Recall and respect


One of the most important duties, if not the most important one, of living with a dog is keeping our dog safe. That means, keeping our dog safe from other people, keeping our dog safe from other dogs, and keeping other people and other dogs safe from our dog (which is ultimaltely keeping our dog safe if we extrapolate the consequences of not doing it).

Dog ownership is a privilege, not a right. Having your dog off lead in public is definitely a privilege but more and more I’m seeing people who view it as a right. Unless you spend time and effort consistently training a recall, it is very unlikely that it will happen on it’s own. No recall can be 100% as our dogs are living, breathing beings with their own minds and desires, not washing machines. This however is not an excuse. For me, I try to play the probablilty game. The question I ask is “Do I have a 95%+ chance my dog will come back to me right now?”.

The thing we need to remember is that “right now” changes and the “right now” of right now, is different from the “right now” of 30 seconds ago or last week. Things can change in a very short space of time and we owe it to our dogs and the other people sharing public spaces to have our dog under control.

Questions I ask myself when out with Watson

  1. If she appraoches another dog, can I recall her?
  2. If another dog approaches her, can I recall her?
  3. If she gets spooked by something (not an issue with her fortunately), can I recall her?
  4. If a dog gets in her face and acts aggressively, can I recall her?
  5. If she sees a running dog, squirrel or rabbit, or a cyclist or jogger can I recall her?
  6. Can she greet another dog civilly?
  7. Can she greet a person civilly?

This is not exhaustive but you get the idea. If the answer to these questions is no, then your dog does not have good enough behaviour off lead to be off lead. Your puppy, who trotted along next to you, whose recall you didn’t reinforce when she was doing it naturally, who you let have unlimited off lead play with other dogs in order to “socialise her” a few short weeks later is a teeneged monster with no reinforcement history of  recall who is now exploring the world and ignoring you. Being on lead and off lead or not the only options. Long lines, being off lead when safe and on lead when not are perfect alternatives.

A few stories from my own experience to share with you. I advocate the use of long lines. As you can see from my videos, Watson is always wearing the long line at the moment when I’m working in public parks. I ask clients to use the long line because it prevents the dog being reinforced for unwanted behaviour and makes it easier to reinforce wanted ones. So, some examples (details changed ot protect the innocent and the guilty)

  1. Client comes to me with a large, aggressive dog. We work successfully and put together a protocol for training. He comes back to me a week later, his dog had jumped on (although thankfully not injured) another dog. The dog was off lead in a public place and he had come off the trails and “thought it would be ok” as it was quiet. There was another dog in the car park and the client’s dog jumped on the other dog and pinned it. All avoidable if the dog had been on lead or line.
  2. I’m working with client A who has a large reactive dog. A previous client. client B, who uses the same park (we had worked the previous week doing recall with her dog) walks along past us. Myself, client A and her dog are at a very safe distance working with her dog. Client B’s dog sees me, and breaks away from client B and runs towards us. Client B laughs and shouts “it’s because he hears the clicker”, while we are trying to manage the situation and prevent B’s dog from being jumped on. No, dummy, it’s not because he hears the clicker, it’s because you’ve done no recall work over the last week as I see you every day, and your dog is off lead (this was internal dialogue as there is a time and place to address this)
  3. This one is a personal favourite. I’ll call the ower Big M. Big M has a 6 month old large breed working dog who would be a dream to train if he actually bothered. Big M uses his phone a lot when out with the dog and doesn’t pay attention to his dog. Big M’s dog, let’s call him Houston, is a really cool dog. He is super friendly but doesn’t always read what the other dog is telling him very well and this can lead to bother. I’ve seen more than one dog telling him off for being too pushy. Incident 1 – I’m working with a client and his Labrador for manners training. Big M comes along with Houston, and I swear, kicks the football directly towards us. Houston runs past the ball and then tries to engage our dog in play, which we shut down as our dog in on a long line. Big M shouts “Houston noshnosh” (possibly Houston’s cue for dinner time in the house) for at least 40 seconds in a valiant attempt to recall Houston. Houston ignores him. I eventually ask Big M to come and get his dog. He takes Houston by the collar, walks 10 feet way then lets him go. Yes, you guessed it, Houston comes running back in. This time I ask him to  take Houston and put him on the lead. We walk away to give him more space. Incident 2 – the very next week, I see a guy at the park who has a dog aggressive terrier. This fellow does an absolutely admiral job keeping out of every one’s way and trying to improve his dog’s behaviour. Houston comes running over and there is a big stramash with lunging, barking and shouting. This happened because Big M thinks he has an absolute right to have his dog off lead and not do anything to train Houston to come back and has little consideration for others using the park.

