Recall training for an Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler)

Blue Heelers are very smart dogs (learn just how smart here) and with a little training usually have excellent recall – that is they come on command. They bond very closely with their owners and family and are eager to please. However, they do have a strong chase drive due to their natural herding instinct and without good training may be difficult to recall under distraction.

Should you let an untrained Blue Heeler off-leash?

It is recommended not to let a Blue Heeler off the leash unless you are confident that they are well enough trained to come when called.

Blue Heelers can be a little independent and have a curious personality. They were bred to be herding dogs that were used to drove cattle over long distances. Even now as house pets they still have this strong instinctive chase drive.

It is likely an untrained Blue Heeler that is distracted will completely ignore your commands and take off.

Can Blue Heelers learn to be off-leash?

Yes, with training a Blue Heeler will come when called even under distraction. However, it will require a lot of patience and dedication to achieve this end goal of having 100% recall.

It is important to understand that the “come” command is more about their relationship with you than simply a drilled command.

There are a few basic principles to keep in mind when training your Blue Heeler –

Offer the right motivation. It is crucial to tap into what motivates your Blue Heeler. Many Blue Heelers are food-driven so high-value food reward is usually the best choice for them. If the reason for coming back to you is not perceived as being a better option for them they will not come.

Consistent daily training. Do short sessions of recall training daily. Ideally, this training should be done from being a young puppy. It is best to have your Blue Heeler on a long line until they are performing recall at a good level. Even then it is best to train them in a securely fenced area.

Provide sufficient exercise. Blue Heelers are active dogs and require 1 to 2 hours daily of exercise and physical activity. Training will be easier if they have had the opportunity to release all their pent-up energy. For a guide to Blue Heeler exercise with suggestions see here.

Provide plenty of mental stimulation. Mental stimulation and enrichment can help tire a dog as much as physical activity. By tiring their mind they are more likely to be attentive and focused on you. Provide lots of mental challenges, such as nose and scenting work. For Blue Heeler mental stimulation and enrichment ideas see here.

Use multiple cues for recall. Using different methods of calling your Blue Heeler will give you other options if they don’t respond at first. Examples are verbal cues such as “come”, hand signals, shaking a bag of treats, clapping your hands, a squeaky toy, a whistle, or going down on one knee and tapping your thigh. By having various options you will learn what your Blue Heeler responds to the best.

Use positive reinforcement methods. For your Blue Heeler to want to come, especially under distraction, it is important that being obedient is a positive and worthwhile experience.

Teach loose leash walking. By teaching your Blue Heeler to walk on a leash without pulling or becoming distracted they will be more focused on you. For a guide on loose leash walking for Blue Heelers see here.

How to train your Blue Heeler to come on command?

When you are first training your Blue Heeler recall you should not call them unless you are 100% certain they will come. If they don’t come you are actually training them not to come. It is crucial to be sure you have their attention before calling them.

Reserve using the come command for your formal training sessions. In the meantime, always keep your Blue Heeler on the leash.

Teaching your Blue Heeler the come command

You can start practicing the recall training indoors when you are just at home with your Blue Heeler. Make eye contact with your Blue Heeler and say “come” in an enthusiastic tone. You can also try other cues such as clapping your hands or squeaking a toy. Once they have come all the way to you reward them with a treat.

Once they are showing consistent recall at a short distance in the house, increase the distance such as going into another room.

Having achieved recall in the house, take the training out into the yard. Again start at a closer distance of say 5 to 10 feet. Once they are consistent at a close distance, increase the distance. Now you can take the training to a park where there is likely to be more distraction. Have your Blue Heeler on a long line for safety until you have confidence in your ability to recall them.

The key to success with teaching your Blue Heeler recall is repetition and consistent regular training sessions.

Other recall training exercises for your Blue Heeler

These are some additional exercises you can do to help reinforce and improve your Blue Heeler’s focus and response when you call them.

Eye contact exercise

With your Blue Heeler sitting in front of you, call their name and point towards your eyes. When they make eye contact say “yes” to mark the behavior and reward them with a treat. This teaches your Blue Heeler to respond to its name and make eye contact.

Close contact come

With your Blue Heeler close to you give the come command, mark with a “yes” and reward with a treat.

Play recall games

Playing games can be an excellent way to train your Blue Heeler. An example of a recall game would be hide and seek. Hide in the house or yard while your Blue Heeler is distracted. Call them and reward them once they have come to you.

Another recall game is to have your family members or friends sit in a circle with your Blue Heeler in the middle. and have turns calling your Blue Heeler and reward.

With consistent and regular training your Blue Heeler will master coming on command. Repetition is the key to success for this type of training. Remember to be patient. It may take some time for your Blue Heeler to learn recall to a high level.