How to improve your dog’s recall

There’s nothing better than watching your dog run around an open space knowing that if you call them back they will come willingly. Giving your dog freedom to express their natural behaviour is part of being a responsible dog owner – but the law states your dog must be under control in a public place, and this includes coming when called.

Use a longline until your dog has a reliable recall. Attaching a longline to your dog’s body harness means you’re still in control but your dog has enough freedom to enjoy a run.  Always wear gloves to prevent friction burns, and keep an eye on the line so it doesn’t get tangled around anyone’s legs.

Getting started with recall training

  • Start your recall training at home where there are no distractions
  • Use small high value tasty treats like cut up hot dog sausages, chicken, or cheese
  • With your dog in the same room as you, say their name and the word ‘come’. As they come towards you give them verbal praise and a treat
  • If your dog won’t leave you because they know you have treats, throw a treat away from you for them to get and then as they’re eating it call them to you again
  • Once you’re getting 100% success start practising in other rooms in the house
  • Once you’ve cracked the house, move the training into your garden where there are more external distractions.

Then move on to a walk

The next step is training your dog’s recall when out on a walk - use a harness and long line for this. Always try to set your dog up for success – during the first few sessions only call them to you when there are no joggers, strangers, other dogs or squirrels about. Wait for your dog to be sniffing something, move a few feet away and then call him to you.

A common mistake is to ask your dog to sit when they get to you. You dog will think the reward is for sitting – so in their mind, they’re not rewarded for the harder task of coming to you and ignoring all the exciting distractions.

The key is to reward your dog for coming towards you. Verbally reward them as soon as they acknowledge your call and start moving towards you, let them know they’re doing the right thing as they’re doing it and when they get to you, give them the treat straight away. If you want them to sit, ask for it after you’ve rewarded their recall.

Use toys if your dog doesn’t respond to treats

For most dogs the training works perfectly, but for some running off to play with other dogs or chasing squirrels is more exciting than a tasty treat. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to let your dog off the lead.

Professional dog trainers often use of toys when training a recall. Some dogs are happy to mooch about when off lead, others want to tear around and be entertained. If you don’t provide entertainment your dog will go and look for it, often resulting in them getting themselves into trouble.

Training your dog with toys is the same process as using treats. Your recall toy should be one your dog loves. During the house and garden stages of your training keep the toy out of sight at all other times. Your dog will learn that they only get to play with this particular toy when they respond to your recall command.

Then recall with more distractions

Once you’re having regular success with your dog’s recall, practice when there are more distractions about. Still use the harness and longline, so you don’t lose control of your dog if they see something exciting. 

Play with them with a regular toy and then randomly throw in your recall command and immediately produce a treat or their special toy to play with. Remember, the more fun and entertainment you provide, the less likely your dog will ignore you.

Always reward, never punish

Never punish your dog for ignoring you, or for taking their time to come when called.  It’s common sense for dogs not to go to someone who’s going to be cross with them, and will put your relationship and training back a long way.

If you are struggling with teaching your dog a recall please contact our Behaviour and Training Specialist Team.