This post contains affiliate links.
Ah, recall. This seems to be the mystical and elusive behavior that everyone wants their dog to perfect but no one can get. Something like 90% of clients who sign up for obedience classes say that they want a “great recall,” usually along with a sensational stay and to incredible focus in the presence of distractions.
I’ll admit, recall wasn’t something I had worried too much about until we moved last fall. When we moved, I knew we’d be spending a lot more time outside, so I wanted to make sure Buster had a fabulous recall for those times he’s chewing a stick that he shouldn’t be or when we need to actually go back inside the house. I started re-training his recall from step one, and now while I’ll try not to brag, he has a pretty darn fabulous recall, if I do say so myself.
Here are my 5 Tips and Tricks for Training a Reliable Recall
1.) Pick a recall word and be consistent. Bonus points if it’s a word not used in everyday conversation. A lot of people use “come,” “here,” “come here,” “return,” “to me,” but I’ve also heard crazy ones like, “bananas” and “squirrel.” A word in a different language works well too, as long as you can remember that in a high intensity recall situation (think about calling your dog back after he darts into a street, even though we hope that never happens). Buster’s word is “here.”
2.) Use extra special high value treats that you use only for recall work, especially in the beginning of the training process.
Recall is hard – you’re asking your dog to leave an exciting environment to come back to boring ol’ you (sorry, but it’s the truth). Your dog will be way happier and more likely to respond to something like meat, cheese, liver, etc. Please don’t even think about using something like kibble or green beans, because you’d just be setting your dog up for failure.
2a.) This tip really adds on to #2 above. Give your dog a jackpot. Jackpots are 3+ small treats given one after the other in succession – not to be confused with giving 3+ treats all at one time. When your dog does a recall with added difficulty (maybe the neighbor next door made a huge noise or maybe one of your kids was tossing a ball around on the other side of the yard, etc.), give your dog a jackpot. This teaches your dog that not only does he get extra special treats when he comes to you when called but that sometimes he also gets a ton of those extra special treats. This teaches your dog that gambling is a good and addictive thing. He’ll never know when he gets a ton of those extra special treats, so he’ll likely work harder every time in hopes of that.
3.) Never ever use a recall to call your dog to you to do anything negative. Don’t ever call your dog to you to punish him or take him away from something fun, etc.
For example: if you have the luxury of walking your dog off-leash in a large park (once his recall is reliable, of course) recall your dog several times throughout your outing. Call your dog to you and leash him up for several minutes, but then unleash him and let him roam free again. Repeat this every 15 minutes or so. This is using what we call a life or environmental reward. Your dog wants to run around free, so we’ll let him do that once he comes when called and walks on a leash for a bit. On the other hand, if the only time you ever called your dog to you in the park was to leash him up to take him home, he’ll likely stop coming when called. For most dogs, getting in a car to go home is no where near as exciting or rewarding as running free in a park.
4.) This is especially important in the early phases of training, but only use your recall word when you know that your dog will come to you.
It typically looks something like this: go outside in your backyard with your dog (make sure to bring your delicious recall treats) and keep an eye on him. Make sure you’re only a few feet away from your dog, but when your dog looks up at you, use your happiest voice and kissy noises and playful physical movements to get your dog to come to you. Once your dog is in the process of running to you, use your recall word. If you keep saying “Come, Buddy!” while he’s digging a hole or barking at passerbys, your dog will not leave those exciting things to come to you. Then your dog will learn to ignore you and learn that “Come, Buddy” really doesn’t mean anything. Remember to set your dog up for success, and remember that we want to teach your dog to associate the behavior of running towards you with the recall word, “Come, Buddy!”
5.) Teach your dog that being near you is a good thing, so that they’ll frequently come by to “check-in.” This is a nice behavior that pairs nicely with a recall and really solidifies the recall.
It typically looks something like this: When you go outside with your dog, carry treats with you. Let your dog sniff and walk around and play, but everytime your dog comes near you, reward him. This teaches him that being near you is good, so he’s more likely to come to you on his own terms to check-in with you. Everytime we go to our huge training field and I let Buster off-leash, he’ll run around like crazy, but he typically runs huge circles around me and every 5 minutes or so will just run up and sit at my feet. I reward him for this. This automatically teaches him that he gets rewarded for being near me, so his recall is stronger, and he often doesn’t even feel the need to go too far away from me to begin with.
These are the tips and tricks that I followed when teaching Buster his recall from scratch, and while I’ll try not to boast and whatnot, he does have one of the best recalls I’ve ever seen. I can get him to stop barking at deer on the outside of our fence in the dark and come running towards me on a dime as fast as he possibly can, so I’d say that’s a pretty phenomenal recall.
For additional resources on how to train a perfect, reliable recall, these are great:
Do you have any special tips or tricks that you follow when teaching your dogs a solid recall?