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Of all the things you can teach your dog, teaching them to come when called, known as a reliable recall, is arguably the most important. The outside world can be unpredictable despite your best efforts. This imperative command will help keep your dog safe and keep you from chasing your dog at the dog park.
What is a reliable recall?
A reliable recall is when your dog comes to you when called whenever you ask. Whether you call your dog in your own house or at the dog park surrounded by all their best friends, a reliable recall ensures your dog will listen to you no matter the distraction or situation.
You don’t just want your dog to come, but you want them to want to come and enjoy it.
Benefits of Reliable Recall Training
A solid recall is a valuable tool for all dogs and one of the most important behaviors you can teach your dog.
A strong recall can mean getting their leash back on easily, removing your dog from a potentially dangerous situation, or just as simple as not having to play an unplanned game of catch me if you can with your dog.
What you’ll need for training reliable recalls:
- A training treat pouch
- High-value training treats
- A long lead
- A cue word (or sound) of your choosing
- A clicker or marker word (such as “yes”)
Step by step guide to teaching reliable recalls
Step 1: Choose a word and reward for your dog’s recall
Choosing your “come” cue, whether it’s a word or a sound, is the first step.
Tip: If your recall cue is a predictor of negative outcomes, such as getting nails cut or having to stop play, then the cue could become poisoned. In these cases, go get your dog rather than using your recall cue to avoid poisoning it.
Poisoned cues don’t just exist for “come.” If they get bathed every time you yell “bath time!” and this is something they find unpleasant, then “bath time!” is a poisoned cue as well.
Reliable recall cue ideas:
- “To me”
- A whistle
- “Come” in another language
Whatever you choose, make sure it is used consistently by everyone in your home or who cares for your dog.
Step 2: Teach your dog what “come” means
Start by introducing your cue, saying “come” or the equivalent in a cheerful voice, and giving your dog a high-value treat. Repeat this many times until you see that light switch in their eyes – they realize the cue means good things are about to happen.
Your pup doesn’t have to actually come for this step. Make sure your dog hears the cue and gets the treat immediately afterward.
Now begin enticing the dog to come towards you. Do whatever it takes to be exciting enough. As your dog is about to reach you, say, “come.”
Say “yes” or click your clicker as they reach you, gently grasp their collar, treat, and praise.
Step 3: Practice your recalls on-leash
Now that your dog understands what your cue means, it’s time to start putting things into action.
While on a leash, say “come” cheerfully and start running. After 10-15 feet, reward them when you stop. Change up the rewards with different treats, toys, and attention to keep your dog guessing but always excited.
Next, still on a leash, wait until your dog is a few feet away from you. Say “come” and run away. When your dog consistently runs to you and with you during these exercises, it’s time to start practicing off-leash, but in a safe area such as your home or yard.
Step 4: Practice your recalls off-leash
In a safely enclosed and low-distraction environment, start practicing. When your dog is not right beside you but also not in a highly rewarding activity such as chewing on a bone, say “come” and run away. Consistently reinforce with treats and praise.
Tip: Always set your dog (and you) up for success! Avoid calling “come” when they’re not likely to come. You can even say their name first, get their attention, and then use your cue.
Step 5: Practice recalls on walks or in the yard
It’s now time to practice outside on a long lead (a 20-50 feet long leash – not a retractable leash!) and off-leash in a safely enclosed location. Either way, practice using the same steps. Always call them in a loud, cheerful voice and use a high-value reward.
Step 6: Introduce more people and distractions
It’s time to see if your dog will do it for everyone. Gather a few people and give them yummy treats and toys. Take turns calling and running away fast. Reward.
Start adding in different levels of distractions and various types of distractions. Small ones at first such as walking across their recall path, and then bigger ones, like having someone holding a toy or treats in their hand, and then even bigger ones, like tossing the toy in the air and walking across the yard with another dog on a leash.
Step 7: Introduce new environments
Once consistently successful at the previous steps, you can start using your dog’s recall in new locations. At each new site, practice on the long line until you’re sure it’s reliable.
Once you’re confident, you can start using your reliable recall off-leash. Just make sure it’s legal and safe to do so!
Turn real-life activities into real-life rewards
Capture when your dog is naturally coming to you. This isn’t a necessity, but it should tremendously speed up your dog’s reliable recall! Here are some examples:
- Whenever your dog is coming to you, say “come” and reward them when they get to you. Turn everyday life activities into a training opportunity.
- Say “come” when they’re coming to you at mealtime and reward them with their food bowl. A food puzzle bowl can also be a good option here.
- When you get them ready for a walk, say “come” as they come to you at the door and reward them with getting to go for a walk.
- Play fetch and as they’re running back to you, say “come” and reward by tossing their toy again.
Structured training process
Using real-life moments and games can be much more fun for you and your dog when teaching a reliable recall. However, if you like the idea of a structured training session or just want to do a mixture of training styles, this plan works well.
Beforehand, your dog needs to know how to sit (or down) and stay reliably.
A structured training plan for recalls looks like this:
- Ask your dog to sit or lie down.
- Ask them to stay.
- Walk a few steps away.
- Call them to “come.”
- When they complete, praise and reward them.
- Repeat (in short time increments).
Tip: This only needs to be used when you’ve already introduced your cue word, and your dog knows what the cue word means.
Troubleshooting when teaching your dog a reliable recall
Unless you’re just fortunate, there will be times when your dog does not come when called as you are teaching them reliable recall.
Remember not to move on to the next step too quickly. Your goal should be to prevent them from being reinforced for unwanted behaviors and reinforce the behavior you want (coming when called).
Dog reliable recall training: what not to do
- Always sound optimistic and excited when calling your dog, even when you’re not.
- Don’t repeat your cue word.
- Don’t punish them when they come, even if it didn’t go as planned.
- Don’t move too quickly through the steps.
- Don’t be inconsistent. Establish an everyday training schedule for small increments of time.
Trainer that reviewed this article
There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
AnimalKind Training M.Ed. Humane Education Karen Pryor Academy. Certified Training Partner. Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner