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How to recall train your dog and how Frankie graduated from our "Recall Club".

Updated: Mar 4

Recall is one of the most important skills for your dog to learn to keep them safe and able to enjoy what they really love - running free. It's no good letting your dog off the lead, to bound around and have fun, if you then spend a lifetime coaxing them back on the lead. In short, without reliable recall, your dog will spend more time on the lead, unable to live their life to the full.

So to show you that even dogs with little or no recall can improve drastically, we wanted to share with you a recent "Walks with the Pack" success story, courtesy of Frankie, a Podenco cross Breton. I have a real soft spot for Frankie, especially since we have learnt so much from each other! We hope that you can take some guidance from our method below if you live with a dog who has poor recall.

When we met Frankie and his "sister" Orla, with their lovely owners, the dogs were a handful! The two dogs were so excited by their imminent walk that they were permanently pulling on the lead, which made progress from the car park to the gated park physically demanding and very stressful. Off lead, Orla was fine, but Frankie was completely unmanageable. He was very wide ranging, going out of sight for long periods of time had no concept of recall and had seemed to be oblivious to his owners various attempts at getting his attention. Frankie wouldn't come when asked so was not under any control and not safe.

Frankie would eventually (and erratically!) approach his owners when he chose to, dart off when they approached him and then watch from a distance. He would not let them touch him for fear of them ending play and putting him back on the lead. He was also very wary of other dogs and people. He seemed to be on full alert to his surroundings and he would cower if a stranger attempted to stroke him whilst on lead. Frankie was a rescue dog from Spain and had spent most of his puppy weeks in a crate or a pen with his siblings and his mother had been taken away from them before they were fully weaned. His lack of early socialisation and a disrupted early puppyhood had impacted on Frankie.

Many dog walkers would not be willing to take on Frankie and Orla and our usual adventure walks wouldn't have been unsuitable for Frankie unless his recall could be improved. But we couldn't get Orla and Frankie off our minds and we felt that, in the right environment, we could help them both. This led to the creation of "Recall Club".

We held it at Dundry secure dog field, where we could let the dogs loose and work on their essential skills, like loose lead walking and you've guessed it...recall. Frankie and Orla enrolled for three sessions a week and we got started working out a plan to help them both.

While Orla was happy zooming around, Frankie on the other hand needed us to build trust with him before we could start on any training. On the first session Frankie tried to hide in the corner with his tail between his legs, clearly anxious and very alert to everything around him. He was scared of the other dog we had at the club, he was not ready to to come to us even when we casually were offering high value treats and would run away if we approached him. It was upsetting to see that a lovely dog was limited in how he could enjoy life.

We knew we had to take it very slowly. Week on week, we built up trust .Frankie was always very excited when we arrived to collect him and would jump straight in his crate in the back of our car.

We worked with the long line, our go to resource, jogging backwards with confident calls of "Frankie, Frankie Frankie!" and "Good boy!" when he eventually got close enough to have the behaviour marked with a treat, (high value sausage or chicken).

Frankie was thriving on the praise and really loved how enthusiastic and happy his behaviour was making us!

We repeated over and over and over, making it fun , using the agility equipment and sniffing games to break up the recall training. We knew we had to make this as exciting and fun as possible and the positive reinforcement training was really starting to work!

We finally were able to start the process without the long line with gradual success but he was very alert to being touched or held. After a treat he would immediately back off.

We repeated the process of calling him, touching his harness lightly and giving him a high value treat at the same time.

We wanted him to understand that coming to us to not equate to end of play and lead on!

Some classical conditioning was occurring!

A real breakthrough happened after several sessions in. We wanted to see if he would choose to engage when we took the focus off him for a minute. So While we sipped a hard earned coffee and chatted, as we leaned against a three stage agility platform, Frankie and Orla hopped up and Frankie gave us both a lick and a nuzzleI...I could have cried! He let us stoke him and he seemed to feel safe up there, where he knew just what was around him. Frankie's response to other dogs was vastly improving too. He was having fun testing out play and learning essential doggie skills that he had missed out on as a pup.

We moved on to using the command "come" and would only reward when he would come on the first time of asking. We quickly started to see results.

Frankie now knew both his name and the 'come' command!

After several more sessions and further progress Frankie and Orla graduated from "Recall Club". Frankie's recall had improved so much that we took him out on the long line on our adventure hikes, no longer with the security of an enclosed dog field. We double staffed the hike so Frankie could have one to one and it was a success.

Loose lead walking was improved too, although both Frankie and Orla still pull on the lead when they are excited, choosing the right location to walk them from seems to have a big impact. We carefully selected the walks, double staffed it, avoiding dense forests that seemed to drive both him and Orla wild and gradually, gradually tested Frankie off the lead. He loved it! He was checking in with us frequently and letting us touch his harness when he returned and coming consistently when called

To mitigate any return to his avoidant behaviour, we attached a trailing short loose line, which was easier to grab and wouldn't get caught up behind him as he ranged. He had learned that he could trust us and coming to us did not mean the end of fun. Mission accomplished!

We are now at the point where Frankie can join our regular small group walks and be off lead with consistent recall!

Seeing Frankie playing freely with other dogs, coming for high value treats and being confident among the "pack" has been such a joy. He's a much happier dog! It's made us realise that there is a pathway for perceived "difficult" dogs that other walkers are reluctant to walk, to allow them to enjoy the adventures that we offer, and we can't wait to apply all we've learnt with Frankie to help other dogs. If your dog's recall leaves a lot to be desired there is a pathway!


Our top tips for recall training:

  • It's about relationship building and trust. Keep it fun, positive and reward even small wins.

  • You can start with rewards for simply looking at you when you call his name. Timing is everything so he understands what's being rewarded!

  • Use a longline, move backwards and encourage him to come to you, make it exciting! reward with high value treats if he comes. You moving is really important! Be careful not to trip!

  • Don't use too many words and be consistent with the word you do use.

  • Don't keep calling , one call, if no response then busy yourself with something and try again.

  • make it fun!

  • For loose lead walking (when you graduate to a short lead), walk and consistently reward with treats as he keeps close to you, change direction lots ("this way!") and keep his attention. Big rewards for paying attention to you (looking at you, heeling).


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