Teaching a dog a rock-solid-reliable recall is a must and can be a life-saver. Puppies show a natural willingness to approach and check in with their owners, but adolescent and adult dogs are often more interested in interacting with the rest of the world!
Tips for recall training
- Ensure that you dog is happy to have their collar held so that when they do come back you can easily attach the lead.
- Only use your recall cue when you are sure that your dog will come to you.
- Only use your recall cue when you can offer your dog a great reward and/or allow your dog back to whatever you called them away from.
- Use high value rewards (a tasty treat or favourite toy) for recall training – you need to be more rewarding than all the distractions in your dog’s world!
- When choosing a recall cue don’t use the dog’s name as this will be used for many reasons. Pair the dog’s name with a new recall cue like “Rover, come here”.
- Never allow your dog off lead unless you are sure you can recall them, no matter what.
When training, it is best to use a long line (not an extendable lead) when you want your dog to have more freedom. Remember not to allow your dog completely off lead until you know they have a reliable recall. If you’re repeatedly calling your dog to return and they are not listening, each time this happens you’re teaching them not to listen to you.
There are lots of recall games and they are great fun to teach your dog. Here are some examples:
One player game
- Toss one or two pieces of your dog’s regular food away from you and allow them to go and eat it (this is just to get your dog to move away from you, but if they are already distracted you can move onto the next step).
- When your dog has finished eating, say your dog’s name and wait for them to look toward you.
- As soon as they look at you, say your recall cue “come here” as you move backwards away from your dog – this movement will attract them to move toward you.
- When your dog gets to you, gently hook their collar and immediately feed a few high value rewards.
- Ask your dog to sit and then reward a couple of times in position.
- Say “go play”, toss some of your dog’s regular food away from you and repeat the exercise .
Two player game
- Each person has some of your dog’s favourite treats and are positioned a distance away from each other.
- The person furthest from your dog calls their name and waits for them to look toward them.
- The person says the recall cue and begins to move backwards away from the dog.
- When the dog gets to them, hook the dog’s collar and immediately give them a few high value rewards.
- Ask the dog to sit and reward in position.
- The second person repeats the procedure, and then the first person and so on.
- Go back and forth recalling the dog with the same routine each time.
- Add some movement by increasing the distance or moving sideways etc...
Distractions are really just rewards that your dog wants access to more than what you have on offer. We want to teach our dogs that being recalled does not mean the end of their access to fun so we will offer them two rewards if they recall from distractions: a high value food reward and the opportunity to return to the action.
One player game
You may need to set up for each repetition with your dog out of the room or otherwise restrained. You will need a little bowl of treats and to have your dog on lead for this game.
- Set up a little bowl with a few treats at the end of a room.
- Approach with your dog on lead and when you get close to the bowl (but not so close that your dog can get the treats or not so close that your dog can’t move away) call your dog using your new recall cue.
- As soon as they come to you, take their collar and bring them to the bowl and allow them eat the treats.
Your dog will learn that to access distractions they must recall when asked first. As your dog improves you can start to practice in real life situations.
For example, have your dog on lead and allow them to sniff. Call their name and recall cue. As soon as your dog recalls, hook the collar, feed a couple of high value food rewards and bring them back to allow the sniffing to resume.