Teach Your Dog a Reliable Recall

Black Nero has reliable recall – he comes when he is called

We have all been there haven’t we?  That horrible experience of a complete and utter recall disaster.  Yes, that moment when you are out and about with your dog who is enjoying themselves exploring the countryside or the local park.  Suddenly it starts absolutely pouring it down with rain and sensibly you want to put your dog back on their lead and head home to dry off.  All very logical and simple surely? Um well it would be if your dog came when called instead of bounding off in the opposite direction.  Typical!

Perhaps you are walking your dog before work and you have an important meeting which you must not be late for.  Your walk has been going so well, your dog is by your side, behaving perfectly.  Time to head back so as not to be late.  Suddenly your dog gets a whiff of the the most exciting smell ever in the history of scents known to dogkind.  Will they come when called?  You guessed it, no!

If neither of these scenarios sound familiar, trust us when we say, wow we are impressed and a little jealous too (getting drenched whilst your dog runs in the opposite direction isn’t fun, trust us)!

What is Reliable Recall?

Very simply, reliable recall is when you call your dog to come and they respond by coming, no matter what the situation.  Whilst it is one of the most important aspects to train your dog in, it’s also most probably the most frustrating and can prove to be challenging to get a dog to do it reliably.

Teaching your dog to come to you when called in your garden or during a group obedience training is not the hard part and most dogs will achieve this beautiful in such settings.

Then you enter the real world with your dog and the perfect recall during a formal training session is ignored, forgotten, and you are left scratching your head as to whether your recall training was in fact just a dream.

No it wasn’t a dream, not at all.  You are, however, in the real world now with your dog, you are no longer in the ‘classroom’.  Life is exciting, your recall is falling on deaf ears, there are so many fun and exciting distractions in the real world.

Decisions, decisions, where to explore next?

The Importance of Recall

One of the first things the team at Benafim Dogs say to adopters is to not let their new furry family member off the lead too soon.  We ask all adopters to wait until they are certain they have trained their dog to come when called.  Until that moment we recommend either a long lead or an extendable one so that your dog still gets to enjoy more freedom on walks.

Reliable recall is so important for one main reason:

Safety – Reliable recall can prevent a number of dangerous and life-threatening situations. Being hit by a car, running away, getting lost, roaming, approaching or being approached by an aggressive dog, interacting with wildlife, getting into in dog fights, hurting someone, falling into the wrong hands to name a few.

Why Do Some Dogs Ignore Recall?

When you call your dog, you have to understand that your dog will be wanting to know what is in it for them?  It may sound selfish from a human perspective but dogs don’t have an understanding or need of selfish, sharing and what’s right or wrong for example.

What your dog is doing when you call them is weighing up the situation, the reward versus what they are currently doing.  If you are at home in your garden, the likelihood is what you have to offer: dinner, a walk, a cuddle perhaps, is going to be more rewarding than ‘not having much to do in the garden’.  A successful recall takes place, you feel confident, happy and think you have got this supposedly challenging recall training sussed.

But the next day you take your dog to the park and let them off the lead confident they will come back when called.   Your dog suddenly gets the scent of a rabbit or finds some friends to play with and when you call your dog you do not get the response you were hoping for – that they come bounding back to you immediately.  Instead they glance at you briefly holding the lead and continue to ignore you.

At this moment your dog is faced with two choices:

  • Go back to an unhappy looking you and to have their lead put on and taken home or,
  • Continue to play with their friends or follow the scent of the rabbit they are so eager to find.

We know what we would choose if we were the dog in this situation.  The second option of course!  But your dog isn’t human.  Absolutely no emotion, punishment, loyalty or any humanistic trait came into play when they decided to ignore you.  It was purely based on what the highest reward was to them at that very moment.

It is  important to not take your dog’s choice personally. They are not ignoring you out of spite or to be mean or because they don’t love you.  They are choosing the most rewarding option, it is that simple.

Note: You should never call your dog back and then put them on the lead.  Your dog will learn that coming back to you is the end of the fun and will ignore you.  Instead, call your dog back, when they respond positively reward your dog, make a fuss of them, play a game and then put your dog on a lead.

Indy requires constant recall training

How To Teach Your Dog a Reliable Recall

Firstly it is vital your dog knows how to sit and stay before you move onto training recall.  Our guide Teach Your Dog 4 Basic Commands contains all the steps to follow to teach these to your dog as well as the basic “come” command.

Important Before You Start

  • Your aim is to make your dog think that coming to you is the BEST thing ever – that it is so so so much better than whatever distraction they may be when off lead in the park or the middle of the countryside;
  • Be enthusiastic – smiley, open with your body language;
  • Think about your tone of voice.  Your recall command must be delivered in a cheerful tone of voice.
  • Your recall command must always be the same word such as “come” or “here”
  • Your recall word must always mean to your dog that something absolutely amazing will happen when they respond to your command.
  •  Never raise your voice or deliver your recall word in an angry voice. However frustrated you are if your dog is not being obedient, using an angry tone will, more than likely, make your dog run away from you rather than towards you.

Repetition and Reinforcement are Key

Reinforcing the training is vital!  Your dog needs ongoing and regular training. This is another area where sadly so many people tend to make mistakes. Most people don’t reinforce their dog anywhere near enough. They give mediocre rewards, or they reward only during what they consider the training phase, and then stop rewarding when they figure the dog is trained. Therefore the trained behaviour deteriorates. Don’t make that mistake: always make sure your rewards are the BEST.

What counts as an amazing reward?

Your primary reward will be food, because it’s a fast way to build strong behaviours.

