Having a reliable recall is one of the most important skills you can teach your dog. A solid recall means your dog will return to you promptly when called, regardless of what distractions they may be facing. This can help keep your dog safe in numerous situations, from wandering too far on a hike to running towards a busy road. Investing the time into proper recall training is essential for any dog owner.
Starting Recall Training
Recall training should begin early, as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Start in a low distraction environment, like inside your home. Say your dog's name to get their attention, then say "come" and reward with an extra special treat when they do. Use an excited, happy tone when you call your dog. You want them to associate coming to you with something positive.
Once your dog is reliably coming when called inside, start practicing in enclosed outdoor areas. Keep them on a long training lead initially, so you can reel them in if they don't listen. Reward immediately every time they come when called. As your dog masters coming when called in simple situations, gradually increase distractions.
Proofing the Recall
Proofing means teaching your dog to obey commands in different settings. To proof your recall, practice in areas with more distractions your dog will ignore you and keep sniffing or playing. Start small, then work up to major distractions.
Types of distractions to practice include:
- Other dogs and people at a distance
- Favorite toys and games
- Interesting outdoor smells (trees, bushes, grass, etc.)
- Squirrels, birds, other wildlife
- Other dogs playing catch/frisbee nearby
- Loud noises (clapping, vehicles driving by)
- Busy locations like parks
Tips for Practicing Recall with Distractions
Keep sessions short, 5 minutes or less. This prevents your dog from getting overloaded.
Use an upbeat, excited tone when calling your dog. Say "Rover, come!" in a happy voice.
Bring high value rewards like chicken, hot dogs, cheese, or liver treats. Regular kibble won't be enticing enough.
Praise effusively when your dog recalls successfully. Give treats and excited praise.
Don't repeat cues over and over. Say it once then gently guide your dog back if needed.
If your dog fails, work in easier environments first to rebuild confidence. Don't set them up to fail.
Practice randomly throughout the day, not just during training sessions. This builds reliability.
Use a long training lead so you can prevent rewarding poor responses. Reel dog in if needed.
Consider using a whistle or hand signal. Unique sounds can grab attention over environmental noise.
Play games that encourage check ins like hide and seek and chase. Praise voluntary recalls.
Regaining Focus with Smelly Treats
Once your dog is distracted, it can be hard to regain their focus. Extra smelly, tasty treats are key. Some great options include:
- Hot dogs or homemade treats with hot dog bits
- Liver or liverwurst
- Baby food (look for meat based flavors)
- Canned dog food rolled into balls
- Dried fish or freeze dried meat
- Rotisserie chicken shredded into small bits
- Low sodium bacon or bacon grease
- Cheese bits (look for strong like cheddar or parmesan)
- Peanut butter
Offer little nibbles of these treats when your dog looks at you. Reward eye contact and orienting towards you. Say your dog's name to grab their attention if needed. Smelly treats up your odds your dog will choose you over that squirrel in the tree!
Once your dog returns promptly when called, even with crazy distractions, it's important to reinforce the behavior. Here are ways to make sure your dog's recall stays strong:
Randomly call your dog over throughout the day to give treats. Vary locations and what you're doing.
Hide treats around the house and yard and call your dog to "find" them for rewards.
Carry treats on walks for surprise recalls. Dogs love surprises!
Practice recall cues before meals or letting your dog outside.
Use real life rewards like opening doors, putting on leashes, and throwing balls. Avoid overusing food rewards.
Train in bursts, a few times a day rather than long sessions. This prevents boredom.
Phase treats out slowly over time, once recall is fluent. Use them randomly, not every recall.
Alternate rewards with praise, petting, play and other things your dog loves.
Keeping training sessions fun, short and rewarding will get you the best results. With consistency, even the most stubborn or easily distracted dog can master recall!
Troubleshooting Common Recall Problems
If your dog is struggling with distraction proofing or has lost a reliable recall, here are some troubleshooting tips:
Your Dog is Too Distracted to Listen
Practice in less distracting environments first to rebuild success. Move up in baby steps.
Use higher value treats like real meat and cheese to motivate your dog. Regular treats often aren't enticing enough.
Work within your dog's threshold. Don't give cues if they are too fixated to listen.
Get better engagement in other areas before expecting a recall while playing or greetings.
Your Dog Obeys but is Slow to Return
Praise immediately once your dog starts moving towards you. Don't wait until they reach you.
Jog or run away from your dog to trigger their chase instinct and get them moving faster.
Use a long line to prevent reinforcement of slow recalls. Reel your dog back in.
Consider a higher value reward if your current treats aren't exciting enough motivation.
Your Dog Returns Then Runs Away Again
Ask for a sit when your dog returns before treating, don't reinforce jumping on you.
Practice collar grabs upon return. Grab your dog's collar when they come back to you before treating.
Work on engagement skills like eye contact. A dog paying close attention is less likely to run off again.
Use a training leash initially so your dog can't run off after returning. Prevent rehearsing poor behavior.
Your Dog Ignores the Cue Entirely
Make sure you have your dog's attention first before giving a recall cue. Say their name before asking to come.
Use a unique sound like a whistle or bell for the recall cue. This carries better than voice when competing with environmental sounds.
