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How to train dog recall

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Nearly everyone we meet at All Positive Dog Services would like their dog to have a more reliable recall. So, we’ve put together this blog to explain how to teach your dog recall, how to improve recall and how to work on recall when your dog is distracted.


Improve dog recall

What is dog recall?

Dog recall is a simple behaviour where your dog acknowledges and returns to you when called.



How to train dog recall

To begin training dog recall, you first first pair the cue you want to use (either a whistle or a phrase such as ‘puppy puppy’ in a high pitched voice) with a reward. For example, blow the whistle and feed immediately, whistle and feed, whistle and feed and so on. Repeat this at least 60 times at home or in the garden before putting it into practice so it builds the idea for your dog that the whistle (or phrase) = a reward (such as pate or cheese). If using a phrase, choose something other than their name, as they hear their name a lot and so it doesn’t mean anything to them as it is so overused. Once you have successfully paired the cue with a reward, call your dog back and immediately reward when they come back to you. To maintain good recall, always go out for walks with high value treats in your pocket, and reward your dog every time they return to you. To enhance this reward, carry an extra-ordinary treat that your dog will absolutely LOVE (but something they don’t get that often) such as a slice of steak from last night’s dinner, a new rabbit skin tug toy or a squeaky tennis ball, and give it to them just once or twice on your walk when they return to you. Then repeat, repeat, repeat!



Are dog whistles good for recall?

Dog whistles are great for recall, as dogs respond best to short, high pitched noises which whistles can provide.

My dog won’t come back when called

You are wondering why is my dog's recall so bad? Your dog’s recall might be bad because you have overused the recall cue or been attempting to recall when your dog is distracted (so the recall cue turns into white noise), you don’t use exciting enough rewards (so they don’t have enough incentive to come back to you) or they have had opportunities to go ‘self employed’, such as a spaniel being left to run off lead flushing birds and sniffing, which leads to your dog finding their environment far more stimulating and rewarding than engaging with you.



How to improve dog recall

Rewarding a behaviour makes it more likely to occur again, so make the most of every opportunity to reward and encourage dog recall - even when it is by their own choice and not by your request. When your dog decides to come back to you unprompted, drop them a treat or play a game of tug to strengthen the idea that good things happen when your dog is near you. Also use a long line so your dog can't run off and go self employed. Once focused on you, you can let them just trail the line. Continue to play/interact with them so off lead time becomes about interaction with you!


Dog recall when distracted

If your dog’s recall is not great when distracted, put them on a long line or lead so you can both work on recall training without the worry of your dog running off to hunt squirrels, meet the neighbours dog at the park or chase a scent, etc. This helps break the habit of running off and stops your dog being able to practice ignoring your recall. Don’t think of it as “avoiding the problem” but instead as “managing the environment”, which enables you to improve your dog’s recall to a stage where it is more reliable and allows your dog to safely enjoy freedom off-lead.



Which dogs have the best recall?

In our experience, the dogs with the best recall are those who have experienced recall training from a young age and encouraged to check in frequently with their owner. Although some dog breeds may be more inclined to have better recall, the skill can depend upon so many factors, so they would not be guaranteed to have good recall and individual dogs from other breeds may surpass them in this skill.


Which dogs have the worst recall?

Dog breeds bred to hunt and use their noses often have the worst recall, as their natural instinct takes over and you become far less interesting than what they are focusing on! In addition, any dog that has been able to hunt on their own or run up to other dogs and play often have poor recall and it is much harder to undo this, but not impossible - the key to improving their recall is making the interaction with you as their owner more rewarding than they find the environment to be.



Dog recall training with All Positive Dog Services

If you want to learn dog recall training, improve your dog’s recall or struggling with a dog that does not want to come back to you, book a one-to-one training session with one of our behaviourists and let’s get working on a rock solid recall!

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