Teaching A Sighthound Recall; Everything We've Learned

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If there is one thing that sighthound owners can all generally relate on, it's the struggle of recall. It's something that we knew would be a challenge before we got Josie but we never anticipated how hard we would find it and today I thought I'd share everything that we've learned in the past year. And just to add a small disclaimer, my dogs certainly aren't perfect so this isn't a post about how to get your sighthound to have impeccable recall and it's more about what we've learned and things we've found to be very effective.

WHY ARE SIGHTHOUNDS SO HARD?

In general, when it comes to training sighthounds they are not your typical dog and they lack the need to please their humans. They definitely don't come running wagging their tail with a certain look in their eyes. Some like to have their humans approval far more than some but they all tend to be pretty free spirited. They can still be trained, however, it's a lot more difficult than most breeds so some of the bog standard training methods are useless. Then you have the history of the dogs, they have a high prey drive and can see a very good distance ahead and it's in them to chase. You cannot expect to have a whippet/lurcher/greyhound that won't want to chase as that is in their blood. But it is possible for them to be off lead and I truly believe it's important for every dog [this is different if you have a very vicious dog that is a threat to people, dogs or other animals] to know what off lead life is like.

LETTING THEM GO 

A very big mistake that we made with Josie was that we were so terrified to take her off lead when she was able to go outside and walk was that we kept her on for a good 6 weeks and it was a big mistake. I read far too much online about never letting your sighthound off otherwise they will never come back and so many horror stories that it terrified me that I would lose our precious puppy. I wish we'd taken her off lead straight away [in a safe area] and let her roam to build up that relationship with her off lead. With Edie, we let her off the lead as soon as we could and there is a huge difference between her and Josie, Edie is so excited to come back and I definitely think that letting her off straight away helped that. Obviously, it's scary to let your tiny little pup out into the big wide world but there are so many areas where you can do this safely to start working on recall. 

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KNOWING YOUR DOG & THEIR HISTORY

Although all sighthounds have a chase instinct and a prey drive something that may make a big difference is whether they come from a show/pet only background or a working background. Josie comes from a working background and her parents were more than likely used to hunt and Edie comes from a show background and it most definitely shows in their temperaments. Every single dog is different and they learn differently and that's something that is so important to remember. What works for one will not work for the other and whilst talking to other dog owners for tips and tricks can be absolutely wonderful it's integral to remember that your dogs are not the same and will not learn in the same way. Also, I cannot talk from an ex-racing or rescue stand point as that is a whole different conversation. 

TOYS AND TREATS AND A LOT OF EXCITEMENT

Whenever people ask me where to start with recall my first answer is always, the tastiest treats you can find and something your dog loves. For us that is sprats and tripe, anything really smelly and the dogs are so excited to get it. Then it's how we act when we call them back, phrases like;

  • This way
  • What's this?
  • What have we got?

Are all things that we find work well as commands as well as a quick whistle, 'come on' is weirdly one that has never worked for us. Some dogs aren't bothered at all by treats and may be more interested in toys like a ball or a frisbee. So it's all just exploring what works for your dog and what seems to get their focus the most. When we took Josie to training classes we found they didn't work at all as they treat all dogs the same and try and teach 20 different breeds the same method which wasn't something that worked for us at all.

MAKING IT FUN FOR YOUR DOG

Any dog, whatever shape or size might want to bugger off in search of something more interesting and that is where making being out with your dog a little bit of a game can work wonders. Our sighthounds require more stimulation on a walk than just trotting along at the side of us, some might be happy doing that but definitely not ours. Frisbee is something that our dogs absolutely adore and we've noticed a huge difference in playing that made their recall stronger as it meant coming back started the game again. Some might like a find the treat game and all things like that, although the main aim of a walk is of course to exercise your dog that doesn't mean it can't be fun for them too.  

it gets easier as they get older

For Josie, when she was a puppy she was very difficult when it came to recall and it made us feel like total garbage because it didn't seem to matter what we did she just wasn't interested in coming back. But in the past few months she's made huge improvements, she doesn't just go over to anyone or every single dog she sees and she comes back when called and I never thought we'd get to this stage. I thought she would be a nightmare forever and she's not, we do still struggle with things like her wanting to follow things that are moving fast like runners and bikes [she likes to run next to them] so we have to keep an eye out for them but in general we can trust her a lot more which is such a good feeling. Unless we are with a pack of dogs where Josie won't leave the pack if we see someone in the distance with a dog we put her back on her lead just incase and the same goes for Edie. 

TRUST YOUR DOG

Something that I've noticed a lot lately is that my mood has a big effect on the dogs and how they are on a walk. The better my mood and the more trusting I am with them then they are a 100% better behaved, if I go into a walk worried or nervous that they're going to misbehave they will more than likely do that. Even when Josie has zoomed off into the distance after a deer [not our favourite thing but she's so much better and we're always working on it] she's always come back within a couple of minutes and she is never gone for long. Dogs are wild animals ultimately and even though we've domesticated them it's so important to remember that they are animals, they're not just here to please us and cuddle us on the sofa.

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what have you learnt about teaching a sighthound recall?