Getting your dog to come when called is probably one of the commands that owners struggle with teaching the most.
Recall training comes more naturally to some dog breeds like guarding breeds since they are used to work closely with their owners (albeit some can act pretty stubborn, paired with their strong-willed nature).
You probably hear it every day – people yelling at their dogs in the park because they’re not coming to them. Maybe you are one of those people.
How can you teach your dog a strong recall?
It’s actually quite simple to teach the recall command, you just need to get the timing right, as well as insist on your dog coming when called and if you stay persistent and patient, you’ll be quickly rewarded.
Dog Recall Training Tips
A recall is a word or phrase that is being used to call back your dog in any circumstance. A reliable recall is incredibly important and mandatory if you are letting your dog off-leash on walks.
Running and chasing things is a high drive instinct that is implemented in the wolf genes. We want to overwrite this high arousal by using a recall cue.
It sounds impossible but after you finish this recall training, your dog will be the nerd at the dog park.
Moments a good recall can save your dog’s life:
- When your dog races through the open door
- When you accidentally lose your leash and your dog bolts onto the street
- When your dog chases small prey or cats
- When your dog runs towards another (unfriendly) dog
My Rottweiler is now 2 years old and her recall is incredibly strong. We also taught her a proper release command anyway and try to give her prey drive an outlet with flirt poles, tug-of-war, and other games.
But I also had situations where she was younger and we walked at dawn as a rabbit caught her off guard and she sprinted after it. We additionally trained a “stop” command and used that and it worked well. We then called her back.
You have the recall in your tool box to prevent any accidents from happening. Your dog is your responsibility.
Now the goal of successfully teaching the recall is to make it more rewarding to come to you than chasing a rabbit around.
Coming to you must be the best thing in the world for your dog in that particular moment.
What to Do Before Recall Training
Make sure that your dog is getting enough mental and physical exercise every day. Play with him right before you go outside so he won’t be so hyper on walks and easier to recall.
You should be working on a strong bond and communication with your dog. I have been able to build such a strong relationship with my dog that she willingly chooses to follow me and always checks if I am close.
A happy dog will be interested in interacting and engaging with you.
Find out what he loves the most. Is your dog food-motivated or does he love toys even more? Set aside your dog’s favorite food that will only be used for recall training so he will have a strong reward when coming back to you.
Setting the Right Expectations
As I said above, some dogs are more willing to perform a reliable recall than others.
You know your dog best and this will help you to assess different situations. I hate to break the news to you but you won’t get results on the first day and the recall won’t be perfect in a week. It takes months or even years of consistent training.
Training doesn’t stop once you have taught it.
Remember that your dog is an animal. A recall will never be 100% reliable. This is why you have to always have full control about the environment especially if you let your dog off-leash.
Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t always work. Believe me, you will get there through positive reinforcement and constantly rewarding.
How to Get Your Dog to Come When Distracted
First things first, come up with the cue that you will want to use for your recall.
It should be short and clear and should only be used for this command. Most people use “come” or “come here”. Feel free to check out this list of German commands.
If you have used this command before associated with a bad experience then you will have to choose a new one. I will explain what I mean with bad experience
Start off in a low distractive environment like your home and grab a lot of treats.
Get your dog to pay attention to you by calling his name. Now there are two ways to teach the recall, try what works better for your dog.
1. The first way is to put your dog on a leash and get his attention by jogging around the house. When he follows you around, make a quick step back and say “come” and hold the treat ready in your hand. The distance between you and the dog will be very small in the beginning so every “come” will be a success. When your dog reaches you, praise him a lot and give him treats.
Repeat a few times until he gets the hang of it. If you stay in motion it will be much easier for your dog to come to you because that is what we wanted to do anyway. If he gets distracted or walks another way, gently guide him back to you with the leash.
2. The second method will start with your dog in a sit position. Stand in front of him and hod the treat either in your right or your left hand.
