PART 1: A dog’s senses and how they can help us with recall.
Before we begin let us take a look at the physiological make up of a dog and its attributes, so we can better understand what will help us in getting our dog come back to us (recall).
There are 5 main senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. For the purposes of recall, we are only interested in sight, hearing, and smell.
A big misconception is that we think our dogs see exactly what we can see but this is far from the truth. We have 20/20 vision but a dog has 20/75 vision, which means that they must be 20 feet from an object to see it as well as a human standing 75 feet away. However, this is not true for all breeds which is why labradors are used as guide dogs for the blind as their vision is closer to 20/20.
This means that your dog is likely not to recognise you from a distance, so it means that sight alone will not help a dog know where you are and where to return.
However, a dog has 2 attributes that make your dog ideal to recognising visual cues like raising your hand to the air when you call out your dogs name, and then lowering it down in a swift movement when you call out ‘come’. This all stems from your dog have a wider peripheral vision than a human as well as having a larger number of rods in the retina, which means dogs see moving objects much better than they see stationary objects. Motion sensitivity has been noted as the critical aspect of canine vision.
Dogs have much more sensitive hearing than humans, hearing sounds four times farther away than we can. They can hear higher frequency sounds, can more easily differentiate sounds (e.g. they may recognise the sound of your car) and they can pin point the exact location of the sound. This goes to show that they will most definitely hear you when you call out their name for recall and will know exactly where you are. Thus its key to clearly call out your dogs name in recall to get its attention.
Humans spend more time visually interpreting their surroundings whereas a dog will use its sense of smell to do the same thing.
While noses don’t actually speak, they do communicate. With a single sniff, noses interpret an entire story without words by using amines and acids emitted by dogs as the basis for chemical communication. The chemical aromas communicate what a dog likes to eat, and identify gender and mood. By simply smelling, a dog can determine if a new friend is male or female, happy or aggressive, healthy or ill. Dogs get a general idea about each other with a quick sniff, but get more detailed information by getting up close and personal. That’s why some dogs sniff private parts of the anatomy!
Dogs also have a good scent memory that can identify other dogs they haven’t seen for years – and can remember which of them was the dominant member of the pair. When dogs belonging to the same family are separated for a while, they use sense of smell to catch up on things. Changes in odors may convey where the dog went, what he ate, and what he did.
When in a new territory, a dog can sniff a tree and determine what other dogs live in the neighborhood. They can smell a visitor’s pant-leg and get a good impression of where the person lives and whether he has pets at home.
Dogs also have a great homing instinct that depends on their ability to smell. Since dogs move their nostrils independently, they can determine the direction of an odor and use their sense of smell like a compass.
“The dog’s sense of smell is so adept that a blind dog has much less difficulty adjusting to the loss of vision than a human does.”
Humans each have a unique innate scent that enables dogs to tell one person from another. Our dogs don’t need to see us to identify us. The dog’s sense of smell is so adept that a blind dog has much less difficulty adjusting to the loss of vision than a human does.
Dogs also sense fear and anxiety via their noses. When we are stressed or scared, we secrete the fight-or-flight hormone, adrenaline, which dogs detect even though we can’t smell it. Also, when we are anxious, we have increased heart rate and blood flow which carries body chemicals to the skin surface where dogs can pick them up more easily. So, it’s no use trying to mask your true feelings from your canine companion. His sense of smell will not be fooled.
Understanding this we know that by having a smelly treat that your dog loves will be a good way to also aid in getting your dog come back to you during recall.
PART 2: Bringing all our dogs senses together to form a process in getting our dog to return on recall
What we learn from our dogs senses is that we can combine them together to form a good basis in getting our dog coming back to us in recall.
- Call out your dogs name and raise your hand to the sky at the same time with its favourite treat in your hand. Repeat to get your dogs attention but not continuously.
- When you dog is looking in your direction lower your hand to your side in a swift motion and call out ‘come’.
- Praise your dog as it returns to you and reward with the treat in your hand and make a fuss of him or her as well.
This all seems very straightforward and easy but everyone comes in to problems in the real world. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that your dog simply won’t return to you if there is something better he/she wants to do with their time.
So, what can we do???
PART 3: What is recall training?
