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).
For some owners, recall can be a very frustrating issue. When a dog is out on a walk and engaged in their environment they can be easily distracted. The smells and other things going on are far more interesting than the owner. Dogs need to find you more interesting than what they are doing. One of the best ways to improve recall is to play games with your dog. You can play lots of simple games at home and while you are in a secure area to help reinforce recall. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Hide and seek game
You can play this game at home or out on walks once your dog gets better at it. Simply hide from your dog and then let them come and find you. When they find you reward them with verbal praise, or treats. You can start by hiding at home and then calling your dog and then when they get the idea try the game without calling them.
Come and get the toy game
If your dog loves to play with toys then you can use them as recall rewards. Ask your dog to come and when they do give them their toy and play with them. Tug of war can be great as your dog gets a thrilling game of tug of war as their reward for coming on demand.
Throw the game
Throw the treat is quite a good game to play if you don't have much space. You can simply stand in your lounge and throw a treat, let your dog go and get it and then call them to come back to you. Then you throw another treat in the opposite direction. It gets your dog used to coming back to you on command. Once they get really good at it you can try it in a secure outdoor area where there are more distractions and see how they get on.
Responding to a whistle game
Some dogs respond really well to the sound of a whistle. If you are out on a walk and your dog wanders far away from you there's a chance you might not be able to shout loud enough. Having a whistle means you don't have to shout and your dog begins to understand that the whistle means they must return to you.
Run away game
This one involves a bit of exercise on your part. Run about 15 metres away from your dog, when you get to about 10 metres call them. They should then sprint towards you, when they get close to you throw a treat out and then run back in the other direction and do the same again. This reinforces your bond and helps to improve recall. It's also lots of fun for your dog and will help them to burn some energy.
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 behaviorist 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.
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 long 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 maybe 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.
Dog Recall Training: 8 Handy Tips
If you've got a dog who would rather ignore you and wander off than stay nearby, then recall training can be quite frustrating. Some dogs never leave their owner's side, and will follow them wherever they go, but some pooches have other ideas.
Plus, certain breeds struggle with recall more than most, either because they have a high prey drive (i. e. huskies), or can't help but follow their nose (i. e. hounds). If your dog is struggling with recall, or you are teaching it for the first time, here are some super handy tips that you might not know about.
1. Tug toys can help
Does your dog love a good tug of war? If they aren't responding that well to dog treats when doing recall training, try using their favourite toy, like a tug of warinstead. This can be their reward, when they come back to you they get to enjoy a brief game of tug of war.
2. Make yourself more interesting
Part of the reason dogs wander off is because being around their owner gets a bit boring, and there are far more interesting things to discover elsewhere. If you want your dog to come back to you, or learn that being around you is fun, try and do things to entertain them. Don't just stand around texting on your phone while they run about. Try throwing a ball for them and playing a game of fetch, or play a follow the leader or game of hide and seek.
3. Try renting an enclosed field
Did you know the UK has plenty of private fields which can be rented out by dog owners who need an enclosed area? You just need to find one near you. They aren't that expensive, and tend to be around £10 an hour to hire. This provides a safe place for you to practice your recall with Fido, and enable them to burn off some energy. which lists dog walking fields in the UK.
4. Having other dogs around helps
If you are letting your dog off the lead for the first time, it's better to do it with other dogs around. Why? Because your dog is more likely to stick around and have fun with the pack. They will see that other dogs are staying near and will hopefully decide to do the same.
5. Don't bark commands too many times
Don't shout 'come' over and over again when your dog doesn't come back, as the word will lose its meaning. You want your dog to learn that they should come back as soon as you say the word once, not after four or five times. If they don't come back and are ignoring you, go and get them rather than yelling at them.
6. Enthusiasm is key
You need to teach your dog that coming back to you is the best thing ever, and that won't work if you don't seem that bothered when they do. Don't worry about embarrassing yourself in front of fellow dog owners, if your dog comes back, give them loads of praise in a super enthusiastic tone.
7. Recall in and around the home
If you are really struggling with recall out and about where's there's loads of distractions, go back to basics. Try doing some recall in your house where your dog will be more responsive. Then once they master perfect recall at home, you can try them outside again (on a long lead to start with).
8. Fun recall games
If you want your dog to come back to you, it's time to make recall more fun. Playing games can really help reinforce their recall, and strengthen your bond. Recall games include things like hide and seek, and throwing treats to either side of you and getting your dog to come back to you after they retrieve them.