Make a really engaging jump backward or walk fast and say the cue “come”.
This uses the same motion technique but in a slightly different way. Each time your dog comes to you, give him lots of praise.
Any time your dog chooses to voluntarily come to you without being asked, quickly say the cue “come” and praise him. We want our dog to come to us on his own will and this also shows that he made the connection that coming to you equals something very good.
Repeat the process a few times until you can simply stand there and your dog runs up to you.
You can remove the leash and increase the distance just a little bit in your own home. Keep plugging away for at least a week.
The recall training inside has to be reliable before you step outside with your dog.
Advancing the Recall
Once your dog knows the recall inside, it’s time to take the training outside for the real deal.
Start in a medium distractive environment like your backyard and attach a long leash to your dog. Let your dog sniff around a bit until he seems to be calmer.
Call him to “come” to you in a happy and cheerful way and wait for him to come. If he doesn’t come to you, gently pull on the leash and decrease the distance next time. Repeat it many times and if your dog fails too often that means that you will have to take a step back and go back into the house.
If you feel that the recall works great and your dog reacts immediately and is happy to come to you then you can try to remove the leash in an enclosed area.
Distance and distraction will take your recall training to the next level
The highest distractive environment for the dog is probably the dog park or any public area with a lot of people. Always walk him on a leash in public places and keep the leash on him in the dog park while you train the recall.
After a few weeks, you will be able to get your dog to come when called even in the park. A long leash will make this process a lot easier. Always take your high value treats with you and keep the experience a positive one.
Recommended Reading: The most underrated command in dog training
What to Remember When Training Recall
Do not call your dog when he is highly distracted – It is very important that your dog succeeds most of the time in the beginning. If you just started training and you try to call your dog when he is playing with other dogs, he most likely won’t come to you. This will devalue the recall and your dog will learn that he doesn’t have to come every time.
Never yell or punish your dog – I see this all the time, especially in the park. People will call and call for their dogs and they simply won’t respond. If they then happen to come back to the owner they get an agrry pep-talk from their owner.
Will they consider coming back the next time? Probably not. Even if you are annoyed that your dog didn’t listen the first time, you will have to swallow your pride and praise your dog for coming back.
Attach a leash for safety – If you are still in recall training, always attach a leash to your dog. Otherwise, he will get distracted and will run off.
This will be a reward for him as he can now greet a person or sniff somewhere he was not supposed to. Attaching a leash will give you control and much better results in training. It also keeps your dog from running on the streets.
Do not pull on the leash – If you want your dog to come back to you, gently pull on the leash to guide him back to you. Do not smack on the leash, this will teach him nothing.
Leash-train your dog first if you’re constantly getting frustrated about it.
Changing up rewards – If you switch between high-value rewards, your dog will be much more interested in coming to you. Make a game of tug a reward or let him chase you. He will come to you every time to see what fun things you will do with him next.
Be consistent and patient – Recall training takes time and you won’t see the best results overnight. It takes a lot of patience and consistency for the best possible outcome. Don’t get frustrated with your dog. Some need more time and dedicated training than others.
Give him time – Dogs do not jump right up when you call them. Give your dog a few seconds to respond to you.
Work on getting his attention the first time otherwise, you will always have to call twice and we don’t want that.
Always be engaging – If you do not want your dog to lose interest in you, you will have to be more interesting than the environment surrounding you. Engage with your dog to play outside and show him that it is fun to interact with you. If he loses interest too often than it means that he is bored and tired and you should be ending training for the day.
Don’t think that your dog is too young – As I said in my post about basic obedience skills, a puppy starts learning from the very first moment he opens h
You can start teaching basic commands after your dog has settled in his new home. Young puppies are eager to learn new things and they quickly adapt. Starting early with easy recall training to build up a great foundation for the future. But keep in mind that a puppy is much more interested and distracted by the world than an adult dog.
Let me know your experiences with recall training in the comments below and mention what has worked for you.