Training
May 26, 2023

A Guide to Dog Recall Training

Recall training teaches dogs to respond to a cue when called, like coming back to you when they are offleash. Dogs with good recall can often have more freedom.

Fluffy black and brown dog running back to pet parent after being recalled

Recall is an essential skill for dogs to learn. It can be helpful if a dog gets loose due to a dropped leash, open door, or unlatched great. It’s also important in an emergency situation where your dog may get loose during a walk. Dogs with good recall can often have more freedom and exercise options compared to a dog who has not had this training.


What Is Recall in Dog Training?


Recall is a formal term for teaching a dog to come when called. Recall training has several components; Turning away from the distraction and towards you, leaving the distraction, running towards you with speed, passing distractions, running with speed, coming in close, and being caught or held by you upon arrival. Each of these components can be trained separately.

Most dogs have specific areas that are harder for the individual dog than other parts. We must also practice these skills in various environments to help a dog generalize the skill. Personalized, one-on-training can help set your dog up for success.

While all dogs should have recall training, not all dogs are appropriate for off-leash time in unfenced environments due to their individual history and behavior patterns. You may be able to borrow a fenced yard from a family member or friend. There are also ways to rent space - SniffSpot is one option. This is great for dogs who do not enjoy interacting with strange dogs or dogs who need a safe environment for their recall training.


How to Teach a Dog to Come

There are many different activities to teach dogs to come when called. An old-fashioned one is to train a stay and then call your dog to you. With this training style, we have learned that dogs are often only good at coming when called from a stay and are not prepared for real-life situations. For more details tips, check out our Pup U series, Teaching Your Dog To Come.

A better set of activities can be more natural and mimic real-life scenarios. One of our favorite starting points is to toss a treat away from you. Let your dog chase and eat the treat. Call your dog to you. Reward generously for arrival. Repeat many times and in many different environments. Your dog is learning to come away from a spot with treat residue, to turn his head towards you, and to hurry in your direction. Many families underestimate the number of repetitions it can take to build a habit.

Another activity is to reach down and gently hold your dog’s collar or harness, then give a treat. Repeat occasionally throughout the day and on outings. We want to get to the point where your dog wags his tail and is happy when you reach for him - then we know he’s learned that good things happen when you get ahold of him. This can help with collecting your dog in a real-life situation. Instead of ducking away to play, your dog will eagerly come forward and allow you to hold him.


My Dog Won’t Come When Called. What Should I Do?

There are many possible reasons a dog may not come when called:

Consequences:

What happens after your dog comes? Are you calling him inside each morning and then leaving for work? Maybe your dog has learned coming inside means being alone. Are you calling away from chasing the neighbor’s dogs along the fence? He’s learned that coming means less excitement. Early in a dog’s training, it may be better to go and get him if the consequence is going to be something your dog doesn’t appreciate.

Lack of Training:

Dogs are not pre-trained to come if you say just the right word. We must teach dogs that words have different meanings and what we would like to happen in response to specific cues. If a dog isn’t responding, he is telling us he does not know the word as well as we expected in this situation.

Fear:

Sometimes, a dog may be afraid of a person or area. If a dog is nervous about the back door and we call him while standing near the back door, then he may not come. If we address the confidence about the back door, then we will have less conflict about recalling him to the door. Our posture can impact a dog as well. Standing sideways or walking away can be more inviting than facing a dog.

Distractions:

Unfortunately, we can’t just teach a recall in the house and then expect perfection everywhere. If your dog doesn’t come when called outside, we can repeat the games we started with indoors and then play those in the yard to show him that it works in many environments. We will have to systematically increase the level of distractions as your dog gets more experienced. For now, do not call him if the distractions exceed his current level of training.

Your Dog Won’t Come When Called Outside

If your dog is not likely to come back, then he should not have off-leash privileges. If you are trying to get ahold of your dog or a loose dog, you can try a few tricks in the moment. You can sit on the ground with your back to your dog, play with the grass or dirt, and you might build his curiosity. You can try running away while talking excitedly; this can encourage a dog to chase you. You might toss a handful of treats, so he gets busy eating all of those so that you can collect him.


Some dogs will roam very far, depending on their history, breed history, and what they find interesting. Some breeds of dogs, such as many hounds, have been selected for generations to follow their nose and roam far while following a scent. This doesn’t mean a hound can’t be off-leash, but it does mean we have to be cautious about our training steps.


Remember that many young puppies will stay close to us, not because of training or being a “good dog.” Puppies follow adult dogs, just like ducklings will follow their mother. However, as puppies get towards 16 weeks of age, they are naturally more curious and independent and then are not as likely to stick close to us.


Using a Dog Whistle Sound to Come


We can use any type of signal to cue our dog to come. This could be a word, a whistle, a flicker of a flashlight, or an arm wave. The exact signal is not important; what is important is the training that taught the dog what the signal means.

A whistle is an excellent option for natural environments. The sound of a whistle can carry better over a wider space, especially if a dog is running through brush or water. We can use the same training process as above to teach a dog to come to a whistle.