Why is it so difficult to achieve?
One of the most common issues that owners raise with me on a regular basis, is that of reliability outside and off lead. Most people would like the idyllic walks with their dog running off lead, running back to them every time they are called, meaning that everyone is having a great time and walks are an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately this ideal picture doesn’t always match the reality of people’s experiences. Often by the time people request help from me, the dog has developed an established behaviour pattern of being unreliable outside. There are a number of factors which may be involved in why this has happened:
- The dog is a rescue dog and has never been taught a reliable recall
- The dog as a puppy had a reliable recall – very common as they’re not brave enough initially to venture too far away on their own but as a maturing teenager to adult dog they developed the confidence to venture further
- Hormones are a factor, male dogs can be affected by the presence of testosterone which makes them want to stray further away to find a mate, a bitch in season may also do this
- The hunt instinct has been allowed to develop without boundaries and control
- The behaviour has become a learned behaviour whereby the rewards of running off are higher than those of coming back to the owner. There may also be negative associations with being recalled – i.e. always put back on the lead, walks aren’t long enough, punishment for running off
So what is the answer?
As always with dog training, prevention is better than cure. Don’t let your puppy off lead until the recall is reliable. Teach the recall in easy areas first, and develop the same response in varying outdoor locations.
Keep rewards high and valuable to the dog. Liver cake, cheese, chicken, for some dogs a special ball or frisbee
Interact with your dog a lot on walks. Reward ‘checking in’ behaviour, play hide and seek, hide toys to play searching games, do easy training exercises throughout the walk.
If recalls start to go wrong, don’t wait for the wrong behaviour pattern to establish itself. Go back to basics at any time as required.
Castration may help but doesn’t always.
Ensure your dog has sufficient outlet for its natural behaviour patterns but in a controlled environment.
Walk your dogs in a variety of locations to prevent over familiarisation with a particular area.
Above all, if you can’t resolve this on your own, find a good dog trainer to help you. Better still start doing early recall classes when the dog has finished its basic puppy training.