Learning how to train a reliable recall is the first step towards teaching your dog one of the most important and potentially lifesaving skills. Coming when called, is essential for dogs that are allowed to go off-leash as it allows dog owners to keep their furry friends safe and away from danger.

Having a reliable recall means that dogs are able to stop whatever they’re doing and go towards their owners. This prevents them from running away, heading into any danger, or leaving them with alone with  something that can harm them. Although the steps required to teach this command are very simple, it can be challenging because it means teaching dogs that it’s much more interesting to be near their owners than exploring the rest of the world.

What is a reliable recall?

A recall is when dogs come when called and a reliable one means that dogs will respond enthusiastically 99,99% of the time. Dogs aren’t robots so it’s impossible to guarantee that they’ll always listen to your command and respond straight away. But, when it comes to this potentially lifesaving skill, dog owners should aim to consistently work with their dogs so they can be as consistent as possible. As mentioned before, although this command is important for any dog in the event of an emergency, it’s an especially important command when dogs are allowed to be off-leash in an area that is not fenced.


Steps to train a reliable recall

Start by getting the necessary equipment set up. You don’t need much, all you’ll need is:

  • Your dog’s favorite treats: it’s important that you use some high-value treats that your dog goes crazy for;
  • A long leash: especially at the beginning, a long leash is important to train long-distance recall safely.

Additionally, you can get a dog training clicker if you want to use the clicker training method to train your dog and a treat pouch to store your dog’s favorite treats.

You can train your dog to follow the command with the following steps:

  1.  Choose a command word. Something like “come” or “here”. Pick a word that you don’t normally use in a sentence and will only use it when you really need your dog to come to you.
  2.  Give the command word.
  3.  As soon as your dog gets to you, reward by giving the treat and marking with a “yes!” or the clicker.

That’s it! So, why is it so hard to train a reliable recall? It’s because although it has very few steps, there are a lot of important rules that are not always easy to follow or remember at the time.

5 rules to training a reliable recall

The success of training a reliable recall will depend on how you’re able to follow these rules and be mindful of them.

  1. Always reward your dog: don’t forget that you’ll be asking your dog to leave something interesting behind. You’ll need to make it worth its while to come to you and you do that by always reward your dog.
  2. Never punish your dog: it doesn’t matter how long it took for your dog to respond or what it has done before coming to you, you should never punish your dog when it responds to a recall. Otherwise, your dog will connect the punishment to coming back to you and it’ll think twice next time and may not get anywhere near you.
  3. Teach your dog to sit as soon as it arrives: a recall isn’t as effective if your dog ends up just running by you. To prevent this, teach your dog that it’ll get the reward as soon as it stops and sits in front of you. You can also practice getting a hold of your dog before giving the reward. This will make it easier for you to leash it up when you need to.
  4. Start in a controlled environment and build up from there: set your dog up for success by starting recall training in a low-distraction environment such as a room inside your house. Start by showing the treat and praising your dog as it makes its way to you. After a few successful repetitions, slowly add a few distractions and take a step back whenever you need to.
  5. You’re always training a reliable recall: it’s not something you teach once and that’s it. This is something that needs to be constantly trained so that it always sticks in your dog’s memory. Otherwise, if you’re not regularly practicing and rewarding your dog, don’t expect it to come as soon as you call it.


Making sense of it all

The steps to train a reliable recall seem simple but it’s far from being a simple mission. There are many rules that dog owners need to follow and it takes a lot of consistent training. Ideally, you’ll want to start working on this when your dog is a puppy and take 10-15 minutes per day to work on its recall. Remember that you’re always working on this command and, it’s not about how you’re going to reward your dog, it’s about how you’ve rewarded your dog in the past so make sure you always reward abundantly and never punish your dog.