Training your dog to come, or recall as it is also known, is one of the most important things you can teach him. It could, literally save his life one day.
There are many ways to teach recall, one very simple method to try is this: When your dog is coming towards say his name and the word “come” in an excited tone. Give him a treat and heaps of praise when he gets to you.
Why is it important to teach your dog to come?
Aside from the fact we want our dogs to listen to us, teaching your dog a solid recall is about safety.
- If he’s running towards the road
- Off leash and getting too far out of your sight
- Escapes from your backyard
- What seems to be an aggressive dog is coming towards him
- He’s about to chase a squirrel or other creature
When not to call your dog to come
As important as it is for your dog to listen when you ask him to come, it’s also important to know when not to use this command. If he hates having drops put in his eyes for example, or would rather do anything than take a bath, don’t ask him to come. If you call him over to do something he finds unpleasant, there will be a negative association attached to the word “come” and he won’t listen. That’s a lot of great training effort down the drain.
How long does it take to teach a dog recall?
It can take months for your dog to learn a consistent recall before it’s safe to let him off a leash. Lots of practice in different situations and locations will be key to this training.
Getting ready for recall training
Rewarding a dog as soon as he does what you ask is the quickest path to success. If it takes time for your dog to get that reward because you have to go into the next room or you’re fumbling in your pocket, he won’t make the connection. The reward must immediately follow the behavior or action.
Use the same cue every time
The easiest cue to use is the word “come.”
Practice, practice, practice
Recall is a tough thing for a dog to learn, or I should say consistent recall. You need to practice it a lot in a variety of locations, situations, and with a variety of distractions.
Reward your dog for listening
You need to show your dog that coming when you call him is more rewarding than ignoring you. It can be tough at times, especially when he’s about to chase that squirrel across the road. For that reason he needs to know he’s getting something amazing.
For this training use the food your dog loves the most, and will do almost anything to have. For every dog that will be different, so if you aren’t quite sure what will work try various types to find what he responds to best. At the beginning you’ll want to be generous with the treats, but as your dog progresses you won’t need to use such big pieces. You don’t want him to gain weight or get an upset stomach.
Since you must reward your dog immediately, a treat pouch is the best thing to use.
Some of the foods to try:
- Deli meat
- Boiled chicken
- Hot dogs
- Freeze dried treats
- Homemade treats – lots of easy to make recipes on Pinterest
Lots of praise
Some dogs respond better to praise than they do food, so that may be a more motivating reward.
A favorite toy
Your dog may have a toy he absolutely loves, so when you’re doing recall training in the house, use that as a reward.
Whatever you use, whether it’s one or a combination, it has to be fabulous enough for him to leave what he’s doing and go to you. It could be when training outside a treat will work better, while in other situations he’d be happy with a lot of praise and fuss.
How to get your dog to come back when you call him
There are lots of ways to teach your dog to come when you call, but no matter which training scenarios you set up, each one involves saying his name then the word “come.”
Below you will find a few examples to get you started, feel free to create your own challenges as well. In any training you want to set your dog up for success so start with something easy and gradually make it more challenging but that will take many weeks or even months.
When he’s gotten really good at responding, you could ask him to sit before giving him a treat. You don’t need to do that every time, once in awhile is okay.
Helpful tip: As your dog is coming/running towards you, let him know he’s on the right track by saying something like “yes” or “good boy” in a really excited voice, even clap your hands and say “yay.” That will give him even more reason to keep going towards you.
Keep training sessions to 5-10 minutes at a time, or your dog may get fed up. It’s always best to end training on a high note meaning when he did what you asked.
Keep treats within easy reach, you never know when a training moment will come up and you want to be ready…just like in method one below.
When you see your dog walking towards you in the house for example, call his name, say “come” and give him a treat. What a great training opportunity!
This method is for two people.
Stand a distance apart from each other, then take turns calling your dog – say his name, come and give him a treat. If he wanders off you may be standing too far away from the other person, so move closer.
If you call him and he’s not responding, do what you can to encourage him – getting more animated may help.
Call him randomly while you’re facing him.
Can him when your back is turned.
Call him when you’re sitting down.
Call him from another room.
Practice somewhere less familiar but still familiar. For instance, if you live in an apartment, do some recall training in the hallway. If you have another person to help, stand a short distance from each other, take turns calling your dog and rewarding. Over time increase the space between you.
To make it even more challenging, when you’re a good distance apart introduce a third person to stand in the middle.
You’ve done lots of recall training in various places inside, and while you’ll still keep that up it’s now time to try it outside.
