It’s a dog’s life . . . the thrill of the chase

large group of dogs

large group of dogs - Credit: Archant

Dog behaviourist Helen Goodall shares an email from a frustrated owner

Most owners want to let their dog off the lead where appropriate, but poor recall is not an uncommon problem.

Some of you may have watched the popular video clip of a dog running after a herd of deer, completely unresponsive to the increasingly desperate calls of his owner. I hope to help the owner below gain an improved response from their dog and avoid similar public humiliation!

“I’ve got a problem that is ruining walk times with my dog. When I let him off the lead he runs off, he chases anything he sees and if he meets another dog, I can’t get him back, which gets me into trouble with other dog owners. When he does come back I can’t help but be upset with him, but he dances around me and I can’t catch him. I’m worried he might run across a road one day. Please help!”

Firstly, we need to consider your dog’s basics responses to you whilst at home. If your dog doesn’t do as you ask where you spend the majority of your time with him, he will be less likely to respond to you when outside. It is really important your relationship is on track. You should feel he is willing to listen and accept guidance, rather than making up his own rules.

Whilst out on a walk with him on the lead, practise commands and encourage him to make eye contact with you, giving him tasty treats to reward his focus. As your dog is already keen to chase wildlife you should avoid areas that are scent rich whilst you practise the basics of recall.

To help, use either a retractable lead or a five or 10 metre training lead. Call him to you regularly, use an encouraging voice, holding out a tasty treat so he can see there is a point to returning. With practice, he will start to focus on your hand position when you call, which can be a good guide to him if he is at a distance.

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It is important you really make him feel he is the best dog in the world when he runs to you. Never show you are cross – if he ignores you at first, start walking away from him, calling his name in a high pitched tone to get his attention. Once he learns that you can be consistent via the lead and that he has a treat as soon as he has got to you, he should be more willing to come each time.

Recall is also about making yourself more fun than anything else. Watch him and be ready to call him before he becomes fixated on a moving object in the distance. Put your phone on silent! You need to engage with your dog or he will lose interest in you.

Once a dog is ready to try further distances, I change directions and speeds, becoming more unpredictable. Encouraging his need to want to be with you is vital. If you always follow your dog, he won’t feel the need to locate you, but take it for granted you are walking behind.

If your dog is super friendly and wants to dash over to every other four legged friend he meets, you will need to do some slow steady work around other dogs to start teaching your dog how to behave calmly. If he runs and jumps at another dog he could get himself into trouble, and as many dog owners will know, it can take just one bad incidence of aggression to turn your dog into an aggressor himself. My next article will be about this topic, helping owners tackle dog to dog aggression.

Helen Goodall runs Dogs Behaving Badly

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