Last Updated on May 3, 2021 by adrienne hardwick
It’s frustrating when you can’t trust your dog to be off the lead.
The delight of chasing a squirrel or suddenly being unable to hear you when they are playing with another dog is great for them, but stressful for you.
So, the question is, how to stop your dog running off on walks?
The answer is pretty simple, and it doesn’t take a great deal of time. However, you also need to understand why they are running off so that you can get them under control. After all, recall is for their safety as well as your peace of mind. Here are our top training tips and tricks for walks that are less stressful so that you can make lifelong memories with your pup.
Why Does Recall Break Down?
Sometimes, a dog will start off being really good at coming back and will listen to you perfectly. But then they stop, and they start running off, and you are left wondering where it all went wrong. It’s a common thing to happen, and it doesn’t make you a bad owner – most have been in your shoes at least once.
Most often, recall breaks down through a lack of consistency. Once a dog is perfectly trained, many owners make the mistake of no longer praising or rewarding them when they come back. Quite simply, the dog gets bored and running after that squirrel is a lot more exciting than coming back to you.
You might be at the point where your dog offers you a glance before continuing to walk off when you call them, or perhaps you have reached full runner mode and they are over the horizon seconds after you unclip the lead. Either way, your runaway dog’s behaviour can be changed, and a breakdown in recall is very easy to repair.
Reasons for Running Off
First, we need to look at why your dog is running off. After all, you can’t hope to train them properly if you don’t at least have a rough idea of why they are ignoring you.
It’s not because they hate you, and so many dog owners feel that their dog runs off because they dislike you. Dogs are loyal to a fault, and they love you – even if you did yell at them for chewing your favourite shoe an hour ago. It’s not enough to make them run off, the reasons really aren’t that deep.
It also has nothing to do with dominance, and it’s very rare that a dog is actually interested in the concept of dominance over their human. Running away isn’t part of them showing you that they are at the top of the pack, and you certainly don’t need to show them who the boss is.
Distractions are a big thing, especially for a young dog that just loves playing with other dogs. Or perhaps an older dog with a strong prey drive. Both of these distraction scenarios will usually result in a dog that likes to zoom away, but this can be resolved through consistent training.
Sometimes it’s because they are in that awkward and rebellious teenage stage. The terrible twos are not solely reserved for toddlers, but also dogs. This is the age where they will start getting a little bold and listen to you less. However, what you need to remember is that this isn’t behaviour they will grow out of – you need to reinforce your training.
So, it’s a little bit of teenage rebellion and nothing to do with dominance, but it is everything to do with a massive hole in your training. Like most issues with dogs, it’s down to you as the owner. Maybe you got comfortable, maybe you stopped thinking about it, but you need to get your dog interested in recall again.
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How Long Will Recall Training Take?
There is no set time for how long recall training will take before your dog starts coming back to you regularly again. It could be a week, it could be a month, it all depends on you and your dog. For example, a dog that is prone to being more independent will likely take longer than one that is more biddable.
You need to be consistent as an owner as well, training every day and remembering to reward them even once they have perfected their task. Consistent training is essential if you want your dog to pick it up quickly and continue to perform the command. Be patient with them as well, not every dog picks things up instantly. Kindness and patience yield much better results.
How to Train Your Dog to Come Back
Now for the fun part, training your dog to come back when they run off. There are several different methods you can use, and it’s good to have a few in your back pocket as not every dog responds to training the same way.
However, reliable recall focuses on three main elements:
- The cue
- The response
- The reinforcement
The cue is the command, the signal that tells them they need to listen and do something. You provide the cue, and the dog will know what is needed from them and should perform the task. In this case, coming back.
The response is their performance of the task. What they should do is perform the task and come straight back to you. However, when recall fails, they decide to do something else or stop listening.
The reinforcement is how you reward your dog when they perform the task successfully. So, the second they come back they get a reward for their actions – with a few alterations as training becomes more successful.
Your dog is always making a conscious decision to come back to you – they are choosing you and their reward over running off. This is where many owners get it wrong and stop rewarding your dog, and it’s always when a dog doesn’t stay close anymore.
Once they are masters of recall, you don’t need to give them a reward every time they come back, but you should be doing it every other time or every few times to keep their interest. So, let’s look at some specific training tips and tricks.
They need to return to you immediately in a whole range of situations – at the park, the beach, around other dogs, and around other people to name but a few. There are reasons for their lack of recalls in specific situations, and ones that your training will need to address.
They might be hunting or herding dogs that have a strong prey drive and love to hunt and chase. They may also be incredibly sociable and love to say hello to everyone and play with other dogs. This is all natural, and focusing on context-specific training is known as proofing.
Problem: No Basic Recall
So, a pretty common problem is that your dog has no basic recall training at all. This isn’t something they tend to learn naturally, but a command that they are trained to obey over time. However, that is something you can start training them to do right away with the simple cue, response, reinforcement process that we mentioned earlier.
Problem: Recall Hasn’t Been Proofed
Your dog comes beautifully when called unless there is something better to do. This is a classic, and it’s all about the proofing we mentioned earlier. Keep some tasty treats in your pocket and your recall method of choice (for example, your voice or a whistle), and work on calling them back when they are distracted by those tempting situations.
Problem: Poison Cues
These commands are no longer useful because they have been overused or associated with the action of running off instead of coming back. The wrong response will become stronger, and you need to fix the poisoned cue, and the easiest way to do this is by using a different word for the command. It’s hard work, but that’s how good dogs are made.
Problem: Lack of Rewards
You may have stopped rewarding them, or the rewards are very low value to the dog. For example, a piece of kibble is hardly a worthwhile reward when compared to a meaty treat. Additionally, a pat on the head and praise are rarely enough to work as a consistent reward for coming back.
Low-value rewards or a lack of them entirely will lead to your cue breaking down and your dog no longer responding. Next time, keep a delicious treat in your pocket and, from time to time, reward them with a surprise that leaves them motivated to keep coming back and stop running away.
What About Training Collars?
These are a hot debate topic depending on the type you’re talking about. The electric training collars are cruel and actually illegal in many countries, including the UK. They should never be used on dogs, and it can cause serious damage to their muscles and nerves over time, as well as physical pain every time they are shocked.
However, there are fantastic training collars that use gentle vibrations and sound. These are a great choice, and you can teach them to associate the vibration/sound with your desired command – anything from sit to come. It’s humane, the dog does not feel pain or distress from it, and they can be incredibly effective for dogs that don’t like to listen.
If you want to test a training collar out, we have a great selection of them available for you to look at – all vibration with no electricity.
Calling the Professionals
There is no shame in getting a dog trainer to help you out, and sometimes it is the only way to help a dog that runs away. They will come with you on walks, teach your dog to come back, and also teach you how to maintain their training and ensure their recall stays top-notch. Your runaway dog will be transformed into one that is obedient and returns quickly. You could also consider adding a GPS tracker to your dog’s collar, these things to offer some extra peace of mind.
Recall can feel impossible at times, especially when your dog is being a little cheeky and rebellious. But as long as you make sure you are consistent and patient, you will have them running back to you in no time at all – it’s one of the easiest dog training tricks.
With our help and advice, training is a lot simpler. It’s important to remember that your dog isn’t doing this to wind you up (even when it feels like they are) and that all it takes is a little positive reinforcement and some seriously good rewards to remind them that they need to stay close.
For over a decade, Adrienne has been a freelance content writer and blogger who’s passion lies in anything related to dogs. Growing up, dogs were a very important part of family life in the Hardwick household. Now, Adrienne is the proud parent to two Swedish Vallhunds called Moose and Pumpkin.