Friday, 13 November 2015

Mole diaries: Take the lead and let go. Establishing recall

'I'm scared to let go!' Letting your dog off the lead for the first time seems to be one of the biggest challenges new dog owners face, myself included. You want him to enjoy his freedom out on walks, but at the same time, you want to maintain some control and keep him safe. Here are some tips that I've learned from Mole's training sessions with the lovely Sophie Langston.

Step 1: Take baby steps
Start establishing recall in familiar surroundings like your home and then garden. Place a favourite toy between you and your dog so you build in distractions.  Use a long line (longer than a standard lead but isn't extendable so it's not always under tension) out on walks so your dog gets used to being at a certain distance from you while you practise recall. You can then progress to letting go of the long line, so you still have something to grab if necessary, until you feel confident enough to remove it completely. Once he's regularly 'off-leading', you can still put his lead on at different times during the walk so he doesn't always associate this with going home. Consider walking with another dog who you know has a good recall so your dog has a buddy to stay with.

Step 2: Make sure you're worth coming back to
Save your tastiest treats for use on walks to reward your dog when he returns. You can also take a favourite toy that's for walks only, preferably with a squeaker so that you can attract his attention if needed. Your aim is to be more exciting than the other distractions, although eau de squirrel is a difficult one to beat! When he comes back to you, alternate giving him one treat, or scattering multiple treats on the ground, or playing with his toy. Get into the habit of touching his harness/collar each time he returns so it's not just associated with clipping on his lead. And, never reprimand him when he comes back after having a jolly elsewhere as he'll associate the telling off with coming back, not for running off.

Step 3: Pick your destinations carefully
Find a safe environment for you and your dog to walk in. I prefer walking in open countryside or on the beach because a) I feel safer and b) I have good visibility if Mole decides to zoom around. In woodland I feel more vulnerable and it's easy to lose sight of your dog if he picks up a scent. There are also enclosed paddocks that you can hire for dog walking, or see if your local stables has an indoor arena that you can hire to give your dog some off-lead time.

And finally
Do what feels right for you and don't feel pressurised into letting your dog off the lead. If you're confident when you let him go, he's more likely to want to come back to you. However hard you try and hide it, your body language and tone of voice will give you away if you're nervous. It's amazing how your mouth suddenly goes dry when you panic and you can't whistle or shout loudly. In fact, I always carry a whistle with me as back-up.
Bottom line is he's your dog, your responsibility. As his owner, his safety lies with you. Take things at your pace - every dog is different and every owner is different.There may still be times when he suddenly takes off at pace, but if you continually refresh your recalling skills you are at least minimising the risk of losing him. Have fun and happy walking!

What training tips can you share for establishing recall?

Kathryn White is owner and director of Cathean Ltd Medical and Copy Writing Services. She is a published medical, copy and equestrian writer with a passion for creating compelling text in collaboration with her clients. Her customers include pharmaceutical, healthcare and equestrian businesses across the world.