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It’s a common sight: a dog owner asking their dog to “come” again and again while their dog runs off sniffing the grass. Sound familiar? When you ask your dog to come, you’re expecting them to stop whatever they are doing and immediately return to you. That’s a big ask! But a reliable recall is more than convenient, it’s potentially lifesaving. In case of an emergency, you need to know your dog will come to you no matter what. Read on to learn how to train a reliable recall.

Collar Grabs and the Name Game

Before you start training the “come” cue, you need to teach your dog a few other words. The first is their name, and it should mean “pay attention to me.” You want to teach your dog that when they hear their name, they should look to you for further instructions. The following steps will help you play the name game:

  1. Start with your dog either on leash or in a small, quiet room. You don’t want distractions.
  2. Wait until your dog is looking at anything other than you. Then say your dog’s name in a happy and excited tone of voice.
  3. As soon as your dog turns to look at you, mark the moment with a clicker or marker word like “yes.” Then immediately praise and offer a treat.
  4. Once your dog is looking enthusiastically every time they hear their name, you can begin to add distractions like other people in the room or toys on the ground.

In no time, your dog will always have an ear at the ready just in case you call them because they will know it can potentially lead to getting a reward. And getting your dog’s focus is the first step to ensuring a recall.

The second word you need to teach is “gotcha.” Most dogs dart away when you try to take hold of their collar. But in an emergency, you will need to get hold of your dog. This exercise is also helpful when you need to clip on your dog’s leash or lead your dog to the bath. Just as with the name game, you’re going to teach your dog that a collar grab is the chance to get something delicious. Follow these steps:

  1. Lure your dog over to you with a super exciting treat. When they approach, let them lick or nibble the treat, but don’t hand it over yet.
  2. Say “gotcha” then slowly and gently grab your dog’s collar. Once you have a grip, release the rest of the treat so your dog can eat it.
  3. As you continue your training, make your collar grabs faster and firmer.
  4. Once your dog is comfortable with fast, firm collar grabs, wait to offer the treat until after you have said “gotcha” and gripped their collar.
  5. Practice collar grabs in many different locations, but always offer your dog a treat after you get hold of them.

Once your dog understands collar grabs are a good thing, you should have no problem restraining them when they perform a recall. After all, it’s no good for them to come to you only to run away again as soon as you reach for them.

Poodle puppy running in the grass.

How to Train a Recall

Now you’re ready to train the recall. The key to success is being the most exciting thing in your dog’s environment. If you’re where the party is, why wouldn’t your dog want to come and see what all the excitement is about? But if you sound angry, harsh, or even just boring, why would your dog be interested? So, start your training in a quiet environment with your dog on leash. It’s easier to be exciting when there’s no competition.

You also need to use rewards your dog loves. That might be a game of tug-of-war or a piece of chicken. Make this so worth their while they would never consider not responding. These steps will get you started:

  1. With your dog only a few feet away from you, say their name then “come” and entice them to approach you. You can pat your legs, make kissy noises, clap your hands, etc.
  2. As soon as your dog approaches you, click/mark the moment then praise like crazy while you offer a favorite reward.
  3. Once your dog is coming every time you call, add some distance. Let your dog wander to the end of their leash before you call them back.
  4. Now let them off leash in a quiet room and repeat. To encourage them to approach you, run backwards as you say “come.” Dogs love a good chase.
  5. Repeat your training in different rooms of the house.
  6. When your dog is happily running to you every time, ask for a sit when they arrive. Then click/mark/praise and reward. You want your dog to be stationary when they come, not to bounce away again as soon as they’re done with their reward.
  7. Once you’ve successfully added “sit,” add a “gotcha” every so often to teach your dog that it’s okay if you restrain them too.

Make sure that whenever your dog comes to you, they get plenty of praise, pets, and play as well as a treat or toy. This isn’t a time to be stingy. Your dog should think that coming when called is incredibly fun. You can even play recall games like round robin (where a group of people each calls your dog in turn) or find me (where you hide in another room before you call your dog).

Add Distractions to the Recall

Now that your dog will happily run to you anywhere in the house, you’re ready to add distractions. Start with small things like another pet in the room, somebody cooking in the kitchen, or tossing a ball in your hand. Then gradually build up to larger distractions.

Next, take your training outside. But do not let your dog roam free. Even if they come 100% of the time indoors, outdoors is a whole new ballgame. Start with your dog on a 6-foot leash and repeat the steps above. Then graduate to a 20-30-foot line and slowly give your dog more and more of that distance while you train. The line isn’t to reel your dog in if they ignore you, but to control the situation. Simply gather the leash as you walk closer to your dog and try again.

However, if your dog is ignoring you, it’s time to troubleshoot your training. There can be all kinds of reasons your dog doesn’t come when called. Take several steps back in your training and be sure you don’t ask for too much too soon. In time, your dog will have a reliable recall anywhere and anytime. But beware, even the best-behaved dog won’t be 100% perfect. Therefore, only let your dog off leash in a safe environment.

Related article: Finding the Right Dog-Training Classes for Your Puppy
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