I've been wanting to write up a post about improving off-leash recall for a while, so I think I'll do just that.
My dog spends the majority of her walks off-leash. I'm lucky enough to live in a very dog-friendly area of the city with plenty of paths through the woods and ravines plus quite a few off-leash parks. I leash her until the end of the street and then I let her loose. Cohen's recall is pretty good, but it's not perfect so I've been working to improve it. I've stumbled onto two different methods with which I'm having quite a bit of success. So I thought I'd post about them.
The Touch Game
Touch was the first thing I ever taught my puppy -- before sit, down, or anything else. When I say "touch" she'll jam her nose into the palm of my hand. It's very simple to teach, so most dogs should be able to pick it up relatively quickly. I worked on this quite a bit, increasing distance and rewarding for extra enthusiasm.
The issue I was having was that Cohen began being unenthusiastic about coming to me when called. She might stop walking and just hang out and not really feel like following me. My solution was to make the behaviour more exciting. I now can stick my hand out and call for a touch and she'll come running to me with quite a bit of enthusiasm.
The best use of this is normally when there are few distractions around and you want a speedy recall.
The Moving Sit
Like touch, sit is a super basic behaviour. Most dogs know it like the back of their hands. Cohen always had a really solid sit, and I've been doing a lot of work getting her reliable in more and more distracting environments.
Another issue I was having with off-leash control was that if something was more exciting than me then my calls to come would be ignored (bicyles, running dogs, etc). Plus I was worried that I was wearing out my recall cue. So I began using the sit as a method of control. Calling for a sit means to plop your butt down and wait until I release you. Sometimes I'll release her from a distance and she comes running to me for her reward. Sometimes I'll wait until I've walked up to where she is so the sit acts more like a stay command than a recall.
I've found that this is most helpful when operating around distractions. The sit seems to be a more attractive (and easier) command than a come.
With both of these (the touch and the sit) you want to really make sure your dog is capable of performing the behaviours you want in the environment. I'll only ask for a sit if I'm 90% sure my dog will listen to me. I don't want her thinking it's okay to ignore it if something more interesting is happening. The more you practice it the more capable your dog will be to listen in distracting environments.
Funny note: my dog gets really really anxious and whiny when she hears my voice on video. She can't figure out what the hell is going on. When I was slapping those videos together she would sit each time video-me called for it. Poor thing. So confused.