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Teaching a puppy a solid recall is a critical life skill for numerous reasons. Firstly, it can be a lifesaver in potentially dangerous situations, allowing you to call your puppy away from hazards such as traffic or harmful substances. Secondly, it’s essential for enjoyable and safe walks, after all most of us get a dog to enjoy walks out and about, by creating and then nurturing your puppy’s recall skills from puppyhood, throughout puberty and beyond, will give you the confidence to transfer from a dog lead to long training line, and finally off-lead where it is safe to do so, knowing they’ll return when called. Lastly, creating a solid recall fosters a strong bond between you and your pooch.
Using games to teach recall can significantly enhance the learning process. Games are inherently motivating and fun for puppies and us, and this increases both the puppy’s and owner/carer’s willingness to practice, participate and learn. Gamifying your pet’s recall also helps to build positive associations with the recall verbal/visual cues (such as “Come”), helping increase the likelihood of your puppy responding reliably when called. For example, a study by Demant et al. (2011) found that dogs trained using play-based methods showed higher obedience levels than those trained using ‘traditional’ methods. Similarly, Roanne et al. (2000) demonstrated that incorporating play into training can increase the frequency and speed of dogs’ responses to cues.
So, using games to teach recall not only makes training more enjoyable for both you and your puppy, but it also fosters a more reliable and faster response, enhancing your puppy’s safety and your peace of mind.
Remember – it’s a marathon not a sprint, so work at your puppy’s own individual pace, consider the training environment you are practicing in, your distance from your puppy, how many distractions are within the environment, what you are using to reward the recall behaviour and so on. Check out my Pet Behavioural Diary to help you monitor and keep track of your training sessions, to set you and your puppy up for success. For more advice, support, training games and troubleshooting – check out my Puppy Package; the one-stop shop for all your puppy’s training and behaviour needs.
Your recall game – Hide and Seek
What your need:
- Your puppy!
- Your puppy’s favourite treats and or toys – check out my Preference Testing video to help you understand what your puppy prefers.
- A safe, indoor space with hiding spots, such as behind a door/sofa etc.
- A helper if your puppy does not yet know how to sit/stay and do so when you leave the room or area.
How to play?
- Start simple: Begin in a quiet, enclosed space. This could be indoors in a room with few distractions.
- Positioning: Start the game with your puppy in a sit or stay position. If your puppy hasn’t mastered these behaviours yet, it’s OK, just ask your helper to calmly distract your puppy while you go hide.
- Hide: Hide in an easy spot where the puppy can see you. This is to set your puppy up for success – you want them to find your easily so you can reward them. Afterall, what gets rewarded is more likely to be repeated.
- Call, mark and reward: Call your puppy’s name and then say “Come.” When the puppy finds you, immediately use a marker such as saying “yes” and then give them a valued treat or a quick play with a toy – whatever your puppy adores. Do make sure to praise them enthusiastically for their efforts.
- Increase difficulty: As your puppy gets better at the game, start hiding in more difficult spots. This will help your puppy use their senses and build their recall. You can progress to hiding in your garden if you have one, or a communal safe outside area and build up to hiding out on a walk. Have a helper with you when transferring this game outside in communal areas to ensure they remain safe. Have them on a long line if the area is not secure. Check out this video, courtesy of Battersea to help you learn how to use long lines.
- Practice regularly: The key to this game is consistency and practice. Play it regularly, such as twice daily for up to three minutes at a time to keep the game at pace and interesting. Always make sure any training is fun, safe and rewarding for your puppy.
The goal of this game is to build your puppy’s recall and strengthen the bond between you and your pup, making them more likely to focus and listen to you in other situations as well.