How to train your dog to come when called off a lead

Clay and AnnaBeing able to get your dog back when running off lead is really important. It keeps your dog safe from busy roads, would be dog nappers and it also prevents your dog from making an unwelcome approach to a nervous and/or aggressive dogs… If you want to train your dog to come when called off a lead reliably then read on for the basics of how to do it; and for those who wish to get a deeper understanding, the explanation as to why your dog may decide not to return in the first place:

How to train your dog to come when called:

1. Start at home

Practice calling your dog to you at home and always making it positive when they come over, with a treat, praise, fuss or play. In fact if you make it your way of life that all attention given to them has to be because you have called them over for it (rather than when they come over asking for it), then they will soon learn to come over reliably. Practice at times when they are relaxing, have attention on you and at times when they are very interested in something else.

2. Move to the garden

If you dog won’t return to you every time in the house and garden then your chances of getting him or her to come when called on the walk are very slim. Practice calling them to come in the garden. If they don’t come over first time, go back inside and shut the door behind you. This shows them that if they don’t come over when they are called there are consequences and they may lose the ‘pack’. Losing the pack is not a good thing as their instincts tell them there is safety in numbers and company is good.

3. Practice on a long lead

When your dog is walking to heel well (if you are having trouble with this read my blog teaching a dog to heel) and you get to a larger area, switch their regular lead to a long training one – the length of a horse lunge line is about right (like the picture). Give your dog little bits of freedom to sniff and play and regularly call them back. Whenever they return, praise and fuss so they know that’s the right thing to do, then let them go back to play and investigation. But if they don’t come back on the first time of asking, then ravel the lead back in and they lose their freedom for the remainder of the walk.

4. Practice in front of lots of distraction

Take your dog to areas that they are usually very distracted to practice recall on the long lead, so you can be confident that they will come back to you whatever else is going on, and they know that if they don’t come over they lose their freedom. Once you are confident, you can let them off.

5. Off lead.

Regularly call your dog to you throughout the walk. This emphasises that they are to pay attention to you, and there is always praise or a treat in it for them.

6. Be positive

Always call your dog with a positive tone of voice, they want to know that coming back to you is good, not something to be afraid of!

Things to avoid

– Shouting at your dog if it comes back much later on. This makes a negative association with them returning. If they return a while after, calmly put them back on the lead without acknowledging them.

– Running after them. If you chase your dog, they will simply think that they are leading the way and ‘the pack’ are following. Stop, walk the other way, or hide instead.

A deeper understanding.

The secret to being able to get your dog to come when called off a lead is having the right relationship with them. Their understanding of what they are responsible for within ‘the pack’ will dictate how they behave when you ask them to do other things. If they have any belief that they might be towards the top of the pack during day to day life, when they are running off lead, they will think they are doing something really important – e.g. hunting, or sussing out territory invaders, so your request that they come back to you may fall on (selectively) deaf ears.

There are many schools of thought that will make excuses for certain types of breeds saying that their ‘prey drive’ is too strong for them to come back when they are called if they’ve got a scent of something. This is true if the dog thinks it has the responsibility to be the one to get the prey, and the instinct may be stronger in some dogs than others – however the truth is that no matter what breed your dog is, they all understand pack structure and responsibility, so if you aren’t clearly at the top, then may decide to overrule your request as they will think they are responsible for the hunt, or for protecting from danger and sussing out other dogs (or running away from them!)

If you want to get even deeper into it then I’d recommend that you read “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell, or get a local dog listener to come and help you with your dog training. I am a dog behaviourist¬†and dog listener, so if you are looking for an Essex Dog Trainer, who covers anything from Southend up to London, Kent and Suffolk. Please give me a call to chat about the needs of your dog – 07908 192656


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