Total Recall: The Puppy Edition


As many of you will know, I have a gorgeous puppy – Winnie! Winnie is a 5 month old Weimaraner puppy. She is growing at the rate of knots, and will soon be a large, powerful dog. With that in mind, I’ve been working really hard with Winnie to train her to be an obedient and sociable dog while she is still little (ish). All of Winnie’s training has been reward-based training which has been really effective. Reward based training helps the dog to make the link between good behaviours, and reward and so they start to consistently take the decision to display positive behaviours as they know this will lead to tasty, fun rewards and praise from their owner.

I thought a blog on what we have learnt during recall training might be a helpful read, as it’s such a useful skill for all dogs to master when out and about in the park.

My first piece of advice, which is crucial for all puppy training is keep it really fun for your pup! Short bursts of 20 minute training sessions a few times a day is perfect – puppies learn fastest in short, regular sessions. There is nothing worse than a bored puppy. That said, the training session is never really over. It’s so, so, so important that you and your family use consistent commands during your everyday life, and that good behaviours are rewarded and naughty behaviour is ignored.

Before you start recall training, here are a few key tips that I have picked up that will set you up for success:

Choosing your command:

The command I chose for Winnie to return to me is ‘Winnie, come!’ – it is really important that you do not just call the dog’s name, as this is just her name – she knows that already and doesn’t necessarily associate it with running back to you. Add a ‘come’ or a ‘here’, after their name.

Your tone of voice and body language:

When you call your dog back to you, you want to make sure that you are the most exciting thing in the park, so that your puppy wants to come back to you! I use a high pitched, fun and excited tone of voice when calling Winnie back to me, whilst jumping up and down like a lunatic… works! She thinks I’m so exciting and runs back immediately wiggling her whole body as she arrives back to me.

Rewarding for successful recall:

I see many dog walkers recalling their dog, and then asking them to sit when they arrive back to them, before rewarding them with food/a toy. This might seem like a good idea, as it seems as though you are rewarding for both the recall and the sit. Puppies unfortunately won’t make that association, and will think you are rewarding them for the sit, and so you will not have reinforced the successful recall. Give your puppy their food/toy reward as soon as they arrive back with you, and reinforce this with plenty of verbal and physical reward as well. Also, when you give the command to ‘come’, start to verbally reward your puppy as soon as they turn around and start running back to you. It’s more likely to encourage them all the way back to you, rather than getting distracted by the delicious whiff of deer poop, or another dog.

Frequency of recall whilst out walking:

Try to call your dog back to you regularly during your training session. In real life practical situations, the recall command is usually used when something is wrong (i.e. your dog is heading towards danger and you want her to return to you), or it’s time to go home. Your dog is a clever stick, and will start to recognise that recall means that their fun is over. If you recall your dog regularly, this will not only demonstrate that recall = reward (not just end of fun), but will also increase your interaction with your dog so that they are excited to be with you, and are more alert as to where you are on the walk.

Winnie and I started with a 10m soft training line in Richmond Park. We tried to head to the park around mid-morning and mid-afternoon when the park was quietest, and picked a spot where there were no other dog walkers……Winnie’s weakness is other dogs, she LOVES to make friends, so in order to set her up for success it was best to start with no distractions at all.

Winnie is very food motivated, so once on the long line I would show her that I had lots of little bits of smelly, yummy sausage and cheese in my hands. She goes wild for frankfurters and cheddar cheese! I’d ask her to sit, and reward her once her little bottom hit the floor – this helped to focus her for the training session. I’d then command ‘Go Play!’ in a fun exciting voice and usher her off to run around….to which she excitedly obliges.

 Starting with a long-line for teaching recall is really handy for two reasons:

  1. You have peace of mind that whilst the dog is learning the recall command, they cannot stray too far

  2. If you give the command, and the dog does not respond, you have the control to give the line a little wiggle to get their attention. Without the long-line, should the dog not respond to your command, unfortunately they will start to learn that ignoring you is ok. The little wiggle on the long-line should be enough to get the dog’s attention, for you to give the command again (and jump around to be exciting).

If your dog continues to ignore you, come in a little closer to get their attention. Your puppy won’t be ignoring you for the fun of it…..they will just be on the scent of something intriguing, so remain calm and positive and continue to come in closer to win their attention.

Once your dog is recalling successfully every time on the long-line without distractions, you can start to introduce more distractions. Distractions might include other people walking around, or when they are playing with another dog; these are the types of distractions you will likely need to recall them from in real life situations. When you are confident they are coming back to you consistently when called no matter the distractions around, you can continue the recall training, off lead.

Good luck with your recall training, and remember to keep it up! Your puppy will need constant reinforcement for all commands that you teach her, to ensure she maintains them during her adolescent period………yep, even dogs have a teenage phase : )