Learning how to train your dog to come when called can be a difficult task, but it’s not impossible.
Recall training is an important skill for your dog to learn because it helps keep them safe. If you follow the simple, actionable steps in this post you will be able to train your dog to reliably come when called.
Keep on reading for information about why this skill is so important, the reason why some owners find recall training difficult, and the simple steps we recommend to turn your dog into a recall pro!
Let’s get started.
Why is recall an important skill to learn?
Have you ever answered the front door for a delivery person and suddenly your dog darts by before you can react?
Suddenly they’re in the road and no matter how many times you shout their name or tell them to, “Come back here right now!” they stubbornly refuse to return home.
Teaching your dog near-perfect recall means that in an emergency you will be able to get their attention away from something dangerous – and have your pup come back to you where they are safe.
Why is it so hard to get my dog to come when called?
Some people assume that their dog will learn to come when called without being trained to do so. The problem is, most dogs won’t come if you just say their name or they think something bad will happen if they do.
Sometimes you can recall train your dog accidentally, in response to cues like picking up a leash, opening a bag of treats, or announcing that you’re going for a walk. Since those things are always good, when they happen your dog will come to you consistently.
If this sounds familiar, be happy!
Accidental recall training can be used to your advantage. Just make sure that when you start training on purpose, you’re prepared to reward the appropriate response to your recall cue EVERY TIME. This will ensure that your dog is always excited to come when called.
How to train your dog to come when called in 3 (or 2!) simple steps
Recall training is tricky because dogs always live in the moment. This sense of joy in the moment is one of the reasons we love dogs so much, but this training asks our friends to stop paying attention to what interests them and focus us. To succeed, being near you always needs to be the best thing they could be doing.
Starting from scratch
Take Note: Start your recall training in a quiet, low-distraction environment. Inside your house in the same room as your dog is ideal.
Step 1: Start by showing your dog something you know they’re going to LOVE! Something high value, not just kibble. This varies for every dog (some are more motivated by food, others interactive toys or attention).
Step 2: When your dog notices and comes towards you, praise them and give them the reward. Do this several times, then add a verbal cue like “come” or “here” when your dog sees the bait and starts to approach you.
Step 3: When your dog consistently comes to you when you show a reward and give your cue, move on to the next step. Use your cue without showing them what the reward is, but make sure it’s high value! Praise and reward your dog for successfully responding to the cue.
If you find that your dog is suddenly struggling to move on to the next step, don’t punish them or get frustrated. When you need to or your dog isn’t focused, take a break!
A slow approach is sometimes best, so set your dog up for success by fine tuning what they can do first.
This video does an excellent job of exploring the basics of recall training and explains why occasionally taking a step back can be useful (with an adorable corgi named Cheeto demonstrating):
Building on Accidental Recall Training
Accidental recall training happens when your dog learns that a thing/sound/smell always means something good is going to happen, so your dog always comes in response to that thing.
Let’s use the example of picking up a leash.
When you pick up your dog’s leash they know they get to go for a walk. Since your dog loves walks, they run to you every time they see you pick up the leash. To turn this accidental recall into an intentional one…
- Pick up the leash. When your dog notices and starts to come over, use your cue.
- Practice this a few times, then start training by using the cue first. For example, go over to where the leash is and call your dog’s name. If they look say, “come” and pick up the leas. Give them praise when they move towards you; the walk is the reward
This method is simplistic but effective, because it takes into consideration the things your dog is already crazy about. These things become the rewards your dog expects when you call them dog over.
The American Kennel Club recommends these three games to help your dog learn consistent recall. These games will test your dog’s new skill by adding elements like distance and distraction:
1. Catch Me
While walking your dog on a leash, get their attention. Once you know they are focused on you, move a few steps in the opposite direction (careful not to yank their leash). If they move towards you give your cue and take a few more playful steps away. When they come to you reward and praise them.
2. Find Me
Once your dog has a reliable recall when close to you, test their new skill by trying to get them to come to you from another room in the house. You may need to use their name first to get their attention.
3. Hot Potato
Get 2-3 friends or family members together and have them stand apart, each with something tasty or a fun dog toy. Have them take turns asking your dog to come, instructing them to give your dog praise and reward them for going to the person who called.
Take Note: Games make training fun and helps keep your dog motivated to learn new things that can benefit you both! Short, positive training sessions are most effective.
Checklist: Dos and Don’ts to Remember
Hopefully our guide thus far has given you a solid foundation to start teaching your dog reliable recall.
Here are some extra tips to keep in mind that will help ensure your success:
Recommended Dog Training Courses
If you’re looking for good online dog training courses, in order to train your dog at home instead of going into a training facility check out our top two online video based training courses recommendations.
The Doggy Dan course is a behavioral training course using a mixture of ‘correction-style' training with aspects of positive, no-force methods, tackling problem behaviors like barking, phobias, separation anxiety, pulling on the leash, puppy training and hyperactivity - in ways that are innovative and effective.
The Brain Training for Dogs is a program by Adrienne Farricelli, a Karen Pryor Academy graduate. Her online training course revolves around force-free methods for canine brain development and behavior training. This is a great course for curious and bored dogs to help with anti-destructive behavior stemming from not being sufficiently stimulated.
There are 21 brain training activities in this course which are all exciting to play with your dog going from easy to very advanced. If poor recall is something your dog is struggling with, this video course is a good choice.
The Final Call
Recall training doesn’t need to be hard if you do your homework and approach it right.
Being prepared with high value treats and avoiding common mistakes like poisoning the cue can save you a lot of frustration.
Most of all, keep practicing because you never know when this lifesaving skill could come in handy for you and your four-legged companion.
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