Do you have a new puppy or are you wanting to teach an old dog new tricks? Teaching your dog or puppy recall is one of those skills that will come in useful for the entirety of their lives.
Recall is teaching your dog the basic command of coming back to you when they’re called. It could be needed when you’re out on a walk in your local area, when you’re in a large open space and your dog is off lead, or if there is danger ahead and you need your dog to return to you quickly.
We’ve partnered with Dogs for Good to put together a useful video in addition to this guide, which includes lots of hints and tips on teaching your dog recall.
When to introduce recall training
We know that most dogs love being off lead and exploring their surroundings, so recall is best introduced during puppy training in those first few months.
Most dogs usually do all their learning in their first 18 months of life, when puppies then start the transition into adulthood. Understanding this may give you a timeframe to work towards, and an end goal.
Your dog will go through their adolescence (teenage) phase usually when they’re between 9 and 18 months old. This time in your dog’s life can really highlight some challenges and areas in which you may have to put in extra training. If your dog struggles with recall, or seems to lose the ability to focus, you’re in the right place.
What are the basics of recall?
Start at home
Recall is best introduced when you’re in your home or a familiar place that your dog doesn’t find too distracting. This gives your dog the best opportunity to succeed. We wouldn’t recommend starting recall training in your garden or an outdoor environment, as simple smells, sights or sounds might be too distracting.
Make it fun
Gather up some of your dog’s favourite treats and toys, anything that they might find rewarding. Giving your dog praise in the form of food or a toy after they’ve performed well is known as ‘positive reinforcement’. Many dogs don’t respond well to negative methods in training. So, to aid their learning it’s always best to keep it fun and a positive experience.
Get your dog’s attention to start training
Try and get your dog into a place or position where their attention is on you and you can get eye contact. This could be sitting or lying down in front of you, or simply standing by you. Move around the room into different places and call your dog to you with their reward in your hand to see how they respond. You can use a word of choice such as ‘come’ or ‘here’ as their recall command. If your dog doesn’t respond, you could try some exaggerated behaviour such as:
- Open arms
- High-pitched voice
- Encouraging body language
- Showing them their treat or toy.
If you notice you’re having to repeat your recall word and your dog isn’t responding, don’t keep repeating it. Your dog may learn to ignore the word. This could be a sign your dog is too distracted, and you need to come back to training another time.
Once you’ve figured out how your dog responds best, keep practicing and repeating. You might decide to try different distances away from your dog before calling them. You can also try a different type of reward or physical praise.
Little and often is best
Be aware of when your dog becomes bored of practicing, and keep your sessions short and often. You want to be able to give your dog the best opportunities to succeed. If they tire or become too distracted by something, come back to it another time or day.
Using food-based rewards
If you’re using food as a reward for your dog successfully responding to recall, it’s important this comes out of their daily food allowance. You could even use the food they usually have for their meals. Kibble can be great for this, plus it gets your dog working for their food, which is a positive and enriching experience.
Don’t tell your dog off if they get it wrong
Sometimes your dog might get it wrong or lose their focus, and that’s OK. Remember not to tell your dog off if they struggle to remember what they need to do, or if they decide to stop listening.
It could be that your dog has become too distracted by something else, or that they’re not sure what’s being asked of them. If that’s the case, go back to basics and start teaching from the beginning again.
Progressing your recall training to the next stage
Mastered the basics? If you’re ready to take your recall training to the next stage, read on to understand what to do next.
Add in distractions
As part of progressing to the next stages it could be that your dog isn’t quite ready for a change of surroundings yet, and that’s OK. Try adding in some distractions instead. Try moving around the room, picking things up, having someone else move around in the room – be as creative as you wish, but not too much that your dog loses focus. Build it up. Start with less distracting things, and eventually progress to those that are really distracting. Keeping your dog’s attention at this stage might be tricky, but with lots of practice they will eventually succeed.
