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How to teach your dog to recall

Updated: Apr 6

Two brown dogs running to woman in red jacket in park.

It's such a common problem - you would like to let your dog off lead, but you just don't know if you can trust them to come back when called. Maybe you are someone who repeatedly finds themselves standing in the middle of a field waiting for your dog to return to you.

A reliable recall keeps your dog safe, gives you peace of mind and means that they can have a little more fun and freedom on their walks.

So how come so many dog owners struggle with recalls? It is one of the most requested training solutions that we, as trainers, get asked for.

A reliable recall is possible. It just takes practice and consistency. Here are some points to remember when practicing.

Reliable Recall Tip # 1 - Load Up Your Recall Cue

Choose a cue that will mean "come back to me". Some people use a whistle, a word or hand signal. Choose one for now and make sure everyone in the family use the same one.

Now we need to add value to this cue. That means that we want your dog to hear or see the cue and get good feelings about it. We also want to build up your dog's response to that cue. Their response should be 'I need to get to my owner quickly as they will do lots of fun things!'

To do this, work in a quiet environment and expose your dog to your cue. As soon as you do, offer your dog a yummy food treat or a game that they enjoy.

Repeat this many times in as many different quiet and non-distracting locations as you can.

Remember, the more you use the cue and your dog ignores you or you pair it with a negative outcome (like ending a walk), the less your dog will want to engage.

Reliable Recall Tip # 2 - Set Up For Success

The most common reason for recalls failing is practicing it in situations that are too difficult for your dog.

Just because your dog can recall in the kitchen, does not mean that they can recall in the woods whilst chasing a squirrel!

Teach your recall by building up the difficulty gradually. Don't increase the difficulty until you have completed the level you are on! Yes, it is a bit like a video game! If your dog hasn't practiced the skills they need at a certain level, they are sure to fail at the next!

Black dog sitting and looking at woman in red jacket.

What does difficulty mean?

Well, you can measure it in a few ways:

  • The distraction level of the thing you are calling your dog away from.

  • The distance between your dog and the distraction (the closer they are, the harder the recall).

  • The distance between you and your dog (the closer you are to your dog, the more likely your recall with be successful).

Choose a sensible difficulty level and then practice, practice, practice. If it fails, then you need to go back to an easier level.

Reliable Recall Tip # 3 - Long Lines Are Your Friend

So, you have tried to recall your dog, but they ignore you and run off. At this point, there is not much you can do except chase after them or wait for them to decide to come back.

Either way, your dog has practiced ignoring your cue and is probably having a hugely rewarding time getting involved in whatever they have run off to do.

A bigger issue perhaps, is that you have been unable to keep your dog safe or prevent them from becoming a nuisance to others.

That's where a long line comes in. A long line is a long, flat lead which you can connect to your dog's harness. They tend to come in several lengths from 5m to 20m. Long lines are great because they allow your dog to move away from you at an acceptable and safe distance so that you can practice your recall training.

No more chasing after them or waiting for them to return.

Reliable Recall Tip # 4 - Don't Try It If You Think It Won't Work

If you happen to get your dog into a situation where you think your recall will not be a success then it is best not to try it at all.

Remember, we want to practice your dog's positive response to your recall cue.

A great example of this is taking your dog to a beach where there are lots of children with ice creams and fish and chips! If you don't think that you can trust your dog off lead (and some ice creams are likely to get stolen!), it is best to keep your dog safely on a lead.

You could however, set this up as a training exercise later on and practice with a willing stooge.

Reliable Recall Tip # 5 - Reward Heavily!

Rewards are everything! A good reward is a key part of training. It motivates your dog, keeps training fun and will encourage your dog to repeat desired behaviour.

For recalls, you want your rewards to be high value. The value of your reward is dependent on how your dog rates it, not you. Have a play around with which reward motivates your dog the most.

British Bulldog running in field.

Do they like chicken? ham? or tug with a toy?

Pay your dog well for their recalls. Always reward, even if it takes a while for them to come back to you.

Coming back to you should always be the best thing ever!


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