How to train your dog to come

A dog running towards their human

There comes a time in every puppy’s life when the call of the wild becomes too strong to resist. And that’s normal–off-leash walking and exploring are highly stimulating, providing a level of enrichment hard to match. Off-leash access requires your dog to be able to return to your side on cue, keeping them safe and preventing them from harassing wildlife or strangers. Even if your dog is not interested in roaming off-leash, training recall requires your dog to disengage from or ignore other dogs, strangers, animals, and objects in favor of returning to your side, making it a powerful impulse control and relationship-building exercise.

Tips on training recall

  • Reward eye contact and proximity. Before you start working on recall, make sure your dog knows their name and offers eye contact when they hear it. When you see them look at you in different environments, capture and reward them for paying attention to you.
  • Avoid poisoning the cue with unpleasant events. It’s very easy to poison recall and pair it with activities like leaving the park, coming inside from the backyard, or saying goodbye to friends. Essentially, coming back to you means the loss of freedom. Instead, use recall to mean treats, toys, and playtime–all right by you.
  • Use your cue word only once. This goes for all cues, but is especially important with recall. Train your dog to come the first time you call for them and avoid repeating yourself. Too many repetitions without the desired result teach your dog to wait until they hear you call the fourth, fifth, or sixth time.
  • Train recall to include grabbing your dog’s collar. Your dog is very smart. Unfortunately, they’ve learned that they can just run up to you and dart away, resulting in a super fun game of keep away and chase. Avoid chasing your dog through the yard by including a gentle collar grab as part of the recall cue.
  • Play recall games during training practice. By incorporating recall into games, you strengthen the cue and reinforce the behavior, making it more likely that your dog will heed your voice during more real-life situations.

Suggested equipment

  • High-value treats
  • Treat pouch
  • Long lead (between 10 to 50 feet)
  • Clicker (if using)
  • Whistle (if using)

Why you should train recall

The more reliable your dog’s recall, the more freedom they get. And freedom–the ability to stop and go as they please, run or walk at their own pace, and move wherever their noses take them–is crucial in canine behavioral wellness. While training towards a reliable, powerful recall, long leads allow you to give your dog that autonomy without compromising their safety. Even if you plan to keep your dog on-leash in unfenced areas, accidents can happen, and having a recall cue in your back pocket provides an extra level of security.

Gentle Beast offers online training courses led by pet behavior expert Alex Sessa, CPDT-KA. Our Recall workshops help you teach your dog how to come, either by verbal cue or whistle.

About the Author

A picture of Melody smiling towards the camera
Melody Lee
Contributing Writer

Melody Lee is a contributing writer for Gentle Beast, and is a CPDT-KA dog trainer. She lives in Manhattan with two feral cats, Littlepip and Alphonse, that tolerate her clicker training attempts. One day, her cats might let her adopt a dog of her own.

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