Your Labradors recall may seem reasonably good, but have you noticed that it becomes slightly less reliable when they venture further away or are in a moment of exciting play? When this happens, you have simply become background noise, so you need to find other ways of being heard and getting your Labrador to return to you safely.
We have all been there, me included. I remember watching a young Labrador have the most fantastic time as I watched her from two fields away. I was shouting pretty loudly to try and get her attention.
Although I was frustrated, I soon realised that it wasn’t her fault. She simply couldn’t hear me, so had no idea what was happening or what I wanted her to do. If she had been whistle trained, that problem could have been avoided, and the walk would have been less stressful for us both.
Recall is a way of telling your Labrador that you want them to return to you, regardless of what they are doing or where they are. Recall can be requested using many methods; you can use a word, a phrase, a noise, a hand clap, a visual signal or a whistle.
A verbal recall, such as “come” or “here”, should always be the primary recall method. This is because you always have your words with you. If you rely solely on a whistle, you may be left struggling to get your Lab to return if you forget your whistle or someone else is taking care of your dog.
As dogs reach adolescence or start to exercise in more distracting or busy environments, the verbal recall can sometimes fail to get the required response from our Labs due to so many other things tempting their senses. Introducing a whistle in these circumstances is a great idea to give you an extra layer to your recall reliability.
The first thing to do is to choose a dog whistle that provides you with reliability and durability. Your Labrador will get used to the pitch and frequency of the whistle that you train them on, so it’s essential to choose a whistle that can easily be replaced if you lose it. My preferred whistle is an ACME 211.5; your Labrador will hear it at a distance up to 1.5km. I have found ACME to be a reliable brand with whistles in many colours that are easily replaced with the same frequency should you lose yours. You’ll find a link on the products section of our website.
Once you have your whistle, you must educate your Labrador what they should do when they hear it, as they will not automatically know what to do. To get a reliable and strong response to the whistle, I recommend slowly conditioning over several weeks rather than days. The guide below should give your Labrador plenty of opportunities to learn the importance of the new whistle.
Week 1: Conditioning the sound indoors
Give two short pips on the whistle and immediately go to your Labrador with a high-value treat. Do this around 20 times a day, in different locations and at different times of the day. This activity will teach your Labrador that they quickly get provided with food whenever they hear the whistle. Your Labrador will soon learn that the whistle = food from the human.
Week 2: Waiting for the response
This week you’ll test your Labs response to the recall whistle and see if the repetitive work from week one has paid off.
Give two pips on the whistle while you’re in the same room as your dog and wait for them to give a response. As soon as they look in your direction, show them a treat and invite them to come to you to fetch it. Complete this around 20 times a day at various times, and when your Lab is responding consistently, you can make it more challenging by blowing the whistle and taking a few steps backwards to encourage them to move towards you with more urgency.
Week 3: Testing the reliability and response
Now that your Lab knows that two pips on the whistle mean that they get a treat, ask them to come to you from a greater distance and with more distraction.
Put yourself in a different room of the house, whistle two pips and reward your Labrador as soon as they come to you.
Practice around 20 times a day for a week, and if you are seeing reliable results, you can increase the distance that you ask your Labrador to recall each time. When you are feeling confident with the results you are getting, practice in the garden too.
Week 4: Taking the recall to the park
Now that the recall to the whistle is happening consistently in the house and garden, it’s time to test it in real life environments around distractions.
If you are concerned that your Labrador may run off, use a long 20-metre training line to prevent bad habits from developing.
Show your Labrador that recall happens many times on each walk, not just when it’s time to go home. Show them that, more often than not, recall is a fun game rather than an indication that the fun is about to stop.
It is essential to take this slowly and always go at a speed that allows your dog to be successful, only move onto the next stage when the results you see are reliable. Each stage may take longer than a week for some Labradors; that is ok; go at their speed.
It’s important to say that no recall is 100%, so if it goes wrong at any stage, keep practising and develop the best recall you possibly can.
By teaching your Labrador how to respond to multiple recall methods, you will be stacking the odds of a reliable recall in your favour.
Labradors never stop learning, so make every day count, have fun and enjoy every minute.
If you need a helping hand with anything Labrador related, just get in touch, we’d love to help out.