We have all had that sinking feeling. You call your dog, you know he has heard you, and he totally ignores you.
You know you need to do something straight away or the habit of ignoring you will get worse.
But what should you do?
What is the best reaction?
How should you correct a dog during recall training?
Correcting The Dog
The traditional advice from dog trainers used to be to get out and correct your dog at the point where he was when you gave the recall.
In order for a dog’s behaviour to be modified by any consequences you provide, those consequences have to follow the behaviour pretty rapidly. We are talking seconds here, not minutes.
You have to get out to the dog before he leaves the place where he ignored you, and before he forgets what it is he did wrong.
Dogs Can Run Faster Than Humans
So that he learns from the experience.
But more often than not, by the time you reach him, assuming you can catch him, he hasn’t a clue what he is being corrected for.
Don’t forget that when plunging through undergrowth or up a hill, four legs have the advantage over two!
Punishing Your Dog Can Damage Your Relationship
Punishing your dog means that in his eyes you become the ‘bad guy’. This may be only temporary, but the effect can be very damaging to the whole recall process.
Remember too that punishment must be pretty unpleasant in order to counter the fun that the dog just had ignoring your boring old pleas for him to ‘come here’.
Just how mean are you prepared to be?
The essence of a good recall lies in creating a situation where the dog feels the urge to be next to you more than anything else in the world when he hears that recall signal.
If you have punished him, no matter how moderately, you will have reduced his desire to get himself next to you.
This is counter productive and there seems little point in shooting yourself in the foot when there is a better alternative.
So if there is no point in correcting the dog at all, what should you do?
What to do when your dog ignores you
There are three actions you need to take.
The first is to recover your dog. And the second is to take steps to ensure that he isn’t given opportunity to ignore you again.
In other words, to manage his future behavior more carefully until you have completed the third step – teaching your dog to recall on command
Recovering your dog
If your dog is not too pre-occupied, the best strategy is simply to make a lot of noise (to attract his attention) and without pausing turn and run away from your dog.
As fast as you can
Most dogs cannot resist running after a whooping, hollering crazy human friend.
If your dog is rushing off to play with another dog and ignores your whoops, shouts and whistles, you are simply going to have to go and get him.
Don’t run after him aggressively, telling him what you would like to do to him when you get hold of him (however tempting that may be).
Simply walk quietly after him and take hold of his collar at the first opportunity you get. Turn him towards you and reward him immediately the second he gives you any attention at all.
If you don’t have a reward on you, make a mental note to always have rewards with you in future!
Obviously, you don’t want to be in this position again in the future, so you now need to make a plan to manage your dog in situations where he is able to run off and ignore you.
Managing your dog
There are two aspect to managing the dog that isn’t (effectively) recall trained.
The first aspect is to stop calling the dog unless you are certain you can ensure he does not ignore you.
The second aspect is to prevent him from running off and evading you.
Stop calling your dog
Every time you call a dog and he does something other than return to you, you are badly damaging your recall command. If this happens more than a very few times, your recall command will become useless.
Don’t call a dog that has not been taught to recall EXCEPT in the context of your recall training programme
Stop your dog running off
The best way to manage your dog in public places, until you have trained him, is with a long line attached to a body harness.
The harness is important just in case the dog runs after you pick up the line, or in case it gets caught on something. Attaching the line to a collar can hurt your dog’s throat when he comes to a sudden stop.
The default situation with the long line is that it is left to drag along the ground. When you anticipate trouble, you can pick up the end without the dog guessing you are about to interrupt his fun.
It is also a brilliant training aid. And training these days is carried out using rewards rather than corrections
Teaching Your Dog to Come
More and more these days I teach the whole recall process using only rewards.
The trick is to increase the level of difficulty in stages. And to limit the opportunities that the dog has for ‘self-rewarding’ until he is ‘fluent’ at responding in any given situation.
You will need to use really generous rewards each time you make things more difficult, fading them out when the dog has got the hang of it, and ramping them up again when you introduce the next level of difficulty.
If your dog has already got into bad habits, then a biscuit is not going to cut it. You are going to need some seriously tasty roast chicken or beef.
Don’t worry, you won’t need to be a walking delicatessen forever, rewards can be faded and reduced as the dog becomes more competent. And don’t forget, the first step in training a dog to come when he is called is to stop calling! (Find out more in the recall training guide)
The answer to the question in the title (okay it was a little cryptic, but you have come this far so hang on in there!) is that successful recall requires a shift in approach.
You need to stop banging your head on the proverbial brick wall and acknowledge the problems involved in correcting a dog that is probably hundreds of yards away. The answer is to do what all successful modern trainers now do with every dog they train. They prevent the dog from absconding while they teach the recall in stages with effective rewards.
Anyone can teach this.
Any dog can learn this.
To find out how to train a recall effectively and without force, check out our free mega training guide: How to train a puppy or dog to come
It’s completely free and it gives you step by step instructions for teaching your dog to come each and every time you call.
Don’t forget the three steps we talked about above
Those are your keys to success
If you prefer to work from a book and you want to train an effective recall using a detailed reward based recall training programme then you may find my Total Recall helpful.
You can also drop in to our Labrador forum and post up any questions you may have.
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2017
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website