Sure, I can make Honey sit, stay, and come to me all day long. But the best way to improve her recall is through play.
Where Did She Go?
Honey loves to explore off leash. Luckily, she doesn’t go far.
That’s because I continually reinforce Honey’s attention on me by playing frequent games of Hide and Seek.
I wait until she’s deeply absorbed in a smell or chewing on a stick. Then I duck behind a tree to wait for her to notice I’ve gone.
The moment Honey notices I’m gone is an anxious one. So I don’t wait long before making a noise, bringing out a stinky treat (if I’m up wind of her), or calling out “Where’s Honey?”
Honey comes running and I reward her with a game of tug, that stinky treat, or a big scratch.
You Can’t Miss Me If I Never Go
At a dog park, the person who makes me craziest is Oblivous Man (or Woman).
As soon as they let their dog off leash to play, they plant their butt on a bench and gossip or sip their coffee with no regard for their dog at all.
Not only do they miss it if their dog has problems with another dog, they also conveniently miss the opportunity to clean up after him.
But most of all, they miss a grand opportunity to improve their dog’s recall.
When I take Honey to the dog park, I’m constantly on the move.
She’ll greet another dog and enjoy a quick game of bitey face. But once the play ebbs, she looks up to where she last saw me.
But I’m not there anymore. I’ve moved to another area in the park.
It’s like playing Hide and Seek in the wide open.
Once Honey spots me again, I either praise her verbally and tell her to return to play or I call her for a quick check in before releasing her to have more fun.
As a result, she has an excellent recall, even with the distractions of the dog park.
Don’t Try This If…
There are many reasons Hide and Seek is a good game for me to play with Honey:
- I’ve practiced her recall with her since she was 8 weeks old.
- She’s very bonded to me.
- She’s just a little bit anxious about separating from me.
- I only play Hide and Seek if we’re in a safe area with low risk of something going wrong (for instance, I’d never try it close to the road or with overwhelming distractions).
- Over 100 years of breeding has given her a strong genetic likelihood to pay attention to people.
But Hide and Seek was a rotten game to play with two of my earlier dogs.
My first dog, Christie, had a strong sense of wanderlust. Whenever she could, she’d go on a walkabout just to see what there was to see.
She just had an independent spirit.
After Christie, I lived with Shadow who was so nose-driven that every part of her brain not associated with scent would shut down.
When Shadow’s sniffer kicked into overdrive, I could shout into her ear or pass liver under her nose and it wouldn’t distract her from the scent she was already tracking.
So don’t take your Beagle mix out to the park and blame me when he pays no attention when you duck behind a tree.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t use play to train your dog’s recall. You just have to be more creative.
Play With Your Dog
If your dog isn’t trustworthy off leash outdoors, here are a few games you can play around the house to improve his recall:
- While your dog is in another room or eating dinner, leave a trail for him to follow to find you. Depending on your dog, your trail could consist of treats or dirty laundry.
- When your dog is dozing, slip under a blanket and call her name. When she comes, enjoy her favorite game or other treat.
- Use his chase instinct by running away while calling him to you.
Most importantly, whatever games you play, make sure you never poison your dog’s recall. (I’ve made a list of twelve ways to ruin your dog’s recall and you’ll find a few more in the comments.)
Using play to improve your dog’s recall makes you more likely to practice. After all, you’re playing games. You don’t doing a serious training session.
And the more you practice, the better your dog’s recall will be.
Your Turn: Do you have any favorite games that help your dog’s recall?
Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. Our theme for this month is play and trying out new training games.