How to Positively Teach Your Dog a Reliable Recall. Are You More Interesting Than Dirt?

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Are you more fun than dirt? Think of all the competing distractions for your dog’s attention: food, people, other dogs, squirrels, all the good smells in the dirt. Can you compete with that for your dog’s attention especially with they are off-leash and they don’t have to listen to you when they don’t want to?
In the photo above, Mr. N is ignoring the other people and dogs and the Chuckit to come running back to me when I called him. He loves running after dogs who are chasing a Chuckit ball. We achieved this by:
1. Never using a recall for anything unpleasant. Nail trimming, baths, etc. Mr. N finds leaving the park really hard so instead of telling him to come, I will tell him to wait and catch up with him and put his leash on and treat.
2. Always, always rewarding check-ins. If your dog decides to pop in and check in with you, reward! You want them to think that coming to you is a good thing. Especially of their own volition
3. Practice makes perfect. We practice recall regularly at all levels (low to high distractions). Mr. N’s favorite might be when I call him randomly across the house and share tidbits from cooking in exchange for him zooming over.
4. Punishment is not the answer for not listening. If Mr. N doesn’t listen, the fun ends but I do not yell, scold or use any form of physical punishment. 
5. Don’t call them if you think you won’t come. Unless you’re at least 90 percent sure they will come back, don’t call your dog. You’ll only weaken the cue. Mr. N’s recall is good around just about everything else… but horses are a little iffy. If I see horses, I’ll put him back on leash as a precaution. 
6. Your dog should think they hit the lottery for coming back. Lots of high value treats or whatever else they find intensely rewarding. Mr. N prefers “human food” in the form of meat and cheese. 
7. Work your way up from small distractions to big. Practice indoors first and then once they’re reliable there, practice outdoors with a long line and add more distractions as they progress.
8. It’s helpful working with another dog who has a reliable recall especially if the other dog is young and impressionable. I started teaching a friend’s puppy how to come on cue by having Mr. N do it with him. 
9. Switch to a different cue if yours is tainted. If your dog is blowing you off the majority of the time with your current cue, start fresh with a new one and train from the beginning. I haven’t actually switched cues but a friend has and Mr. N comes to her dog’s new cue as well as his normal one. If I had to switch, I think I’d pick “zombies!”
10. Just say the cue once. Don’t repeat yourself over and over. If I think the environment is particularly distracting, I’ll say it while running in the opposite direction and making high-pitched noises and Mr. N will usually come chase me. 
What have you found effective in teaching a reliable recall? 
Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below.  Our theme for this month is recall but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. Our next hop will begin Monday, April 4th and continues for a week. The theme for April is training for safety and emergencies for National Pet First Aid Awareness Month.

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45 Responses

  1. Christine Caplan

    March 7, 2016 7:54 pm

    Love this: my favorite tip is don't call them if you think they wont come. Totally agree with you as I've set Walter up to fail and tried recall games when his nose is clearly on a critter

    Reply
  2. Kari Neumeyer

    March 7, 2016 9:40 pm

    #10 is also helpful for all the people around you. Yesterday at the park we were hearing "Shadow! SHADOW!" at increasingly louder volumes until finally Shadow went to her mom. I was relieved at least that the woman praised her instead of scolding her for needing to be called 270 times.

    Reply
  3. Jen Gabbard

    March 8, 2016 12:03 am

    Great tips, we've had great success with all of them. Though I do have to admit #1 was a real problem for me to train myself on. I had to keep reminding myself not to use 'come here' for everything which is a hard habit to break.

    Reply
  4. KB Bear

    March 8, 2016 5:12 am

    Those are great tips! I love the idea of yelling "Zombies" 🙂 I've often thought that I'd like to use the word "zoom" for recalls but I've never done it yet!

    Reply
  5. Janet Keefe

    March 8, 2016 4:40 pm

    This is something I haven't worked on a lot, since we rarely let the dogs off leash. We do work on it some in the yard, calling them into the house, and they do pretty well. It is definitely something we want to work on more in the future though, and these are great tips that I'll be able to keep in mind!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    Reply
  6. nalathewonderdog

    March 12, 2016 5:30 am

    These are great tips! We've used nearly all of them to teach our recall–but we don't know any dogs with great recalls, so Nala hasn't been lucky enough to have any dog mentors. Instead, I'm hoping she'll be a good influence when I get a puppy someday!

    I think I'm more interesting than the vast majority of dirt. I'm not more interesting than cat poop, though. Nala will drop chicken bones and come away from a bowl of food if I call her–but not cat poop, which she gulps down *while* coming back. Sigh.

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  7. Golden Daily Scoop

    December 16, 2016 4:41 pm

    These are some great tips! The Goldens do really well on recall when I am one on one with them. When we are all together, it's a different story sometimes. But I know the more we practice the better it will get. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Jane H

    December 17, 2016 12:53 am

    Great tips, hard to choose one favorite, but I really like your idea of switching up the word. We actually have a special code word that all the dogs know means you better get to that designated spot no questions asked. We only use this command in emergency situations, like a unknown loose dog on our property or a vehicle pulling down the driveway walking down the road.

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  9. Talent Hounds

    December 17, 2016 5:15 pm

    Mr N is such a good boy – these are great tips. I need to practise more with Kilo. He doesn't always come for come but the crackling of a food or treat bag gets him every time.

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  10. Princely Paws

    December 18, 2016 4:01 am

    I love the tips you have used to get Mr N to come while you call out to him especially about not punishing him when he does not come back. Training with patience and consistency is the key to any good recall

    Reply
  11. Dash Kitten

    December 18, 2016 6:30 pm

    * sigh * I wish I could get Silver to come when he's called. I yell for hours at the back door and I'm sure he only comes in to stop the embarrasing yelling 'SILVERRRRRRRRR' 😉

    Reply
  12. FiveSibesMom

    December 18, 2016 10:08 pm

    Great post! While Siberian Huskies are notorious for tough recall training (Some refuse to do recall, they think *they* know best!), treat works best here with my FiveSibes, or just a simple shake of the treat bag has them come running (thankfully), in our secure fenced in yard, of course!

    Reply
  13. Cathy Armato

    December 18, 2016 10:54 pm

    Great training advice! I practice our emergency recall, which is different from our day to day recall. It's a higher value reward, Bacon, & works very well in the presence of Distractions.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    Reply
  14. Robin Mudge

    December 19, 2016 8:00 am

    You are so right about the impact of punishments and "not fun" activities on training a pet. Cats are not big on recall to begin with, but it will take a long time to rebuild trust if you call them over to you just to put them in a situation they don't want to be in. It is great that Mr. N is so well behaved when it comes to recall!
    -Purrs from your friends at http://www.PlayfulKitty.net

    Reply
  15. Lindsay Pevny

    December 19, 2016 8:53 am

    My favorite way to recall is by whistling, they really respond to it, but a happy voice works well too. The long line is great at the park, especially in big fields that nobody is using, so my dogs can enjoy the environment without running into trouble. There's not a lot of places I can take my dogs off-leash, but they don't seem to mind the long lines, I rarely have to actually reel them back in.

    Reply
  16. Elizabeth Keene

    December 19, 2016 5:50 pm

    Mr. N has the best recall (from reading your posts, especially the squirrel distraction one) that I think I've ever seen. I learned how to train recall in puppy class with both corgis, many years ago. Dewi is still pretty good if he can see me and I'm overly animated (he's got HIGH play motivation), but JF's recall sucks. I've got some remedial obedience training on my radar.

    Reply

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