Move to a more distracting space
It’s best to take one step at a time. Think about somewhere that your dog might find a bit more distracting than inside your house, but not too distracting that they’ll lose all focus. This could be your garden or the pavement outside your house. Think of somewhere that your dog has been lots of times before and knows the sounds and smells like the back of their paw.
Tip: you might want to purchase a 10-metre long line lead. This may give you some peace of mind that if your dog does try to run away, you will still be able to keep them close to you.
Once you’ve found your space, go back to basics and keep repeating, practising and rewarding your dog’s successful recall. Remember to use encouraging language and give your dog lots of praise if they do well. If your dog doesn’t adapt well to the change of environment, don’t be afraid to take a step back and go back indoors. If your dog isn’t ready to progress, it’s not productive to expect them to learn new skills. So, understand how your dog is performing and learning best.
Progress to an even more distracting space
Once your dog has mastered recall in your garden or a familiar outdoor space, you can progress to the next step. For example, go to an open field where there are limited distractions such as other dogs and people. Every time your dog masters their recall in the new environment, go to the next step up and make it more distracting and challenging each time. This can take weeks or months, so don’t worry if your dog is taking a while to adapt to one environment in particular. Consistency is key.
Remember: if at any point your dog finds it too challenging, take it back a step until they’re ready to progress.
What if your dog runs away when you're out?
If you’re out on a walk and your dog is having some off-lead time, there could be chance that they’ll run out of sight. It could be that they’re chasing a squirrel or bird in the distance, or they’ve caught scent of an irresistible smell. If this happens and your dog won’t come back to simple recall, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Try not to panic
- Remain positive and happy with your tone and body language
- Regularly call your dog’s name and use your recall word
- Don’t tell your dog off
- Go back to the last place you saw them.
Once your dog returns to you, pop them back on their lead to prevent the same thing happening again. Your dog might not always get it right the first time, but you can try and prevent it from happening a second time. Remember, if your dog is finding it too challenging, don’t be afraid to go back to basics or take a step back in your training.
Your dog should always be wearing a collar with their name tag, and your dog must be microchipped (this is required by UK law). This is vital for if your dog runs away or if you lose them when out and about. If someone comes across your lost dog, there is a chance they will take them to a local vet who will contact you directly.
Other tips for training recall, and making it fun
Sometimes you might need to incorporate another element into your recall training. This is usually to make sure your dog keeps on finding it fun and exciting. Here are some of our tips on how to up your recall training game:
Playing a game of ‘find it’ when your dog comes back to you can be a fun way of enticing them back to play a game with you. When you recall your dog and they are making their way over to you, throw a treat onto the ground nearby or beside you. Gesture with your hand to the position of the treat to encourage your dog to sniff it out and work for their reward.
Changing direction can sometimes be enough to get your dogs attention away from distractions. The last thing most dogs want is to see their owner leaving them behind! If your dog isn’t responding to their usual recall, try changing direction and asking your dog to follow you. Hopefully, this may encourage them to come back.
Go down to their level
Sometimes dogs like it when you go down to their line of sight. They might be able to see your open body language easier and come back to you for some fuss and a reward. Get to know whether this is something your dog responds well to, and then incorporate it in different ways on your walks.
Hide and seek
We’ve all played this game before, but playing this with your dog will really get them listening. In a quiet place, try sneaking out of sight and calling your dog to see if they can follow your sound and find you. If they do, be sure to give them extra amounts of praise!
Hand touches (or 'boops')
Teach your dog how to perform a hand touch or 'boop', and then incorporate this into recall when they come back to you. This can be a fun way of introducing an extra step for them to really work for their reward, especially if they now find simple recall too easy. It can also be a good way to keep your dog at your side if you need to put them back on lead.
Protecting your dog
Pet insurance can cover your dog for the unexpected eventualities, especially when it comes to being outdoors and letting your dog off lead. At MORE THAN, we have different cover levels to meet your needs, so you can find the right cover for your four-legged companion.