I’m a huge fan of using food and toys as a means of providing fun, motivation to focus and reward for good behaviour. This is never more relevant on the walks I do with my dogs as I’m competing with so many environmental distractions. But there are also several fun games I play with my boys on walks which are aimed to improve recall, without using food, toys or even talking. All you need is a big field away from roads and some long grass or field boundaries. A quiet bridle bath would work well as an alternative.
You’re improving recall by placing the responsibility on your dog to find you, catch up with you, keep his eye on you, or he might lose you. In all the games below, the aim is to see how long it takes for your dog to realise you’ve gone. You should not only see an improvement in how quickly he catches up, checks in or finds you, but also a reduction in his range, how far he’s prepared to leave you in the first place.
If you’re struggling and your dog pays no attention to you when you try these games, then more training and play is needed to improve your bond with your dog in the first place. Go back to using food and toys. Play recall games with your dog before trying the games below again. Remember if taking the dog for a walk was a unilateral undertaking, you might as well just open the door and let him out. You have to start by making yourself part of the fun, not a witness to it. Happy Training!
I stop, you stop!
As your dog potters on ahead, stop. Say nothing, and time how long it takes for him to realise you’re no longer following him. You’re looking for the dog to stop and turn towards you to see what’s going on. As soon as they do this, start walking again.
‘I’m off! Better catch Up!’
While your dog is distracted, walk fast, or run on ahead. Time how long it takes for them to realise you’ve gone without them and for them to catch up. You should see an element of urgency as they work out you’ve left them behind.
With your dog up ahead, drop and hide! Say nothing but wait for them to come find you. You may see them run straight past your location and only get a scent of you when they pass by. Try to avoid the temptation to tell them where you are. Do make a gentle fuss and praise them when they find you.
On one walk, I reduced the dog’as range considerably just by playing these games with Sage, Guinness and Jellybean. Watch the first video again and now this one. Look at the distance reduced as to how far ahead they are prepared to go.
This type of training is great fun and should help improve your dog’s voluntary connection with you on walks. It takes some pressure off the owner to be the one always working on calling the dog and instead place some responsibility on the dog to pay attention.