Now, I know I work in public and accept that these things can happen and also dealing with it is a necessary part of my job. But what if I was I regular joe out with his dog, doing his best to train and keep his dog under control and one of these incidents happens. Is that fair? All of the above examples could have been prevented if the the dogs had been either recall trained or on lead.

We are fortunate in Scotland to have off lead parks. I know many other places don’t. Please have respect for your dog and the others using public spaces and either recall train your dog appropriately for those circumstances or keep your dog on a lead.

Happy training.

5 thoughts on “Recall and respect

  1. I love this post! One of my dogs can be nervous of other dogs; she’s never aggressive, she doesn’t even bark at them, but she’s scared as she was attacked by several off lead dogs in fairly quick succession over 18 months ago.

    We were on a walk yesterday and a very large Labrador came charging out of the early morning gloom. Our dog actually considered saying hello and was wonderfully relaxed, but the Lab charged over and was very rude (face in hers, bouncing on top of her, refusing to let her walk away etc).

    We managed to separate them and picked our dog up, there was no other way to get this huge dog away, it would not leave her alone. Two more times the Lab appeared out of nowhere and came back to bother her again, even when we’d left the country lane and were on the pavement of a busy road. The entire time this was going on we heard the dog’s owner blowing a whistle repeatedly but doing nothing else, the dog didn’t pay a bit of notice.

    Yesterday whilst walking our puppy a Shar Pei appeared off lead. Both dogs played well together but the other dog’s owner was nowhere to be seen and our puppy had to picked up to carry on because the Shar Pei wouldn’t leave him alone. If this had happened to our dog that is nervous it would have been another nightmare situation.

    I really hate how everybody lets their dogs off lead, regardless of training. A family member’s dog was hit by a car at 6 months old because they let it off lead in silly places with no reliable recall; the dog’s several years old now and no better.

  2. Another great article. Can relate to most of this, I have two dogs, collies opposite end of scale. Both have fantastic recalls, but the younger one suffers from fear and as such become volatile and un-predictable. I always recall and put him on the lead but still encounter the un-trained owner. Thanks for this article, I have shared this in my group for others to read and understand the need to have that 95%+ recall.

  3. This is a great post and so important to educate owners about off leash privileges.

    My dog needs slow and very carefully controlled exposure to large dogs as she is anxious and can be reactive when uninvited dogs charge in her face, especially on lead. No matter how friendly you think your dog may be, ask permission before allowing him to enter other strange dogs’ personal space. It’s rude and you can incite aggression in dogs who are not as sociable and or anxious or reactive. Oh, and practice and proof your recall every day. If you only ever teach your dog one thing, teach him that!

    I totally agree that you have no right to let a dog off lead in public if you have very little control over him. Just had a situation with an off lead Labrador this evening where we were charged while walking on lead along a quiet country lane, The dog was running alongside a land rover and it’s owner was driving…….What if my dog was in heat? What if she was arthritic and fragile? Never mind that you clearly have no control of your dog in a public place while you are behind the wheel of a car. How is that not obviously selfish and dangerous!? Has to be the best off lead stupid situation I have encountered yet.

  4. omg, so true!!
    I often walk in Glasgow Parks, and can successfully manage a group of 6 (long lines/offlead mix) playing ball / frisbee and like every 20 minutes in runs some crazy offlead dog . . . my group will sit and have treats or go into position for the ball until the owner finally give in after constant yelling and comes for their dog that runs away from them and I end up getting them for them, not so much as a thank you.
    Yet somehow its my fault for having too many dogs, and having too much fun, not their for letting their dog offlead with no recall!

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