Dog Recall Training: How to Teach Your Dog to Come in 4 Simple Steps (Step-by-Step Videos)

Dog Recall Training

Dog recall training is probably the most important kind of training you can do and in many cases, the most difficult one to master.

The average person doesn’t spend anywhere near enough time teaching their pooch the ‘come’ command.

We generally use it in situations when we actually need our dog to respond and end up getting upset or angry when they don’t listen, which (and you’ll find out why later) is the worst thing that can happen.

How to Stop a Dog Pulling on the LeadOK, OK we admit it,

The training methods we write about on Pet Checkers aren’t our own.

They are the positive re-enforcement methods of world renowned dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell.

You can find out about her on her website at Positively.com or if you like her training methods like we do, you can buy her book from Amazon.co.uk

Why is Dog Recall Training So Important?

Think about the times in which you ask your dog to come back to you.

It’s generally when they’re doing something you don’t want them to be doing, like;

  • Approaching an unfamiliar dog
  • Chasing the deer in the fields
  • Eating horse poo
  • Leaping into the water as your walking up the river bank
  • Rolling around on a smelly dead squirrel

To your dog, all these things are much more fun than coming back to you – after all, you’re stopping him having fun and you’re probably only going to take him home anyway.

This is why your dog often ignores you when you ask him to come back.

But from a safety point of view a good recall is vitally important.

What if;

  • That unfamiliar dog is reactive or aggressive and attacks him?
  • He gets lost chasing that deer and you can’t find him?
  • He eats something poisonous?
  • He gets caught in something and can’t get out of the water?
  • He rolls around on broken glass and cuts himself?

These are very real threats which many of us don’t even think about but they can result in your dog getting ill or injured and big vet bills and pet insurance claims – not to mention the upset and the heart break of having to go through it.

So in this article we’re going to show you how to train your dog to come. It’s a 4 step process and for each step we’ve included a video for you to watch so you can see it in action.

Also, make sure you read the training tips and mistakes at the end. They contain some vital information!

How to Teach Your Dog to Come When Called, Step-by-Step

The recall is something that you should start to teach your dog the day you bring him into your life.

The purpose of this exercise is to teach your dog or puppy that coming to you is a really good thing. Coming to you should always be exciting and should ALWAYS be rewarded – not matter how long it takes for him to respond.

Step One: Getting Familiar With the ‘Come’ Cue

Whenever your dog or puppy comes to you, wait until he gets one or two feet away, then say his name and then ‘come’. So, ‘Rover, come’.
When he gets to you, make a really big fuss of him. Give him plenty of praise, a really tasty treat or a toy.
Every time he comes, reward him.

Step Two: ‘Anchoring’ the Cue with Back and Forth Play

To play the back and forth game it takes to people so get someone your dog is comfortable being around. This should be anyone in the family. If you live on your own, get a friend involved.
To start with, play the game in a quiet environment again, your living room is a good place to start.
Sit opposite your partner roughly 10 feet apart and have them hold your dog in place while the you get him excited. Talk to him in an excited way but don’t say his name until your’re ready to deliver the ‘come’ cue.
When you’re ready say his name and then ‘come’ and have your partner release him so he comes running to you. As soon as he reaches you give him lots of praise, lots of fuss and a reward like a game of tug or a treat.
Once your pooch has had his reward, hold him in place while the other person excites him and asks him to come, saying his name, then ‘come’.
Repeat the game a few times, each time increasing the distance between you and your partner. Don’t over do it with the repetitions though as we don’t want him to get bored and lose interest. Keeping it short and fun will mean he’s always ready to play.

Step Three: Combining the Vocal Cue with Hand Signals

Now your dog or puppy is reliably coming to you it’s time to introduce a hand signal. We always recommend that you add a hand signal to all vocal cues, that way your dog can still understand you even if they can’t hear you.

Again, in a distraction free environment, sit your dog down and ask him to stay (If your dog doesn’t have a great stay click here to learn how to teach him). Then walk a short distance away from him. Call his name and say ‘come’ combined with a hand signal – a hand in the air works well. When he gets to you give him lots of praise, play or a tasty treat, but make it exciting.
Repeat the process while each time increasing the distance by small amounts.
Just like with the back and forth play, don’t over do this exercise as your dog will get bored. Keep it short, fun and exciting.
When you think your dog recognises the hand signal, call his name but don’t give him the vocal cue, just the hand signal. If he’s got it he’ll come, if not, keep using the vocal cue and hand signal together.
Also, try calling from from different parts of the house where he can’t see you. So leave him in the living room and call him into the kitchen. This will encourage him to listen for your call, even when he cant see you.

