Perfect Recall

Getting Started

Recall is one of the most difficult things to teach a dog. Especially perfect recall. It requires lots of practice and patience. We are usually trying to recall our dogs when they are very excited about something (a dog, a squirrel, a leaf) and they don’t want to leave or idle by next to you. It’s just not exciting or rewarding enough.

Practice the following:

  1. In the yard or a park, call the dog over for no good reason at all, praise them as they are coming to you, then reward them. After a few repetitions, whenever the dog looks at you and starts to move towards you, add the verbal cue (come, here, etc.). Make sure to only add in the cue when you are confident the dog is moving towards you. Then let them go to play again. Keep repeating every couple of minutes. It’s common for dogs to associate coming to you with stopping all the fun.

  2. Get their attention and play very fun and engaging games with them in an environment that offers lots of distractions. Fetch, tug, agility runs, or any games that makes you the most exciting object in the surrounding area. Belly rubs and pets and affection isn’t as effective as it lowers their excitement level. Your interactions have to be much, much more exciting and interesting to the dog than their other options. If you do decide to play fetch, have more than one ball because you want to keep the dog focused on you, not for you to run after the dog trying to get the ball back.

It’s much more effective to start this when it’s very quiet at the park and nobody is (or as close to nobody as possible) around. And then build up to busier/more active times. I suggest you start the training with a leash as well (we use 60ft leashes to work on recall), to give the dog a little reminder that you’re expecting a behavior - don’t use it to pull them toward you.

You can slowly up the ante by asking the dog to come before showing them the treat. But, be sure to reward with a high-value treat when they get to you. Also, try slowly adding distance within your low-distraction environment.

If you’re playing in a park, remember that you can’t (shouldn’t) use treats or special toys, as it will draw the attention of the other dogs.

You can practice recall at home or on your street and either ask someone to distract the dog away from you or to throw some treats in the grass to keep her occupied on a task. Then practice recall.

A common training mistake is to recall the dog, put the leash on, and go home. Dogs will likely learn to view recall as a sign that the fun is over. Understandably, this may make them less likely to come in the future. One good method of practice is to recall, praise, and treat, then release the dog to return to whatever fun thing they were doing before.

The easiest way to poison a cue is to overuse it by repeating the word over and over without the dog responding. In this case, the best thing to do is to change the verbal cue to something new.

Don’t repeat yourself. If you have to repeat your recall cue, the environment may be too distracting. Or, the dog doesn’t understand the skill well enough for the level you are trying to train.

Reward eye contact. When you notice the dog is looking at you or has self-selected to be close to you, verbally praise and treat. You may use a lot of treats at first, but you are reinforcing an important lesson to the dog. Being near you and paying attention to you makes good things happen.

Never punish the dog for coming to you. Even if you’re frustrated because the pup took their time before coming, you still should always praise a recall.

Recall Games

Catch Me

While walking the dog on-leash, get their attention, then turn around and run a few steps. As the pup moves with you, say “come!”. After a few steps, stop and reward with a treat or a toy. Make sure the dog is paying attention before you run, to ensure they don’t get yanked by the leash.

Find Me

Once the dog has gotten the hang of recall, a fun game to play to build speed is to call them from another room. When the dog finds you, offer lots of praise and rewards.

Hot Potato

Requires several people to stand apart and take turns calling the dog between you. Reward the dog each time they come to the person who called them.

Paperplate Recall