Reliable Recall

The “recall,” the command that brings your dog to you, is extremely important for your sanity and your dog’s safety! Whether you need your dog to come in from the yard when you are running late for work or want to be able to hike off-leash—a good, reliable recall is vital.      With a good recall, you can bring your dog to you quickly when time or safety are a factor. Without a good recall, you are at the mercy of your dog’s impulses.

What is a reliable recall?  A good reliable recall is when your dog responds to your recall command by returning to you immediately and without hesitation under any circumstances. Too often, people excuse a poor recall because the dog was distracted, r was chasing a critter, saw another dog, recognized a friend. . . the list goes on and on. The bottom line is, distractions, other dogs, and triggers are the reason you need a reliable recall. If your dog only responds to the recall command under ideal conditions—the command is useless. The recall should be a reflex. And to achieve this level of obedience takes time, repetition, motivation, and consistency.

Start young. I start as early as possible teaching a pup to associate his name and the recall command with a high value reward, such as a piece of boiled chicken or freeze-dried liver! This high value reward is ONLY given for response to the come command and never for sit, down or heel.  I start this at 8 weeks, and continue for most of the dog’s life; before I give the command, I make sure I grab it off the counter or from the refrigerator and then ask for him to come. The reinforcement for this command is constant and consistent. I am teaching a muscle memory response to the come command so that later in life, in situations with distractions or temptations, the dog’s reflexive response will be to return to me without even thinking about it.  

  • Use a high value treat.
  • Use the dog’s name followed by the command.
  • Use the same word for the command every time.
  • Reward with the high value treat every time!  

Break bad habits. What if you are starting training with an older puppy or a dog that just won’t budge—or ignores you if he wants to do something else? In this case, it’s important that you only ask for the recall when your dog is on leash and you are able to reinforce it. You will still reward a good response, but if your puppy or dog realizes that you can’t enforce the command, you are done for! It takes 124 days to undo a bad habit (like not responding to the recall.)  If you choose to ‘test’ the recall before you’ve logged 124 days of constant enforcement by way of the leash, you run the risk of starting back at Day 1. Be sure to practice on leash in situations with gradually increasing distractions and temptations.  It only takes one instance of non-compliance for your dog to decide that the recall may be “negotiable.” And the longer you allow your dog or puppy to get away with disobedience, the harder it will be to stop the behavior.  Your dog is smart enough to recognize the circumstances when he can get away with being disobedient. it’s important for you to stay one step ahead. Do not put yourself in a position to be ignored. So, if you don’t have the leash on your dog, don’t use the recall command.  Simply walk outside, pretend to drop a box of milk bones in the yard and hook him on the leash when he comes to grab one.  

  • Only give the recall command when your dog is on leash.
  • Practice and reinforce consistently on leash for at least 124 days.
  • Practice on-leash with gradually increasing distractions and temptations.
  • Do not test the recall without the leash until you’ve practiced for least 4 months.
  • If your dog is off leash and you need to get him, do not “try” the command. Instead, drop a high value treat until he is near enough to get the leash on him.

Use the e-collar If you have started the 124-day clock on leash reinforcement multiple times without success, it’s time to realize you need a new tool.  For your dog’s safety, it is time to use an e-collar (see article in this section for more information). The electric collar works like an invisible fence that you can take with you anywhere.  It enables you to correct your dog via remote for disobedience. Whether your dog is simply not responding reliable, or is reliably not responding, the e-collar gives you the ability to correct disobedience and reinforce the recall command even when your dog is off leash and at a distance from you.  I always tell my clients that having an electric collar is like having an insurance policy: You may not always need to use it, but in an urgent situation or an emergency—you will be glad you can use it if necessary.

Keep at it. There is no magic to teaching the recall. Time, consistency, reinforcement, and staying one step ahead of your dog by not putting yourself in a position to be ignored are the keys to making a reliable response to the recall command a reflex for your dog. And when your dog has a reliable recall, you spend less time feeling frustrated and more time feeling confident that your dog is happy and safe.