Teaching your dog to come back when you call

by Jenna Kiddie

Teaching your dog to come back when you call

Our how-to guide and top tips for getting your dog to come back to you… every time!

Most dogs love running around off the lead, but before you give your dog their ‘freedom’ it’s vital for their safety that you know they will come back when called, regardless of where they are and what’s going on around them. To teach good recall your dog needs to learn that coming back to you is always a good thing, something that will bring them plenty of praise and rewards.

Method

  • First of all ensure that your dog knows their name. This lets them know that you want their attention. To teach this have your dog very close to you, say their name and reward.

  • Choose a special word or sound as your recall cue that you use ONLY when you want your dog to return. It should be short and sharp, for example a verbal cue like ‘come’, or a whistle.
  • Start in your garden or another enclosed space with some tasty treats in a pouch or your pocket. If you need to, get your dog’s attention with their name, then use your recall cue and take a step away from them. As they return to you reward with praise and a tasty treat.

  • Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog and the level of distractions you call them away from.

  • Use a harness with a long line to walk your dog on during training. Let them move away from you before using your recall cue, if they ignore you very gently guide them back to you with the long line and reward them once they are with you. This will prevent your dog getting rewarded by the environment for ignoring you! Make a big fuss of them and reward with high value treats when they return without this extra guidance so they build up a really positive association with coming when called. You want your dog to learn that coming back to you straight away is much more rewarding than ignoring you and continuing their fun running around.

Key points

  • Think about how you sound and appear to your dog when you call them. Use a happy, excited voice and welcoming body language (crouched down, arms open) to train recall. Moving back from your dog as you call can encourage them even more.
  • Always praise your dog for coming back no matter how long it takes and reward them even more if they come back quickly. As your dog improves you won’t need to give them a treat every time they come back, but reward them every so often to keep them motivated.

  • Use high value rewards for recall, especially if they have come away from something especially interesting (e.g. a squirrel or another dog). Try making your recall exciting by throwing their treats, or using play or chase games to get their reward.
  • Set your dog up for success by initially training in a quiet place when your dog is already looking over at you, and gradually increase the level of distraction as they improve.
  • Make recall a fun part of the walk, not just something you do when its home time! Do this by calling your dog back then allowing them to go and play again several times during a walk, but not to the point where they get bored.
  • Gently hold your dog’s collar as you reward them so this contact is not only associated with being clipped back onto their lead.
  • Use your recall cue sparingly, give your dog at least five seconds to respond to your first recall. Don’t call again if you think they’re unlikely to return, as this can have the opposite effect by confirming it’s alright to not come back.
  • If your dog ignores you stay calm, getting angry or shouting will only discourage your dog from returning to you. Instead, gently guide them in with the long line, or go and collect them. Alternatively, run in the other direction or hide (if safe to do so) to encourage them to come looking for you.
  • Encourage your dog to stay aware and focussed on you. If they run off ahead of you try changing direction or hiding behind a tree and waiting for them to find you (if safe to do so).