Step Four: Taking it Outside

Once your dog has mastered the recall indoors, it’s time to make things harder and take it outside where there are more distractions.

Remember, when their are more distractions, the reward needs to be greater.

Start your dog’s recall training in the garden – there will me more distractions but you’ll be safe that he won’t run off (providing your garden is secure!)
Repeat the process that you followed in step 3. Get your dog to stay and ask him to ‘come’, increasing the distance between yourself you and your dog.
Once he is getting it, it’s time to let him go off and do what he wants. The real test is to get his attention and come back to you when he’s engaged in something else that’s more fun than coming back to you. Call his name followed by the word ‘come’. When he comes back, shower him with praise and fun.

Our Top Tips for Dog Recall Training

Tip #1: Don’t be Boring

Dogs – especially puppies love to have fun.

If you’re boring when he comes back to you and just say ‘good boy’ in a flat boring voice, the next time you call him back he might not listen because what he’s currently doing is more fun than coming back to you.

So when he gets back to you, shower him with praise and fuss, give him his favourite toy and play a little game or give him a piece of his favourite treat.

Be excited and be a part of his game and he will be excited to come back to you.

Tip #2: ALWAYS Touch His Colar and Neck Area When He Comes to You

Many dogs only come within a few feet of you when they’re called, not close enough so you can touch them. So right from the very start of your dog’s recall training, always touch his collar and fuss around his neck area.

Dogs like praise and fuss so doing this will ensure that he will always come all the way back to you. This will make it easy to get a hold of his collar without him feeling uncomfortable if you ever find yourself outside in a situation where you need to get a hold of him.

Tip #3: Use a Variety of Rewards

You don’t just have to use treats to praise your puppy when you’re training him. In fact, we recommend that you mix it up so he doesn’t only come back for food.

Toys, fuss, praise, a game – they’re all things that dogs like so mix it up. Every time he comes back to you, do something different and something fun.

Remember this is all about fun, for you as well as your dog.

Tip #4: Keep Training Sessions Short

Dogs have short attention spans – especially puppies so keep these training session fun but keep them short.

If they get bored they’ll likely not want to do it again and that’s the worst thing that can happen so we recommend you do this recall training little and often.

Dog Recall Problems: Frequently Asked Questions

My Dog Won’t Come All the Way Back to Me, How Do I Get Him to Come Close Enough For Me to Get Hold of Him?

This could be for a couple of reasons;

You’re not interesting enough – our dogs are usually engaged in something more fun and interesting than we are when we try to call them back. So it’s our job to make our selves more interesting. You can do this by going back to step numbers 1 and 2 in this article and make yourself part of his play.
He knows its time to go home – dogs are clever and if you call him back when you’re out walking and it’s time to go home, he’s going to learn that and consequently run off when you try to get hold of him.

So firstly make sure that when he does come back he gets showered with praise and/or treat/toy.

Secondly, always make contact with his collar and neck area so he’s not doesn’t feel uncomfortable when you do try to get hold of him.

And lastly, call him back regularly during your walk, when he comes back praise him, play with him and send him off again. This way he’ll never know which recall is for home time, he’s more interest in getting all your love and praise.

My Dog Just Ignores Me When I Call Him Back – Especially When Other Dogs Are Around

There are a few things that might be contributing to your dogs lack of co-operation. Here are a few things to consider;

Are you getting angry and shouting at your dog? – Yes it’s embarrassing when your dog ignores you, especially when other people are around. But getting angry and shouting at your dog will not make him want to come back to you. It’ll have the opposite affect.
Do you put him on his lead as soon as he comes to you? – If he knows that when he reaches you it’s the end of his fun time he’ll not not want to return to you.

Don’t wait for there to be other dogs around before you call him back. Instead, call him back often while you’re out walking and give him lots of praise for doing so and send him off again. So he’ll always return to you.

Do you keep repeating the same command? – If  your dog is engaged in another dog, he’ll likely not listen you and if you keep shouting, ‘Fido come, Fido come, Fido come’ he’ll tune out and learn to ignore the cue.

Instead, wait for a lull in activity when he’s not so engaged and call him back enthusiastically. When he comes back give him lots of fuss and praise.

If he just doesn’t listen you might want to consider starting his recall training again using a different command, like ‘Here’ or ‘Back’.

Final Thoughts

dog recall trainingDog recall training is actually quite a simple process but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy!

Like with any kind of training, some dogs need more time than others to pick things up.

The key is to remain calm (as getting angry will have the exact opposite affect) and be as enthusiastic and excited as you can because you need to be more exciting than anything else.

If you can do that, you’ll have no problem with teaching your dog to come back to you.

Give it a try, and please leave a comment – we’d love to know how you get on!