Keeping your dog on a long leash, go into your backyard. Keeping him on a leash is perfect if your yard isn’t fenced in, but even if it is it will prevent him from getting distracted.
Give him a chance to sniff around first, then standing or sitting call him just like you’ve been doing inside. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t do as well to begin with, because now there are lots of sights, sounds and smells competing for his attention.
If he’s not really paying attention, stand close to him and in your excited voice say your dog’s name and come. Run slowly backwards, enticing your dog to follow then reward him. You may have to reward him for every step or two he takes towards you, particularly if he’d rather smell the grass than listen to you.
Now it’s time to challenge him in the park. At first go when it’s quiet, or at least where there aren’t any other dogs or people. Unless you’re in a fenced in area, please practice this a lot when he’s on a long training leash.
This is about introducing distractions and can be done whether you’re training inside or out.
Standing really close to your dog and with a squeaky toy in your hand squeak it a few times, drop it on the floor, call your dog’s name, show her the treat, take a few steps back, and when she follows her the treat. If your dog hates squeaky toys use something else.
Next throw the toy, not too far from your dog. As she’s going towards it call her name, come and treat. She may be looking back at the toy, so keep calling her, showing her the treat, walking backwards to distract her away from it and keeping her focus on you.
Another big challenge is putting a bowl of food or treats down near her. This would also be a good opportunity to practice the “leave it” command you’ve been teaching. You want to do the same thing as you did with the toy – being very enthusiastic when you call her, trying to get her focused on you.
Keep a close eye on your dog because if it looks like she’s going to make a beeline for the food, pick the bowl up. It’s best not to let her get to it because the next time you try it she’ll be focused even more on the food.
IMPORTANT: There is no rush to work your way through this training, it won’t help her learn recall any faster. In fact, not spending enough time at each step can set her back. If she’s not listening to you when it’s just the two of you in the house, there’s no chance she’ll pay any attention when you’re calling her in the park.
How to teach a dog to come without treats
Is there a reason why you don’t want to use treats for training? Unless your dog has no interest in food, treats make training easier. It will likely take months before you’re able to wean your dog off them, and that’s okay.
If you’re concerned about him eating too much don’t give him huge pieces and speak to your vet about the possibility of reducing his meals slightly to compensate.
When we were teaching our dog Jack recall, he quickly learned that he got food by running back and forth between the two of us. He didn’t even wait for one of us to call him before he was halfway there. That certainly was not teaching him to listen, so sometimes we gave him a treat, and sometimes we didn’t. It kept him guessing and kept him coming with high hopes!
We still give him treats to this day because that’s what he responds to, but not as often. Now my husband just gives him treats because he’s so cute…don’t get me started on that!!
What to do if your dog won’t come when called
♦ You may need to ramp up the level of enthusiasm you use to call him.
♦ Check you’re not too far away from him too early on in the training.
♦ Let him chase you a bit then reward him.
♦ If you’ve just started recall in the backyard, it’s normal for him to be distracted by the grass, smells etc… Give him a few minutes.
♦ Sometimes you need to show him the treat first to motivate him.
♦ If your dog hasn’t been walked or had any exercise before the training session, he could have too much pent up energy to pay attention. Stop what you’re doing, take him for a walk then try.
♦ Stop calling him. All you’re doing is repeating the same word, likely getting more anxious and frustrated each time until you’re yelling at him.
♦ You may have been at it for too long and he’s bored, so shorten the length of your sessions for now.
♦ Maybe he’s bored of getting the same treat all the time. I know he loved it, but it could be time for something else.
♦ If you’re in the park and someone else is so interesting to your dog he’s ignoring you, go up to your dog, show him the treat up close, walk a few feet away then call him to come.
How to catch a dog that won’t come back
While our instinct is to chase a dog who runs away from us, it doesn’t work and can even put the dog in great danger.
Run away from him so he, hopefully starts chasing you. That may present you with the opportunity to lure him into someone’s garden, a building or even a car.
Teach your dog to stay or wait. Using that command may get him to stop, and holding a treat out to him as he approaches may enable you to leash him.
This article “Loose Dog? Don’t chase! Stop, Drop and Lie Down” has some good advice on what to do if your dog gets loose or runs off during this training.
Can every dog learn recall?
Every dog can learn recall, but the important question is how well can they learn it and will it be enough to allow them to be off leash in an unfenced in area. Since it depends on how much training they’ve received, there will be plenty of instances where a dog’s recall is not good enough to allow him to be safe off a leash.
If that’s the case with your dog, a long training lead will give him some freedom to run around and play, while keeping him safe.
For information about my virtual training and dog care consultancy service, and to book an appointment, please visit my services page.