How to teach a dog to come when called (recall training)

Teaching your dog to actually come when called is not only a matter of being a proud owner of an obedient and well trained dog, it is also a way of reassuring your dog’s safety in situations that may be dangerous.

Training your dog to come when called is one of the first steps in the training process. This task`s complexity lays in different conditions and situations that your training strategy needs to cover.

To maintain your dog`s full attention is not equally demanding at home, in the street and around other dogs. Therefore, training needs to be taken one step at a time and requires patience and consistency.

Teaching your dog to actually come when called is not only a matter of being a proud owner of an obedient and well trained dog, it is also a way of reassuring your dog’s safety in situations that may be dangerous (such as storming through an opened door, or running into traffic).

Therefore, how to train your dog to come when called is one of the most frequent questions among new dog owners. As time consuming as it may be, this training task is probably the most important one.

How to train a dog to come?

There are several strategies regarding this particular matter. As different as they may seem, they all have one thing in common, they all require time and practice.

They may also be combined in order to cover a wide range of possible scenarios and situations. Not every approach explained in this post is suitable for every situation.

So, before you put a task before the dog, consider carefully the wider context and then adjust your training strategy and expectations accordingly.

Strategy Pros Cons
Luring and rewarding
  • Good way to start an indoor recall training
  • Some dogs do not respond by approaching, but by some other way
  • Not the best strategy choice for outdoors, especially when around other dogs; treats can not guarantee dog’s attention, or may even cause a dog fight over the treat
Long leash training
  • Good way to start an indoor
  • Good for the outdoor training
  • Leash grants you control over the situation
  • Not the best strategy choice for crowded areas or around other dogs
Regular length leash training
  • Good for both indoors and outdoors
  • Provides you with close control
  • Though convenient for most occasions, does not provide the physical distance needed to test the success of the training

Luring and rewarding recall strategy

This strategy is based on the usage of treats as the main motivation.

While calling the dog by his name, or using some of the phrases you`ve chosen instead, such as ‘come’ or ‘here’ offer the treat that you have already shown to your dog.

Try keeping the tone of your voice cheerful and enthusiastic, since it can also be a factor of motivation. Practice this exercise starting from a very short distance, and extend it after every successful session. Reward should come after the dog came when called, and should eventually be replaced by a verbal encouragement.

Controlled conditions of a familiar or home area that should grant you no interruption is probably the best possible choice of where to start with the training.

This particular recall strategy best fits for the earliest stages of training at home. Nonetheless, when your dog adopts this strategy as a habit, try it under conditions that are not strictly under your supervision. Keep in mind that coming when called while outside and playing with other dogs, should not become a ‘game over’ signal, because that way it may actually cause the counter effect – running in the opposite direction when called.

Instead, practice patiently `come here` followed by an encouraging `go play`. That way you will avoid the counter effect and association of a verbal command with an end of the fun.

Not all dogs respond to offered treats the same way, some may even lose interest after a while or when they feel full, or respond to the treat by sitting and waiting. If so, try switching to some other training strategy.

Long leash training strategy

recall-long-leash

The following approach we will explain is more suitable for an outdoor than indoor training, since it is based on the use of a long, ten- to twenty-foot leash.

Try it while walking in the park or some place that will allow you to release the leash to its full length. Let the dog roam as far as the length of the leash allows, and then when the limit is reached, by applying a small amount of force, yank the leash to signalize physically what you will announce verbally.

Invite the dog by his name or by using phrases such as `come` or `here`. Reward your dog with a treat after recalling, and later on, slowly reduce treats until the whole exercise becomes a habit. The long leash strategy is not convenient for crowded areas or spaces where other dogs are playing.

A long leash may tangle or even injure other dogs, runners, etc. Practice this routine while walking casually, not while the dog is running at full speed. If the dog reaches the end of the leash, the impact caused by the dog’s full body strength being suspended by the length of the leash may be painful.

Regular length leash training strategy

This particular strategy is very convenient, since it may be practiced at home as well as in the street or elsewhere public.

It is also very simple.

Step away from your dog while on a leash as much as the length of the leash allows you, and by walking backwards, invite him to approach you. Reward the attention and the fulfilled demand by a treat and encouragement.

It may seem like a game of sort, which will loosen the pressure that your dog may feel during the process of training in general. Try it at home and outside; it may also be helpful to a very young dog to adjust to a leash, while at the same time learning to recall.

