For some dogs and their owners, recall can be a big challenge. It’s probably one of the hardest commands to teach, especially with dogs that like to chase or get easily distracted. Recall training doesn’t work overnight, it takes a lot of patience and it’s something you have to work on consistently.
Many dogs will pick up good recall straight away and be completely reliable whereas others will ignore their owners, run after anything and take a very long time before they come back. From your dog’s point of view, there are far more interesting things going on when they are off the lead, so returning to their owner isn’t always in their best interests. However, in time you get can get them to see the benefits of coming back to you (love, attention, treats, toys).
This is the complete guide to recall training your dog, separated into the do’s and don’t of recall training.
The do’s of recall training
Work on obedience training
There isn’t much point starting recall training until your dog has basic obedience. Work on their obedience training first and get them to master commands such as sit, lay down and stay. Once they are able to do basic obedience they should be ready to start their recall training. However, continuous obedience training is always helpful and will improve your bond, making them more likely to come back to you.
Use high value rewards
Try and figure out what type of rewards your dog adores. Some dogs are very food orientated, whereas others will do absolutely anything to be able to play with their favourite toy. If your dog is motivated by food, try and find out which treats and foods they love the most and use them specifically for recall.
You need to make yourself appealing and encourage your dog to come back to you. They won’t come back to you if you are boring or unenthusiastic. Be enthusiastic when you give them the recall command but most importantly when they come back to you. Make a huge fuss and reward your dog as soon as they come back to you.
Move around so they can see you
Dogs can’t see static things very well at long distances. If your dog is quite far away and they are looking straight at you but not returning, they may not be able to see you. Wave your arms about or move and they will be more likely to see you and come back.
Practice on a long lead or in an enclosed area
When you are working on recall it’s best to do it in an enclosed area where you know your dog can’t escape, or on the long lead. Start on the long lead by letting your dog move short distances away from you, give them the ‘come’ command and then reward them when they come to you. If they ignore you, gently pull at the long lead and bring them back to you. Keep practicing this until they consistently come back to you on command. Then you can try letting go of the long lead and giving them a bit more freedom. The next step is letting them off the lead in an enclosed area and working on their recall until you feel they are reliable.
Seek help from a behaviourist or attend training classes
If you are having a lot of trouble with recall, and your dog doesn’t seem to be improving then you might want to talk to a behaviourist. Taking them to training classes where you will get the opportunity to work on recall can also help.
Work on recall at home
Try doing recall training inside your house as much as you can. Getting your dog to come back to you at home is far easier because there are less distractions. Whenever you get the chance, try and do some additional recall training at home to reinforce what you are doing in the park or on the long lead.
Play games that will help recall
There are a few different games you can play that help with recall such as hide and seek, follow me and come and get the toy. Read our article on games that can help improve recall for more ideas.
Stock up on helpful recall products
There are a few different products you can get that will help your recall training such as long leads (tracking lines) and whistles. Whistles are useful because they can be heard from longer distances which means you don’t have to keep shouting. They also provide a very clear sound that your dog will instantly recognise.
The don’ts of recall training
Punish your dog when they eventually come back
They will think that coming back to you wasn’t what you wanted them to do and you might make them afraid of coming back to you. Try not to punish your dog when they don’t come back, simply reward them and make a big fuss when they do.
Risk letting them off the lead too soon
Don’t let your dog off the lead before they are ready because you are getting impatient and hope they will eventually come back. As frustrating as it is when your dog consistently fails to come on command, don’t give up and go with the trial and error method. You are putting yourself and your dog at risk if you cannot control them in a public place. They could get run over, cause an accident, injure themselves or cause an incident with another dog.
Judge other owners that are working on recall
Some dogs naturally pick up recall training far quicker and other dogs find it extremely difficult. As they are training their dog in a safe, enclosed environment and their dog is not a threat then you don’t need to worry about what they are doing.
Shout at your dog
Never shout and yell at your dog when they don’t come back and repeatedly shout ‘come’. The more you say it and they don’t come back the more they will realise they don’t really have to. Some dogs will also be reluctant to return to their owner at all if they are shouting at them in an intimidating way. Of course if they have gone out of sight then you will need to shout so that they can hear you but just don’t do it with anger in your voice (even if you are really mad at them!)
Chase after your dog
Chasing your dog around a field will probably not make them come back. They will think it’s a game or may be startled and run further away. Give them their recall command and if they don’t come back, slowly follow them to keep an eye on where they are.
Always put your dog on the lead when they come to you
Get your dog to come back to you a few times and each time give them a treat or reward instead of putting them on the lead. Then when you need to go home put them back on the lead. Otherwise if you call them back once when you want to leave on every dog walk they will associate coming back with going on the lead and ending the fun.