Consider switching to a different cue word. Repeat use of a failed cue can poison it. Try "here!" "come" or "front" instead.
Increase value and variety of rewards. Rotisserie chicken, hot dogs, liver treats, etc can motivate more than dry kibble.
Practice engagement skills like name response and eye contact in low distraction areas first to improve listen skills.
Your Dog Recalls then Stops Partway
Run backwards away from your dog when calling to trigger their chase drive.
Use a long line to prevent your dog stopping partway. Don't let them practice ignoring the cue.
Set up trials to succeed. Start in environments your dog can handle so they don't fail.
Try changing direction suddenly when your dog is returning. Praise and repeat direction changes.
Break into smaller steps. Reward for turning towards you, steps in your direction, increased speed.
With enough reps in the right environment, your dog will generalize listening despite any distractions. Stay positive, patient, and consistent in your training!
Using Different Reward Strategies
How you reward successful recalls can make a big difference in your dog's motivation. Mix up these different reward strategies:
Small, smelly treats work best to motivate dogs. Cheese, hot dogs, chicken, etc are high value options. Give treats immediately upon return and pair with praise. Food rewards are portable and most dogs love them!
For dogs who don't care much about food, rewarding with a favorite toy or play can be very effective. When your dog returns, whip out a ball or squeaky toy and play for 30 seconds to a minute. This builds toy drive for the recall cue.
Letting your dog back inside, putting on a leash to go for a walk, or throwing a ball can function as strong real life rewards. Avoid using negative life rewards like taking away freedom or toys, as this can poison cues.
If your dog is getting bored with repetitive training, an exciting break to play or run around can motivate them to keep working. Let them chase you or play tug after a successful recall.
Save an extra special "jackpot" reward like an entire hot dog for occasional super fast recalls. When your dog races back quicker than normal, reward them with the tasty jackpot. This creates competition drive.
Variable Reward Schedules
Dogs respond best when rewards are given variably, not every single recall. Reward frequently in early stages, then phase into a variable schedule later on, randomizing when treats are given.
Switching up rewards keeps training fun and prevents dogs from habituating. Use whatever inspires your individual dog most to really proof that recall!
Troubleshooting Recall Training Challenges
Training a solid recall with distractions takes time and consistency. Here are some common challenges owners face and how to fix them:
Your Dog is Easily Distracted
Start in low distraction areas before working up to high distraction environments slowly. Improve general engagement skills first with focus work.
Your Dog Won't Take Treats Outside
Bring high value "outside only" treats your dog only gets for training when out of the home. Also reward with play or toys.
Your Dog Forgets Cues Easily
Keep training sessions short, under 5 mins. Practice a few times a day vs. long sessions that lead to fatigue and poor retention.
Your Dog Responds Well at Home But Not Outside
Proof the behavior on a long leash in outdoor areas first before going off leash outside. The indoor and outdoor cues have become different behaviors to your dog if not generalized.
Your Dog Has No Food Drive for Treats
Try different reward motivators like toys, praise, petting, or life rewards your dog finds reinforcing. Not all dogs are treat motivated.
Your Dog Stops Responding Over Time
Dogs need variety – switch up locations, reward strategies, cue delivery (voice, whistle, visual etc) to keep things interesting. Also use jackpot rewards and variable schedules.
Your Dog Has Poor Impulse Control
Impulse control games like "leave it" are helpful to teach waiting for rewards and ignoring temptations. Build these skills first before heavy distraction training.
Your Dog is Too Excited/Aroused to Focus
If your dog is overly excited, lower the stimulation – train in calmer environments and work up slowly to more arousing situations.
Your Dog is Too Stressed/Fearful to Respond
Again, work under threshold in low stress areas. Don't flood your dog with situations they can't handle yet or training will backfire. Build confidence slowly.
With a plan tailored to your individual dog and their needs, virtually any training challenge can be overcome. Stay positive, break down goals into steps, and keep sessions short, fun and rewarding. Proper handling and realistic expectations are key for training success!
Final Tips for Rock Solid Recall
Getting a reliable recall takes diligence, but it's one of the most worthwhile skills you can teach your dog. Here are final tips for success:
Start young and make training fun from the beginning. Dogs love working for rewards!
Commit to short, frequent sessions rather than long, sporadic ones. Consistency over time is key.
Master basic cues like name response, eye contact, and attention before tackling distractions. Build engagement.
Proof environment by environment, from low to high distraction. Move slowly so your dog can succeed at each step.
End sessions on a positive note, not when your dog is tired, stressed or failing often. Set them up for success.
Use random rewards and jackpots to maintain motivation. Dogs work harder when reward timing is unpredictable.
Employ different motivators – food, toys, play, access to outdoors, etc. Variety prevents boredom.
Practice recall frequently outside of training sessions too, like on walks, at parks, when letting your dog outside, etc.
Gradually shape speedier recalls. Start by rewarding just turning toward you, then steps in your direction, faster movement, and finally an immediate, direct return.
Praise immediately upon return before asking for a sit, down or other positional cue. Reward first, then require control.
With consistency and proper motivation, you can have the reliability you need even with major distractions. A solid recall gives you peace of mind and keeps your dog safer in all situations. Put in the work now for a lifetime of rewarding reliability.