The number one most helpful tool to ensure your dog learns a good recall is one that every dog owner already has. It’s a tool that you likely use every day! It may seem counterintuitive as it is the thing we are often striving to use less of on our recall journey, but ignoring this tool or moving away from it too quickly can have truly negative consequences on your dog’s recall. I’m sure you all know just what I’m talking about by now so say it with me. The best and most important tool to help you build a truly great recall is a leash.
I know, I know. I can hear you now. “But I want my dog to be great off-leash!” Don’t worry, I do too. Walking with Manzo off-leash is the highlight of every day. He earned that privilege with lots and lots of hard work over a good length of time and you better believe a leash was involved! Even Piper has been earning more and more freedom all the time. She still uses her longline but seeing her have more freedom fills us with so much happiness. I can confidently say for a fact that if we didn’t use a leash for our training along the way, she would not be where she is now. Her prey drive was so strong we may not even have a Piper to celebrate this newfound freedom with. Leashes save dogs, prevent bad habits from forming, keep dogs from getting lost, and save vet trips. They are the most important tool to help build your recall.
Hopefully, now I have you convinced of the importance of the leash in your recall journey. But you might be asking yourself “What does that journey look like?” Let me walk you through it.
You’ll want to start inside where you can control your environment and your dog’s distractions. Getting it right early and often is paramount to building that reliable recall. Practice inside with a regular length leash to prevent the practicing of undesired behaviors. Slowly add distractions a little bit at a time to challenge them, still remembering that we want them to be successful every time. Add things like squeaky toys, food, and friends to practice with. As they get better and better you can add more and more distractions. The leash will be there to help ensure that they are always making the best choices.
Now that they are great at responding to you around distractions you’ve set up inside, it’s time to take the training out into the world. Changing the environment can be more of a challenge than you might anticipate. Now that we are outside it is even more important to use that leash. Your dog will now have much more opportunity to get themselves into situations that are far more interesting and dangerous. At this stage, you should still be using your fixed-length 6-foot leash so they don’t have more freedom than they are ready for. Practice your recall in all types of different scenarios like this for now. Remember to keep things fun, upbeat, and positive. Need some inspiration? Check out our blog 5 tips for taking your dog off leash.
Introducing a Long Line
The next step is graduating to a long line. I usually recommend a 15 to 30-foot, fixed-length leash. If we spend all of our time practicing at 6 feet away, they will be great off-leash at 6 feet away. Once they go beyond that though, likely, they won’t be so great. A long line (attached to a harness for safety) allows us to start practicing at a distance. Start by holding the leash at all times, and practicing recall with all the same rules as above. As they become successful around all types of distractions you can then let them drag the long line. This simulates the freedom of being off leash while allowing you to step on the long line if they get too distracted.
When you feel that your dog is ready to take that big step to off-leash freedom, there is a newer resource that can help you gain confidence and experience! You’ll be able to practice your recall skills while keeping your dog, the wildlife around them, other dogs who might not want to make friends, and other hikers who may be afraid of dogs safe and comfortable. That is Sniffspot! Find a Sniffspot with a fenced-in yard in your area. They provide plenty of natural distractions and keep your dog completely safe! If your dog can’t respond while they are off-leash around the distractions at a Sniffspot, that’s a sign that they aren’t ready to be off-leash on the trail. Take a step back, continue your long-line work and try again!
Follow these steps to have peace of mind when you start hiking with your dog off-leash. Always remember that other dogs who might not want to say hi to your dog, have just as much right to feel safe and happy out in the woods as your dog does. Practice to keep your dog listening off the leash and to be happy to be put back on the leash. Have fun, stay safe, and enjoy your time with your dog!