Teaching the Recall Command to Dogs

What does “Recall” mean?

Recall is simply a word used to describe the act of a dog coming to you when called. You may teach your dog any word you wish to associate with this action as long as you are consistent and it makes sense to you. The most important thing is that your dog eventually learns to hear a recall cue and respond consistently without fail in all potential situations it may be needed.

The Foundation:

Everyone wants their dog to respond to them off leash when they call them. It should be a goal for EVERYBODY who owns a dog to have them under control in case they get out of our reach. I couldn’t tell you have many people though who have called me over the years wanting me to teach their dog how to come when called and nothing else. Unfortunately I had to break the news to them that without the proper foundation training of basic commands, distance, and focus, it would be like trying to learn calculus without understanding basic addition and subtraction first! There needs to be an understanding of the basic foundations of more complicated concepts. This is why once we master the essentials that develop a stronger foundation in basic on lead training we are then able to easily progress in our dogs’ practical off-lead and recall work. To achieve this it is important to work on distance with stationary commands such as “Sit” and “Down” as preparation for a dog to be able to hear a command and respond from a great distance. I even have learned that a dog can be so specific in their learning that practicing exercises such as hiding from them and having them hold their command while you walk far behind them are important building blocks. (Remember, when a dog needs to recall in many instances they are running away and not making a visual association with the command.) Little details like this taken into account when doing the foundation work will develop small components of the command to make it more reliable and consistent in the long run.

The Long Lead:

It is good to start developing a strong response and enthusiastic follow through with a dog’s recall command from shorter distances. But eventually you will want to begin to teach your dog or puppy how respond from more realistic distances you may encounter one day when they do not have the security of the leash to keep them safe. A 30’-50’ training leash works best in both recall and overall distance dog training work. I have found that a cotton web training lead is easiest to maneuver and does don’t irritate the hands when using like some other types of materials.

Treats and Praise:

Unlike some other more authoritatively delivered commands like “Heel” and “Down”. The recall command should be viewed by a dog as the most interesting thing they could be drawn to any environment whenever they hear it. Like a big party is waiting for them when they get there! Therefore, I find it is helpful to teach the command in a very stimulating way by making a higher pitched or at least very excited voice as you back peddle slightly away from the dog. This motivates them to move in your direction as they would chase a small high pitched excited animal running away from them. If you’re dog isn’t drawn to you by this and looks at you like you are crazy, simply use a treat or squeaky toy to build up their enthusiasm for the command. Once they get to you, use a reward to condition them in a positive way for hitting their mark (In front of or to the side of you is fine). In addition to treats, I like to use the butt scratch method. The Butt Scratch method is to scratch them at the base of their tail where it meets their back. They cannot reach there and it feels amazing to a dog. It also helps motivate them positively by something other than what you can potentially pull out of your pocket (treats) which is essential for any dog training to be practical. The key is to begin to give a stronger reward such as treats as the dog improves in their abilities so they continue to learn as you practice. Dogs are much happier giving 100% than being told so-so is still ok and rewarding them for it.

What if my Dog Doesn’t Respond?

Initially you want to continue drawing the dog in your opposing direction whenever they run off or stop midway while coming in your direction. This is done by saying the command once again enthusiastically while backing away with the leash to lure them in your direction. Try to keep the leash under control so they are being guided consistently in a straight direction towards you. Unless you have put in some practice, you still just want to show your dog what to do when they make mistakes and not correct them for not listening. Once you have worked through distractions and your dog still has difficulty with recalling from time to time you may tell them “No” when they do not respond or get off course to regain their attention. For more strong willed dogs, aggressive dogs, or dogs who are chasing a prey animal reinforces such as E-collars or corrective dog training collars may be introduced as long as they are used properly. I find that in most cases a dog not recalling is from lack of thorough practice on the part of the owner or them wanting their dog to listen immediately without doing the proper foundation of basic dog training and obedience work.


There is much debate in my profession about the use of remote (shock) collars. I Find that as soon as you mention the use of one emotions and opinions are soon to follow. As for myself, I do not use E-collars often but have found the merit in their use for particularly difficult dogs that do not respond well to other training methods if used humanely in a way that does not cause pain or distress (Most of the time a vibrating remote collar does the trick!). As mentioned above, I find that teaching an owner how to truly communicate with their dogs, be consistent, and practice everyday will supersede the need to introduce a stronger training tool like this remote collars in most cases. There are some dog trainers who swear by them exclusively and use nothing else in their efforts to make dogs listen. Although I feel they still mean well and do a decent job, to me it is like being a carpenter who only knows how to use one tool in his toolbox.

The End Game:

The goal for your dog is to have a reliable recall command in any potential situation you may encounter in your everyday lives. By practicing the foundation of basic obedience training and slowly building distance, focus, and distractions, you are developing the framework for a dog to easily learn a solid recall. Once that is achieved it is your job to go out and practice on a regular basis. You never know when that next rabbit may be lurking around the corner…

Brett Endes, The Dog Savant is a professional dog trainer and author with over 20 years experience specializing in problem behavior and puppy development counseling. The Dog Savant hosts a weekly podcast and is currently developing a web-based show to promote his message of canine behavior awareness. Brett takes a unique approach to dog behavior like no other trainer. His methods are based on psychology and principals of meditation along with a dog’s natural way of communication. Brett has been affectionately called, “The man with a dog’s brain”. He is available for private consulting of individual clients and speaking engagements in the greater Los Angeles area and worldwide. To learn more about Brett or for contact info please visit his website: www.dogtrainingLA.com