This is a story about me, my dog, and the first rule of recall.

We went to the beach, me and my five dogs. The beach at low tide is fun time. There is no real training, there are very few rules. The dogs can run, play, swim. They need to come back when I ask so that they don’t scare kids, annoy dogs on leads, or chase sea gulls.

When the senior dog chose scavenging on the stone instead of paddling I was cool with that, we could see each other and the beach was pretty empty. As we approached a busier but of beach I called him, he looked at me, then chose to keep mooching up the beach. I called again, and whistled. He moved away. I tried a stop whistle…he moved further away. He looked concerned. I ran up the beach, not to chase him but to try and cut him off. He looked very worried. I am now calling him like some demented banshee, not an experienced dog trainer and behaviourist. I wave the treat bag…nothing.

I now tell him to “go and love himself” (or word to that effect!) and head off down the beach to give the rest of the crew some snacks. This has the desired effect and down comes senior spaniel in that crabby posture that means ‘don’t beat me’. He doesn’t get beaten, but all spaniels know this pose.

I am fuming. This is not the relaxed beach walk I wanted and my reliable old boy is being an idiot. So what do I do? I take a deep breath and do ‘The First Rule of Recall’ I pop him on the lead and I tell him he’s a good boy, and he gets some treats. We walk a while with him on the lead, then do some short freedom and recall and reward practises. But what went wrong?


I can guess what happened. Senior dog has been allowed to run free on walks with my other half. Sometimes he goes on a spaniel mission and chases a duck, eats some bits a hawk has left behind. Sometimes he doesn’t listen when he’s called. After all, why would he come back? Mr Owner doesn’t have a ball, doesn’t have treats, puts him on the lead and takes him home. Senior dog is having a much better time making his own games with the ducks and his own snacks of bits of dead rabbit. Senior spaniel can hear Mr Owner getting cross (Mr Owner is going to be late for work now) and eventually he goes back. Mr Owner tells senior spaniel off and route marches him home. Fun? No.

What has senior spaniel learned? To avoid going back because it ends the fun and gets you shouted at.


The First Rule of Recall

No matter how cross you are, how later you are, how embarrassed you are, when your dog comes back pop their lead on and then reward them. If they have ignored multiple recall cues, this can be low key. A ‘good boy’ and a low value treat. But NEVER punish them. If you shout, or worse, you are only punishing your dog for coming back. He can’t understand you are punishing him for ignoring you. Punishing the dog when he is back with you makes a good recall next time LESS likely.

As you walk along with your ‘naughty’ dog on his lead, think about why this happened.

Have you regularly made coming back more rewarding than not coming back? If you only call your dog up to stop him saying hello to another dog, leaping into a stinky bog, or to go home… you are the fun police. Spice up the recall reward, even with older dogs. Sometimes recall for a game, sometimes for a treat, sometimes for a bit of lead walking before getting let off to run again. Try to recall your dog before they are self rewarding with a game of chase the squirrel and make sure what you have on offer is just as much fun. Occasionally add a jackpot recall reward like a big juicy sausage! Think about adding a clear cue such as a whistle that can never sounds cross and will carry a long way.


The rest of our walk was better. Senior dog got fishy snacks for staying with me and Mr Owner will be given some rules on what to do when he walks senior dog! Training is never over…


If your dog has a recall problem there are lots of exercises that can help improve things. We offer one-to-one training sessions for minor training issues like this (but places are limited in the winter months) at £50 for 45minutes in our field. Please email for information and booking.

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