One part of Labrador recall training that is often skimmed over or missed out, is proofing.
To have a really reliable recall, you need to proof your recall training carefully, and that is what this article is all about.
When dog recalls are unreliable
Teaching your Labrador that ‘here’ or ‘come’ means he must run towards you, is relatively simple.
Or is it?
We can easily teach dogs to obey the recall in the safety and calm of the home or garden.
But labrador owners are often very upset and confused when the dog disobeys the recall signal when he is placed in a more distracting and tempting environment.
They cannot understand why he ignores the recall whilst he is playing with other dogs for example. The really want a reliable recall.
And they are worried that they have a ‘disobedient dog’.
In actual fact, he is not disobeying at all, he has not yet learned to generalize the command.
That is to say, he does not understand that the command ‘come’ has the same, in indeed any, meaning in the new situation.
What is recall proofing?
The way we teach the dog to generalize is through a thorough system of ‘proofing’.
It is also sometimes referred to as dog distraction training.
Any good recall training program will include detailed instructions on proofing
Our own in-depth recall training guide is called How to Train a Puppy or Dog to Come, and in it you will find clear step-by-step instructions for proofing your Labrador’s recall.
Here is a quick summary of the basic principles.
Proofing your Labrador’s recall command
Effective recall proofing takes time. It is not something that you can achieve in a few days.
To give you an idea of what is involved in proofing your Labrador’s recall, I suggest you start by making a couple of lists on a sheet of paper. Divide your page into two columns.
You will need to make a list of the locations in which you want to be able to call your dog back reliably.
This will include the different places you like taking your dog to (eg the beach, park, moors, etc) and where he will be running free.
You will also need to list the different ‘activities’ that might distract him.
Such as people jogging, dogs running around, cyclists passing by, children playing, etc.
Your next step will be to set up a series of training exercises which introduce one distraction at a time at home.
Then ideally set up a similar exercise in each location on your list.
How to set up your dog to win the recall game
It is important to introduce distractions into your recall training at a low level to begin with and gradually increase their intensity
For example, if you want to teach your dog to recall away from other dogs, start by setting up an exercise where the other dog is sitting quietly on a lead next to his owner.
Gradually progress to calling him away from a dog that is walking up and down with his owner, and eventually to calling him away from playing with another dog.
Control the consequences of your dog’s behavior
You will need to make sure your dog cannot reward himself for disobeying you.
If you let him play with the other dog when you have called him back all your work will be undone.
You can use a long training lead to keep control over your dog during this process.
Don’t be afraid to get help with your dog’s recall
If you cannot find a way to set up these kind of exercises using friends and relatives, you will need to pay a dog trainer to help you.
Use rewards effectively when teaching recall
Increase the level of difficulty of each exercise gradually and in stages and use powerful rewards until your dog is reliable in each exercise.
Training with treats is not bribery or cheating. It is an effective training tool. Remember to decrease rewards gradually, and never fade them out completely.
Check out How to Use and Choose Effective Rewards to find out more about the effective use of rewards.
More help and information
- Why dogs run away and how to stop them
- How to train a puppy or dog to come
- Keep your dog close on walks and improve his recall
This article was written by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa’s recall training book Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for dogs and puppies.
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