puppy practises ignoring their owner and there being no consequences for doing so, it will continue to ignore them.  You always want to set your puppy up to succeed and keep the experiences positive so practice, practice, practice with your puppy during this difficult time in his life and all your hard work will pay off… plus you will have built an even stronger bond with your puppy through all your training 🙂

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