Learning to come when called, or recall to you, is one of the most important skills your dog can learn. But teaching a recall can be challenging, as dogs find so much of the world so interesting. Each time we ask our dog to come to us, we’re asking them to stop what they’re doing.
That means turning away from other interesting smells, dogs, and food, to come to us. As a result, to build a reliable recall, we must teach our dogs that being near us is the most fun thing they can do, not to mention, the thing that brings them the most rewards.
What Is A Reliable Recall?
Trainers will often throw around the phrase “reliable recall,” but what does that mean? Reliable recall means when you call your dog to come, you want to be 99.99% sure they are going to enthusiastically respond. Dogs are not robots, so there is never any guarantee that they will listen to your cue. But with a lifesaving skill like recall, we are working towards them being as consistent as possible.
Having a reliable recall is especially important if you want to allow your dog to run off-leash outside of a fenced yard or dog park. Even if your dog doesn’t go off-leash, reliable recall is an important skill for any dog in the event of an emergency.
Alternatives To Off-Leash Play
There’s no shame in keeping your dog on-leash if you aren’t confident in their recall. Some dogs will never have a recall that is safe or reliable in all situations, but they can still have fun. Instead, let them play in fenced areas or consider using a long leash. These may give your dog more opportunity to explore while keeping them safely leashed.
Regardless of how strong your dog’s recall is, it’s important to respect all local leash laws. This includes your front yard and anywhere else on your property that isn’t fenced. Laws are usually also in effect in local, state, and national parks. Respecting leash laws is an important part of helping your dog be a respectful member of your community.
An important part of teaching recall is to make training a game for your dog. You want your dog to think that coming and being near you is the best thing imaginable, full of fantastic treats and rewards.
Start your training in a slow, low-distraction environment, like inside your house. First, show your dog a toy or a treat, praise them as they are coming to you, then reward them. After a few repetitions, whenever your dog looks at you and starts to move towards you, add in your chosen verbal cue (come, here, etc.). Make sure to only add in the cue when you are confident your dog is moving towards you.
You can slowly up the ante by asking your dog to come before showing them the treat. But, be sure to reward with a high-value treat like chicken, cheese, or beef liver, when they get to you. Also, try slowly adding distance within your low-distraction environment.
Catch Me: While walking your dog on-leash, get their attention, then turn around and run a few steps. As your pup moves with you, say “come!” or whichever verbal recall cue you’re using. After a few steps, stop and reward with a treat or a toy. Make sure your dog is paying attention before you run, to ensure they don’t get yanked by the leash.
Find Me: Once your dog has gotten the hang of recall, a fun game to play to build speed is to call them from another room. When your dog finds you, offer lots of praise and rewards. This hide-and-seek-like game is a lot of fun for both pups and people!
Hot Potato: Take two or more family members or friends and give them high-value treats. Next, stand apart and take turns calling your dog between you. Reward your dog each time they come to the person who called them.
A common training mistake is to recall the dog, put the leash on, and go home. Dogs will likely learn to view recall as a sign that the fun is over. Understandably, this may make them less likely to come in the future. One good method of practice is to recall, praise, and treat, then release your dog to return to whatever fun thing they were doing before.
Poisoning The Cue
“Come! COME!!! Come! Come! Come! Please come!”
If this sounds like your dog’s current recall, you may have a “poisoned cue.” This generally happens unintentionally and occurs when the cue either has an unclear meaning or takes on a negative association for the dog, so they ignore it. The easiest way to poison a cue is to overuse it by repeating the word over and over without your dog responding.
In this case, the best thing to do is to change your verbal cue to something new. For example, if you had previously used “come,” you could shift to something like “here” or “close.” It’s best to go back to basics and start at the beginning when introducing the new recall cue.
Recall Training Tips
- Don’t repeat yourself. If you have to repeat your recall cue, the environment may be too distracting. Or, your dog doesn’t understand the skill well enough for the level you are trying to train.
- Reward eye contact. When you notice your dog is looking at you or has self-selected to be close to you, verbally praise and treat. You may use a lot of treats at first, but you are reinforcing an important lesson to your dog. Being near you and paying attention to you makes good things happen.
- Never punish your dog for coming to you. Even if you’re frustrated because your pup took their time before coming, you still should always praise a recall.
- Reward! When training recalls, use high-value treats and toys for your dog. This is especially true when your dog is learning. Always reward the recall, because you want them to associate coming with getting something great.
- Practice recalls daily. Slowly increase the difficulty and level of distraction. Moving too quickly is likely to confuse your dog, and may lead to less reliability.
- If you require recall in an emergency like if a gate was left open, don’t chase your dog. That’s likely to make them continue the “game” you don’t want to play by moving away from you. Instead, try running away from your dog to inspire them to chase after you.