Food rewards for recalls should always be high-value, i.e. something the dog really, really, really loves. Think chicken, think steak, think of the one food your dog will do anything for.   Think of what is the one food that will stop your dog chasing that rabbit or trying to join a group of people’s barbecue.

It has to be the BEST.

Maya receives a high value treat for coming when called

Play Fun Games

Play games to make the training more interesting – the last thing you want is boring repetitive recall sessions where your dog (and you) dread them and are stifling yawns.

Forget long, boring, “serious” recall training drills. It’s better to think in terms of short, sweet training games. Not because recall isn’t serious, the opposite, it is but the training can be made fun.

Training games are the best way to build reliable behaviours. They teach the dog that coming when called is more exciting than whatever else they were doing. They also help to improve the bond between you and your dog. Your dog learns that you are amazing and you are the provider of good things.

Another benefit of treating training like a game is that us humans  tend to be relaxed and happy when we play games. Dogs like it when we’re relaxed and happy, and are more likely to engage with us. Therefore training is more effective, therefore the dog gets trained faster and better.

Indy is exhausted after a fun game to reinforce recall

Most dogs are excited by chasing and fast movement. Incorporate this into your training to build enthusiastic recalls:

Tag: get your dog’s attention, then recall them and run in the opposite direction. When they get to you, drop the treat on the ground. While they stop to grab it, run away and call them again.

Flying treats: call your dog as you normally would, but when they get to you, don’t hand them the treat – throw it or roll it across the floor.

Restrained recalls: Ask a friend to hold your dog’s collar while you walk away. Get their attention and “tease” them by making noises, clapping your hands, waving a toy, etc. When your dog is super excited, say your recall cue. That’s your friends’s cue to let go of your dog’s collar.

Distraction Proof Your Dog

Don’t do these until your dog has had a lot of practice with regular recall training.

Put your dog on a lead, then throw a treat just out of their reach. While your dog pulls to get the treat, recall them. If they ignore you, start gently reeling them in with the lead. When they get to you, reward, reward, reward!

Do this until your dog is proficient, and expand on the concept:  Take your dog for a walk through a park or field, on a long training lead. Once in a while, stop moving and recall your dog. When they get to you, praise and send them to go back to whatever they were sniffing.

Expand some more:  Are there dogs or people your dog wants to play with? Recall, then send them off to go and play.

The more successful recalls you get, the more reliable your recall cue will be. Every day, get as much recall practice as you can. You don’t need to do long training sessions – in fact, you shouldn’t. You don’t want your to get bored. Do two or three five-minute training sessions per day. And get in a few single repetitions at random times.

Practice in less formal situations

Your dog is observant.They can tell when you’re preparing for a training session, and will be thinking to themselves: “Okay, this is the thing where my human calls me loads and gives me yummy treats for five minutes. I’m GOOD at this.” Outside of training sessions, they can be less responsive. Throughout the day, when your dog is doing their own thing around the house, do a recall. When they get to you, do something super fun (int he eyes of your dog): either run to the kitchen and get a treat or grab their favourite toy and play.

Dreaming after some fun training

How Long Will Training My Dog Take?

It is impossible to give a timescale to the length of time it will take to train your dog to come when called.  So many factors come into play such as your dog’s breed, age, the relationship you have with your dog and the amount of time you put into training and the patience you have.


Did you know that dogs learn more in the first 16 weeks of their lives times ten?  In the same way that children are like sponges and absorb information easily, puppies in their first few months soak up information.  Don’t worry though about adopting an older dog.  All dogs can be taught reliable recall no matter the age.  it is never too late to train a dog however the earlier you start, the easier it will be.


There are certain breeds who naturally have a high prey drive such as gun dogs.  Instinct can take over if not managed correctly which in turn can reduce some of their senses.    The sense that is often switched off is hearing. So when we are calling our dogs and put their ignoring us down to selective hearing or being plain stubborn this isn’t actually necessarily accurate.  In actual fact, genetics often take over. Without training we cannot cut through the desire to either hunt, chase or herd.

Us humans aren’t actually that dissimilar and can display this behaviour.  There are times when we are so gripped by something we are watching on TV or on our phones that if someone started talking to us we would hear ‘noise’ but wouldn’t register the content.  The vital part of a film is just about to be revealed and someone starts to talk to you about accounts or bills to be paid, our brains are so focused on the film that they have de-tuned to anything outside of what we are concentrating on.  Admittedly most of us would de-tune and try and avoid those conversations without the film!  Joking aside, if we were trained to tune into a particular cue relating to accounts or bills and the meaning of this cue meant fun, food an AMAZING reward, we would be much more likely to pause or switch off the film.

The Bond Between Your Dog and You

Lee shows Jambo and Star he is far more fun than all the countryside scents

Learn what your dog loves and do more of it. It may sound obvious but if your dog hates chicken then don’t use chicken as a high value reward during recall training.  In the same way that if your dog does not enjoying playing games, such as retreiving or chasing then don’t use those examples to train your dog.

Spend with your dog, observe them, try new things, try old things again, build on your current relationship with your dog to an even stronger one.


As with all training recall training requires work from you, effort, time and patience.  Recall is such an important tool for your dog and you to work on for their safety as well as others.  In return for all your efforts, which may at times feel like they are falling on deaf ears (quite literally), you will be able to enjoy walking your dog off the lead.  Once you establish what it is that will get your dog’s attention, what it is that is truly such high value to them that nothing else matters, the world will feel like a much bigger place to explore. The fun you have whilst training your dog is unbeatable and the bond between the two of you will go from strength to strength.  A win, wins situation. Enjoy and have fun!