Recall works by ensuring your dog finds the idea of coming back to you more attractive than any other distraction on offer. For example, it aims to override your dog’s natural instinct to chase whatever he sees by making your call more rewarding to him. This is done through a combination of treats, rewards and positive reinforcement.
Reliable recall is important, as without it, any time that your dog spends off-lead could potentially be dangerous to him – he may come into contact with other dogs who aren’t under their owners’ control, or you may need to call him away from water or wildlife. Once you can trust your dog to come when called, he’ll be able to enjoy running around freely and you can be sure you have the control needed to keep him safe.
The right reward
To start recall training with your dog, you’ll need to have already established a strong bond with him and should know him well. This is because you’ll need to understand what really motivates him. You need to work out which reward(s) your dog really enjoys, so that the command to come back to you will always be more appealing than whatever else he is doing.
This could be a treat (something he really likes and is smelly), a favourite toy, or a game with you – whatever is of the highest value to him. Your dog needs to learn that you are worth listening to, regardless of what else is going on.
Patience and practice
Once you know what your dog reacts best to, patience and repetition will then be the key to achieving recall. We always start recall and other training as early as possible with our new puppy as well as with any dog we take into the family.
If indoors and you have a secure garden then you can start without a lead however, if you are looking to be going over the park then you begin recall training while still on the lead – first with a normal 4ft one, and then by progressing to a much longer 30ft lead. It takes a lot of practice. If you are out in a park then doing it for 2 periods during the walk is ample training time before going back to lead work. If in your back garden then 2 lots of 5 mins is good enough each day.
PART 4: Key points to bare in mind
Keep training sessions focused and fun. Your dog should never feel stressed or anxious, so never shout or make coming back to you a punishment. This should be an enjoyable and stimulating experience for your dog; stop training as soon as he begins to lose concentration and try again another day.
Three steps to excel in recall
- Choose a quiet area away from distractions. Put your dog on a short lead, call his name and give him his preferred reward and plenty of praise as soon as he comes. (You could also use a whistle, clicker or any other sound that your dog can learn to associate with the word ‘come’ and with treats from you.) Practise this step regularly (daily, on every walk) for at least four to six weeks, while gradually lengthening his lead up to 30ft.
- Once your dog comes to you every time, take him to a more open space such as a park. However, initially keep him away from other dogs or ‘must-explore’ areas such as sandpits. Put him on the lead to practise at first then, if that’s successful, let the lead trail on the ground. Call him when he’s not too far away – reward him as soon as he comes to you – and repeat this for the duration of your walk, gradually building up the distance he can run before being called.
- Keep in mind that dog recall training is an ongoing process, and not a once-off, so keep practising on each walk (and keep heaping on the praise). This is the best way to ensure your dog stays on track and remains consistently good at recall.
Main problems faced with recall
- Chasing birds, ducks, geese or any flying animal.
- Running up to dogs to play and chase them.
- Running up to strangers.
- Running up to humans and dogs and barking at them.
All of the above sound like great things to do if you are a dog. Why wouldn’t you want to chase after a bird or squirrel into the woods, or get lost in a woodland with all those smells. Even those other people over there might have some treats for me or give me some hugs. That dog might want to play as its been a long time since I have ha da dog to play with.
What the owner has to contend with is trying to build that bond up with their dog so that your dog would rather come back to you as it’s far better than any of the things you don’t want it to do. So, how do we start getting your dog back into the process of returning to you when you tell it to ‘come’.
Well its quite straight forward, we go back to basics. We go back to part 4 of this article and start to retrain our dog. Understanding these conditions we can come into contact with the main issues that an owner will see but have more control under their dog and thus praise the dog for not running after birds or squirrels. When on a lead and passing humans by we can praise him for not wanting to jump up and bark at the people. Dogs seeing other dogs off the lead will want them to go up to them to see if they want to play or just to say hi. If your dog doesn’t have much interaction with other dogs in general except for a park and you want your dog to be well socialised around other dogs then it might be a good idea to take your dog to dog park days where your dog can run and play with other dogs in a secure environment or even better a doggy day care centre where the dog can be treated to a day of fun where it will learn all its socialisation skills from other dogs of various breeds, sizes, and nature.