It is not to be expected that your dog will respond with the same attention indoors and outdoors, but this strategy’s advantage is that you can actually practice it anywhere, while maintaining full control over the situation and with no fear of your dog getting harmed in any way.

On the other hand, the fact that you are only several feet away from each other does not provide you with the actual insight into how your dog would react if out of your physical reach.

Dog recall when around other dogs

Training the dog to recall while at home or in your own backyard and the same training while the other dogs are around may seem as two completely different worlds, yet this challenge is actually more of a test for you as a trainer, than for the dog.

The most common mistake in the process of training your dog to recall when around other dogs lays in the counter effect that is basically the consequence of overseeing the fact that your dog enjoys running and playing with other dogs.

dogs-playing

Conditions that aren’t under your control and that do not grant you your dog’s full attention are somewhat more demanding, therefore require more patience and exercise.

Do not get disappointed if your dog seems as if the recall training sessions you practiced at home never happened. It is to be expected that, when overstimulated by all kinds of interesting things, your dog may not respond as well as you hoped.

It is crucial not to change the approach, and to keep the consistency of the “home” training. It may be frustrating to keep the same positive and cheerful tone of your voice although your dog does not seem to have much interest in you.

Be patient, and when the dog does recall, reward him and send him to play some more.

It is important that your dog does not associate the command to come with going home or sudden ending of the fun he is having at the park or with other dogs. To avoid that, practice recall seemingly casually, while other dogs are around.

It may not show results immediately, but it is important to establish the kind of trust that will convince your dog that coming when called is not a punishment. The worst case scenario – you produce a counter effect so strong that it actually motivates the dog to run in the opposite direction when called.

So, in the early stages of training, try your best not to induce any punishment at all. Sometimes at this stage, you may even have to chase your own dog for a bit because the fun of playing with other dogs consumed all of your dog’s attention.

Even then, be patient and do not insist on the fact that your dog disobeyed you, but rather encourage the dog to perceive the recall as the opportunity for a sudden snack to grab.

Advanced level

After coming when called becomes a habit and a completely common manner of behavior, you may try spicing it up a bit. Since vocal (verbal) component exists in every recall training strategy, with time, the word itself becomes the only signal to perform a certain operation (in this case – the action of approaching the owner), long after you stopped using treats as a reward.

But what if there is a signal of another kind? For example, a certain motion can also be established as a signal to perform the same action. It is actually simpler than it may seem.

After your dog has firmly adopted the concept of coming when called, try adding some simple hand gesture or for example clapping hands to the usual vocal signal. By repeating it simultaneously with the command that your dog already recognizes, it becomes the integral part of the signal to approach you.

Make sure your dog can actually see you while doing it, because otherwise it has no point. After a while, the motion itself becomes sufficient signal even without the vocal element.

Expectations vs reality – common mistakes

One of the most common mistakes which may cause disappointment lays in unrealistic expectations.

You have probably seen the videos of perfectly trained dogs that hypnotically stare at their owners or trainers while waiting to be called, and than respond within seconds, joyfully, as if there is nothing in the world that could stop them or make them change their course.

In comparison to that, your dog’s attention roams between dogs playing nearby, bicycle rider, and your demand. It sure is comforting to know that not even those perfectly trained dogs fulfilling a task that these performances require, aren’t robots that will respond automatically when the button is pushed. Those performances sure are stunning, but don’t forget that they are still just performances, not real life situations.

The second mistake may come from your own misjudgment of the situation. You may expect that after responding well to the training at home, your dog will respond equally well while playing outside. It sure does not mean that what you two already learned no longer counts, as it may seem at the time.

Arm yourself with patience and do not mistake a simple fact that dogs are curious and playful creatures with an intentional disobedience that should be punished.

Safety first!

The main goal of the recall training is to ensure that when off the leash, your dog will come to you when called. Knowing that your dog will respond to your demand becomes a tool for keeping him out of a harm’s way.

Therefore you should be cautious, especially during the process of training. You must not start the training in a crowded or unfamiliar space that steals your dog’s attention, especially not by simply letting your dog off the leash and expecting him to respond when called.

Not only that it will not happen, but it may put your dog into an immediate danger. Needless to say, you should by all means avoid off-the-leash practicing in close proximity to the traffic or any other potential dangers.

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