The Recall as dog trainers call it is the art of getting your dog to come to you when you call him (I’ll use him throughout the article). I call it an art because I believe it to be one of the hardest lessons to teach our dogs. There are so many distractions when teaching the recall, which makes it one of the most difficult and one of the hardest to train well.
How to change your dog’s recall behaviour immediately with 5 easy changes:
- Use a long line training lead of at least 5 metres
- Work in a no or low distraction area
- Give yourself time rather than a rushed walk before work
- Re-evaluate the rewards used, use what your dog finds rewarding not what you have decided is rewarding
- And above all be calm and patient, if you or the dog is not relaxed, you will hinder your progress
My top tip: “Praise spontaneous & willing returns to you.”
Before you teach the recall
The concept behind this is what most people get wrong. Your dog is not born knowing what a recall is, so why are you using a command that has not been taught? In my method, you are teaching (managing, enticing etc) a recall without using a command yet, this is why you need a long training line. The training lead stops your dog from running off and is an essential tool for my recall notes.
Prepare – what rewards are you using? If in doubt, give the dog a choice. What call are you using? Name – come?
When you first start your training program, dogs often pick up on the very earliest cues. So the first things you start rewarding might often be the ones s/he learns the best. Be aware and make your body language nice and clear. Remember less is more.
Here is a checklist of all the main points to remember:
- Always reward a recall and never scold a dog for not coming back.
- Do not repeatedly call a dog who is not coming back to you.
- Use appropriate rewards – what your dog likes, not what you think he should like – suggestions are a favourite food, like chicken, hot dogs cheese that kind of thing (not kibble though, it needs to be something special and not their daily food), favourite novel toy, praise or all 3.
- Never assume a young puppy recall is a fully trained behaviour, it usually is not.
- Never ignore a recall done of the dogs own free will. Praise spontaneous willing returns to you – meaning the times your dog returned to you without you calling them.
- Never allow an untrained dog to practice running away, the behaviour becomes self-reinforcing (practised).
- Beware of never letting your dog off the lead because you daren’t – train him/her! (Use a long line leash).
- Never chase after a dog that is running off. Be aware of laughing and thinking it is funny, the dog will pick up on this.
- Always teach puppies & dogs as soon as you get them home. Often the first training session is the one they will learn the most from, so plan it well.
- Start your training with your dog close to you, in a safe area and on a long training lead.
- Gain your dog’s full attention & secure him on a lead or take hold of his collar when he returns before rewarding. Then release or put the leash back on.
- Reward each and every return to you, in the early stages even when he comes to you without being called.
- Be sure that a command is followed by the desired response, if not then you have rushed ahead in the schedule.
- You may use a whistle, a verbal command and/or a hand signal, followed by a reward. Any combination may then be used in the absence of the other.
- Be aware of de-training, by following commands with something negative.
- Manage the dog’s motivation (i.e. if using food, is he hungry, if using play, is the toy novel, if using praise, does the dog receive attention when it is not earned and does he perceive your praise as a reward)?
- Your dog must want to come to you of his own free will initially. So wander around on your walk and either wait for your dog to pop over and say hi or lure with a treat or toy.
- Walk dog on a long line (5-10 metres) on normal exercise, reward every return to you of his own free will (without using a command). This is the most important phase of the training technique. Your dog MUST ‘want’ to come to you. And to get this it must be managed not forced. 
- If using food, continually manage the dog’s food motivation, you could use his meals as part of the training sessions. You should always feed after walks anyway – never before (for health reasons). If using praise, save your praise for when he earns it. If using a toy, save a special toy for walks/training only. With food, feed your dog at night and do not give meals during the day (in extreme cases). It IS possible to food train a dog that appears not to be food motivated. Food helps with training; there is no denying that, but not all dogs like food as a reward. If you can use food and praise then this is great. SUGGESTIONS – cheese, hot dogs (although can be high in salt), real meat, bought treats etc.
- The dog will learn to return to you because you are providing him with something he wants and he finds it rewarding. This may take time and can take anything from a few minutes to a few weeks to achieve, but when your dog realises that coming to you is beneficial then we are on track.
- When the returns to you are frequent and pretty much guaranteed, you can start to introduce a command. ‘Name COME’ (or whistle, just his name, hand signal etc.)
- Keep your body language simple. Don’t run around doing star jumps and calling him. Stand still & square and call him with intention.
- Say the command when he has returned to you (not while he is out in the field OR when he is coming to you, ONLY when he has reached you). Sounds odd but at this point, you are pairing what he is already doing with a command – the one you want to teach.
- This conditions the command and associates it with the reward and being by you (near enough to hold the collar).
- As he builds up an association with the command and being by you, you can start to use the command when he is returning to you, i.e. you can guarantee he will be coming to you as he runs in your direction.
- Only when you are confident he will come to you 100% of the time do you then start calling him while he is not distracted.
- Gradually build up the distractions, i.e. when he is interacting with another dog, sniffing the floor etc.
- Start in ZERO DISTRACTION AREA. Then carefully start to take him to a different area with different and increased distractions. You will probably need to revert back to an earlier stage of training in a new environment.
 Previous learning will affect this. The time spent allowing your dog to run off or repeated calling will hinder your training. Only a complete transformation to religious retraining will change this.
TIP Put the lead on your dog frequently even though you are not going home, dogs can perceive the end of a walk (going home) as a mild punishment and may play ‘catch me’ when they know you are taking them home!
Remember, if using food, allow for the number of treats used and reduce dinner accordingly. A fat dog is not a healthy dog.
NEVER allow a dog to run next to dangerous areas such as train lines, busy roads or dangerous water.
NEVER underestimate your dog’s ability to run off in hot pursuit of something nicer than your reward.
The Recall is one of the LIFESAVER exercises you will teach your dog. Make it good and reliable, one day it will save his life. You will be proud of him when he comes back on command.
Please share with full credit and do not copy without permission.
© Sarah Gleave Updated 15th June 2018