Tips & Techniques

Jack! Jack! Come Back…

Robotic dog Aibo

It’s 108 years since the Titanic sank and over 20 years since the film was released in 1997.  What’s that got to do with recalling your dog?  Well, if you remember Rose (Kate Winslet) spends most of the film shouting “Jack!” as she and he run around the ship while it’s sinking.  I was reminded of this when I was in a class teaching recall only to hear an owner shouting “Jack… Jack!” like she was channelling Rose.

Recall is something a lot of owners struggle with.  And I see a lot of dogs who are running around aimlessly not knowing what to do.  Of all the problems I’m asked to help with, recall is actually the easiest one!  But there are a couple of things you need to know before you start.

1.  Your dog is NOT being naughty.  Dogs don’t do naughty in the same way as we think.  They just are having fun not coming back.

2.  Dogs are NOT a mind reader.  How many owners just shout their names and expect them to know what you’re asking.

3.  You need to give your dog a good reason to come back to you.


Okay, let’s do the last one first.  No matter how interesting, how much training or how much you trust your dog there will ALWAYS be a reason for them not to come back to you.  Just like humans, dogs don’t do the same thing in the same way every time.  If you want a dog to be 100% then get a Sony Aibo dog.  They will, I promise, always come back!

Dogs aren’t naughty in the same way as humans.  They want your attention.  They will take things from you, run off and once they hear you calling them they know they have your attention.  A client’s elderly aunt had a Labrador pup who took her shoes and put them under the kitchen table.  First step, Auntie telling the pup he was naughty.  So he did it again.  More shoes under the table until eventually Auntie had to go under the table to get them.  There they were under the table, with the shoes and the pup very happy to be sitting there with her full attention…

As for mind reading, imagine if someone called your name.  Would you know what they wanted?  If I wanted your attention, calling your name is a great way to get it.  (A whistle is even better!) But if I wanted you to get a pint of milk from the shop?  Saying your name is just not communicating properly.  And it’s communication with your dog that you need to build on.  No, they don’t understand every word (well, okay sometimes they seem to) but they do like clear and consistent communication and instructions.  So call their name yes, but make sure you follow it up with a cue word like “come” or “here”.  TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO.

Finally, number three is one of the most important parts of recall.  Give them a reason to come back.  I call it the “curly-whirly” effect.  Most of my clients know what I mean as I mention this a lot in class.  I’ve even been known to give them out at the end of the courses or workshops!  If someone holds up a curly-whirly and waves it at me – I’m there.  No matter how delicious anything else is, or how fabulous the shoes are… I’m going for the 99p curly-whirly.  My family know it’s a great way to get my attention.  But it wouldn’t matter who it was (well maybe someone in a hoodie in the park after dusk) I would always go for the curly-whirly.  Honestly, tell me you aren’t thinking about eating one now?  Loads of clients usually dive in to the sweet shop on the way home… so remember that you need to have the magic ingredient in your recall.

So let’s reorganise those points.

1.  Get your dog’s attention.  Call their name or blow a whistle to get them to look at you.  If they aren’t looking at you, then they aren’t listening.

2.  Tell them what you want them to do.  There’s no point just yelling their name over and over.  Use your cue word “come” or “here” or “treat” or “sausage” as long as they know what you are asking them to come back.

3.  Hold out the treat and wave it.  You’re not bribing them.  You’re making yourself more interesting.  Make sure you use a treat that they LOVE and that they NEVER get any other time.  Edie loves anything fishy and Rupert loves cheese.  It’s fun trying to find out what they do like and what they don’t.

4.  When they come to do DON’T ask them to sit down first.  Reward them as soon as they are next to you.  I hold the treat close to me so that my dogs come to me.  And while they’re eating the treat I put the lead on.  I always ALWAYS put the lead back on.  What it teaches your dog is that the lead is okay and a good thing not something to run away.

And there you go!  You need to practice this in your lounge, in your hallway and in your garden until it’s a consistent recall.  Don’t start off in the outside world until your dog understands what you want.  Once you have your dog recalling at home, take a long line and practice in a quiet, semi enclosed area.  Again, take your time but eventually you can work up to a consistent recall even when there are more interesting things (like a curly-whirly) around.  And keep practicing.  The more you practice you put in, the better your recall will become!


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