When Milo came to live with us, he had no idea about such a thing as “recall.” Let off-leash, he would just run until he was bored or hungry. Our attempts to catch him would turn into playing “tag.” Of course, we immediately started training him to come back when called, but this is not what I wanted to share with you. There is a technique, which is especially useful for newly adopted dogs and puppies: “hide and seek.” At first, I started doing it just for fun and quickly noticed how useful it was. This exercise will teach your dog to keep an eye on you, to be aware of your location and to follow you. Believe me, dog walks are much more pleasant, when it is you, who decides where to go and is followed, instead of your dog. What is more important, your dog will have less chances of getting lost.
Exercise: “Hide and seek”.
You will need: high- and low-value treats (or a ball, if your dog likes it more than treats) and an assistant. Start at home.
1. Ask someone to hold your dog, while you hide.
2. Show the dog that you have treats (a ball).
3. Hide in another room, so that your dog doesn’t see you.
4. Your assistant will let the dog free without saying anything (no cues).
5. When the dog finds you, praise him and give him some high-value treats (after a few times you may start using low-value treats and occasional “bonuses”).
6. Repeat about 2-3 times a day for a week or two, until your dog gets the idea of searching for you. Don’t forget to use different hiding places.
You will need: high- and low-value treats (or a ball, if your dog likes it more than treats), a long lead and a safe space. A safe space means somewhere outdoors, where there is no immediate danger such as roads nearby and where you can let your dog off-leash with minimal risks, even if you do not have a 99% recall rate.
1. Start with your dog an a long lead. It has to be long enough for you to hide, while still holding it.
2. Wait until your dog is distracted and is not looking at you. Hide behind a tree or a bush. Ideally, you should be able to see the dog from your hiding space, but it is nor necessary – it just adds more fun.
3. Eventually, your dog will notice that you are gone and will start looking for you. Do not help him, unless it’s been 15 minutes and your dog is pulling on the leash in attempts to go in a completely different direction.
4. When your dog finds you, praise him and give him some high-value treats (again, after a few time switch to low-value treats and occasional “bonuses”).
5. Once your dog is consistently noticing your disappearance and is able to find you, you can try the exercise off-leash.
As soon as your dog will be used to the idea, that you may sometimes disappear, he will be more likely to keep up with you, when you walk, and to check on you regularly. At first, you should always reward your dog for this behaviour, but switch to rewarding randomly after a couple of weeks.