It’s a very natural thing for us to use a dog’s name to call them when we want them to return to us but is this really the best approach for a reliable recall?
First up, it’s important to acknowledge that dogs don’t understand our language. What they hear are tones and sounds which they learn to link with an action which will deliver a reward.
A classic example is our good old friend the word ‘sit’. They have no understanding what the word means or how that word links into the world around them. What they learn is the sound we make when we say ‘sit’ and that it means they can get a reward if they perform a body change where the bottom is on the floor when they hear that sound.
With this in mind let’s think about the impact of the human voice on recall.
I do know of some folks that have a solid recall on voice alone. They all have a few things in common:
Many dog owners however just use their voice to call their dog’s name in the hope the dog hears the familiar sound and returns. Most of the time this actually works and the dog will return back to the owner. If we’re a sceptic we might suppose that the dog only returned because there was nothing better to do and on many occasions we might be right.
What happens then when the dog doesn’t come back when you recall them using your voice? My years of dog ownership and experience tells me that when events don’t happen as planned it is quite likely we will get frustrated, stressed and maybe angry. To make matters worse we can’t help but project these traits by our body language and of course with our voice and our dog is sure to notice.
Imagine the scenario where the dog has failed to come back to the owner when they called the dog. If the dog normally does this then the owner will quickly change their response and start to get stressed, maybe angry and start shouting the dogs’ name. Meanwhile the dog is probably totally ignoring them….
Why would a dog come back to someone who sounds stressed or angry?
We also have the issue that the dog may have various people who take it for a walk. Most likely they will have different ways of calling the dog back using different words and tones. This can all become very confusing for the dog and frustrating for his family.
So…in all my training, be that for puppy classes or older dogs one of the first tools I recommend is to start using a whistle for recall training.
The whistle is the tool of choice for some very good reasons:
1. Once trained it opens up a very simple, but effective communication channel between owner and dog.
2. It’s easy to train with the right technique.
3. The sound can travel over great distances.
4. It becomes a distinct tool which tells the dog these instructions are for you.
5. The whistle removes any emotion or stress from the request to return.
6. It also standardises the recall command amongst different owners of the dog.
Which whistle to use?
The whistle I recommend is the Acme 210.5 working dog whistle. The number just refers to the frequency of the whistle. You should buy several of them as you are sure to lose one and your dog to chew up another!
Put them in places where you will have access to them when you have the dog with you.
Please don’t waste your time and money with a silent whistle. You cannot hear it so how do you know your dog has heard it or is it just ignoring you?
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How to train recall with the whistle
Training the whistle is a simple task of linking the sound with a very high value treat. The treat chosen must be the highest value of all the treats you use and it is only ever used to reward a return to a whistle command.
As the owner you must first condition the whistle. I use 3 quick toots on the whistles for a recall as that was what I was taught. I have seen some folks use 5. The number is not that important, but the technique is.
Have your high quality treats and blow 3 toots on the whistle and give your dog a treat. They don’t have to be sitting or anything. Repeat this action 4-5 times and do this several times a day in the house and in the garden or on a walk. What we are trying to do in basic terms is to get your dog to understand that whenever he hears 3 whistle sounds it means he will get a very high quality treat he never normally gets.
After about 3 days you can start to blow the whistle when they are in another room and what your expecting is them to run to you in anticipation of the wonderful treat. Do the same when the dog is in the garden. Practice and practice this in very low distraction environments. In dog training speak you are proofing the technique.
Don't rush to use the whistle in a distracting place
What you can't do is take this method and suddenly go out on your normal high distraction walks and expect it to work…..it won’t and you will have taught your dog it is rewarding to ignore the whistle. Part of recall training is to take it slowly and proof the technique in a variety of environments and situations. Remember training is about setting up situations where we can guarantee the dog will be successful so we can reward the desired behaviour.
How often should you practice getting your dog to return when you blow the whistle?
There is a very simple answer to this one…..EVERYDAY!!
Yes, you should practice whistle training for recall everyday. Whilst you are training it’s really important to setup winning situations by not using it if there are distractions around or your dog cannot directly see you. These winning situations reinforce the behaviour to the dog that when it hears the 3 whistles it returns to you.
Remember: until your dog has a reliable recall they should not be off lead, but on a long training line.
There are few things more satisfying as an owner than to have your dog off lead doing their thing and you simply blow 3 toots on your whistle and your dog zooms straight back to you. Your dog is back on the lead, safe from harm and you are stress free – happy days!!