As a professional dog trainer, Lucy Heath knows first hand that you absolutely can teach an old dog new tricks. In her eight-part Masterclass Series, she shows us how it's done, stepping us through the fundamentals of training with kindness opening the way for a whole lot of fun for you and your dog. You can watch the videos here:
In this series of Dog Masterclasses, Lucy teachers us how to train our dog from the basics to the more advanced. In this video we learn how to train our dog to come when we call.
To begin training you’re going to need some tasty treats and your dog’s favourite toy.
Teaching your dog to come when called is arguably one of the most important behaviours you can teach your dog. It allows them to be a dog and enjoy loads of freedom, but safely.
Step #1: Choose a word
Don't use your dog's name as the word, as we use this far too often already in day to day life. Choose a specific word that means 'come back to me'. Lucy uses the word 'Come!'
The first thing you going to do is reward your dog every time you say the chosen word. We want that word to mean 'all good things happen to me' to your dog.
Practice this in as many different places and at as many different times of day as possible. You want to see that as soon as you say the word your dog looks at you expectantly like something brilliant is about to happen.
Step #2: Practice with your dog on a lead
The next step is to practice with your dog on a lead, so it won't make any mistakes. Run backwards, with your dog on a lead so your dog will come towards you, say the word and then reward them immediately.
Repeat this step often: Run backwards. Say your word. Reward your dog.
Remember to train frequently in various locations.
If your dog can’t pay attention whilst on the lead, definitely don’t let them off the lead. They’re not ready.
If you’ve practised this quite a lot and you’re ready to give them a little bit more freedom especially on walks, then it’s time to invest in something like a 10m long line. This way they’ll have more freedom but they won’t be able to run away or make mistakes.
When using a long line always make sure it’s attached to a harness (not a collar). If you ever do need to use it in an emergency you don’t want to hurt your dog’s neck if it is attached to a collar.
When you first use the long line on a walk, keep it quite short and keep practising having your dog come back to you.
If they’re being reliable and attentive, begin unwinding the line and give them more space to enjoy freedom.
Hopefully, you’ll reach a point when you feel that you don’t really need the long line anymore but you’re not quite ready to take it off yet. At this point, you can start to leave it trailing along the ground so if your dog tries to run away you’ve still got the long line there to prevent them from doing so.
Reward them for coming back to you and they can still really enjoy all the freedom. There are a few fun recall games you can play while on your walk.
A useful tip is to play recall games in the middle of your walk to keep them listening out for that recall command.
A Recall Game
Place food at your feet then run away whilst using your call word. While he's eating the food on the ground you run away, then he’s got to keep chasing you to earn the food. Repeat this step often.
Then while he’s eating those last few bites, you can either put him back on the lead or you could just carry on having your walk and he could carry on enjoying his freedom.
Make sure to practice your recall at random times throughout the walk. If you only ever call your dog back when the walk is about to end, and therefore all their fun is about to end, they might start to avoid you.
Make sure you only reward your dog after you’ve put their lead on. Quite often the dog will come, steal the treats and then dodge out of the way before you've had time to put their lead on. You want to avoid that happening.
For some dogs who really enjoy the thrill of chasing a rabbit or getting to run around with another dog they’ve met in the park, a treat can be very anticlimactic.
If your dog really enjoys toys, like Lucy's dog Strike does, make sure you use them when playing the recall game as these will give them a big adrenaline rush of excitement: with you.
Check out more Dog Masterclasses with Lucy Heath: