Recall Training

If I could teach a dog only one thing, what would it be?

To come when called.  Few things are quite as frustrating as a dog that is oblivious to your futile attempts to call him back to you or worse, a dog that thrives on the game of “keep away.”

A dog with a strong recall has freedom!  You can take them places and get them back when you want to leave.

A dog with a strong recall has safety!  You can let them off the leash without an unreasonable fear of having them run off or get hit by a car (though all decisions involve risk).

A strong recall makes you welcome with other people and dog owners!

If you have ever found yourself calling out “don’t worry; my dog is friendly!” then please read the next paragraphs with great care.

Get ready because I’m going to be blunt here….

It’s not all about you.

I know, that’s a pretty rude thing to say.  Let’s take a closer look.

Maybe that dog yours just approached is old, arthritic or sick, and your rambunctious dog is hurting or scaring them while you try to catch him.  Maybe that person with an on leash dog is struggling with fear issues, and your inability to call your dog back has just set their recovery back by weeks. Or maybe that person walking with a small child was bitten by a loose dog in the past and yours is now traumatizing them, reinforcing their phobia.  

You might not understand what all the fuss is about because as you pointed out, YOUR dog is friendly.  But if you take a moment to realize that your choice to allow your untrained dog off leash takes away everyone else’s choices, then maybe you’ll see how unfair you are being to those around you.  

When someone yells “my dog is friendly,” as their dog beelines for me, I have learned to brace for the worst, because 100% of the time that is a euphemism for “I don’t have a recall,”  and your lack of training just became my problem. 

Please.  Have some respect for the rights of others, and ensure that your dog has a reliable recall so that you do not become a nuisance,  or keep them on leash until you get one!  Even the best trained dogs might experience failure here and there – don’t beat yourself up over that.  Sincerely apologize and set about training to improve the situation.  But if you’re a chronic offender, or if you want to avoid being one in the first place – then read on because it’s time to get your dog trained!

That is the topic of the rest of this blog.

If you’re motivated to train that solid recall, here’s a great starter video to get you on your way:

Try this Bacon Recall with Lisa Mullinax of 4pawsuniversity  Quick and simple and effective!

The final four videos are all provided by Donna Hill.  If you take the time to work through all four of these, you will have a very good recall indeed!  As with most of dog training, what you end up with will be closely correlated to how much time you put in, so consider making recall training a high priority in the near future. You’ll be delighted with the results.

Shaping a recall, Part 1

Shaping a recall, Part 2

Shaping a recall, Part 3 (adding distractions)

Shaping a recall, Part 4 (using the environment to reward)

Sometime in the next month or so, I will release a book.  The title is:  “Beyond The Back Yard:  Train Your Dog To Listen Anytime, Anywhere!”  If you follow the lesson plan laid out in the book, your recall under distraction will improve dramatically.  Actually, all of your obedience will improve, but since this blog is about recalls, I’ll just mention that.  So if you need some help with your dog’s obedience when you are no longer in your own yard and the world is calling with a range of distractions, then this might be the book for you.  There will also be an instructor’s guide and six week lesson plan made available for free as an on-line PDF.

Here’s the cover with a nice quote by Dr. Ian Dunbar – isn’t it cute??!!

Back Yard Cover OL

Pet Dog Trainer Challenge:

Some of the most important recall games teach dogs that distractions are “controlled,” and that people cooperate with each other to ensure compliance.  For example, ask a handler to call their dog to them, right past a chair with a tasty cookie on it!  Have a human helper (yourself or a variety of class mates) next to the chair.  If the dog detours for the cookie, have the human helper cover the cookie with their hand.  (Go to some trouble to have the helper remain absolutely neutral – no verbal scolding or threatening eye contact).  Soon the dog learns that any person, even a stranger, might be an “enforcer.”

Another fun game is “timed” restrained recalls.  The trainer will hold the dog back by the collar while the owner runs as far as is safe or reasonable.  Upon release, the “restraining” person will time the recall with a stopwatch.  The owner should do everything in their power to get speed – including jumping up and down, cheering and even waving a toy or a cookie!   The goal is for each team to be a little bit faster as the weeks pass by!


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.
This entry was posted in Basic Obedience Training, Critical Basic manners - Start here. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Recall Training

  1. Pat Doyle says:

    Thank God someone has finally said that it isn’t about the “friendly” dog! Thank you Denise! When you write your ebook, I will forward it to a multitude of people!

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Pingback: Recall training - Doberman Forum : Doberman Breed Dog Forums

  3. britz4 says:

    Thank you!! We have two dogs, and my teenage daughter and I have stopped using some of our beautiful trails and parks nearby due to the discourteous (and quite frankly rude) dog owners with off-leash dogs. There is a lot of dog people who really “don’t” consider other users of these areas (whether they have dogs or not). We have been sneered at and told “well it’s an off leash area” even as their dog is aggressively interfering with ours, over and over again! Off leash area or not, they need to have control of their dogs.


    • Stephanie says:

      Many counties have leash laws, even if they aren’t enforced or the common custom, that apply to public land. I’ve never actually been on any public access land that allowed off-leash dogs that was not an explicit dog park. That may be regional, though.

      Having one of those dogs who will react very badly to another dog galloping up to us, I’ve started to contemplate carrying a little squirt gun of water. Might work better on cats (would dogs think game?) … but other suggestions would be welcome.


  4. Arlene says:

    I want this NOW! My dogs roam three acres, and are terriers!


    • dfenzi says:

      You’ll be working hard. My terrier has been much slower to learn to recall and I think twice about when and where I take him off leash. He’s getting better but I still don’t trust him. But he’s good about coming in from the yard now when I call – I’m very generous :).


  5. Stephanie says:

    I’m excited to work more diligently on this with appropriate guidance. I, unfortunately, have one of those friendly dogs, so she is always on a leash outside of our yard. She is not very smart (she was a puppy mill rescue) and even after 5 years I have not been able to find good motivation to teach her. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!!


  6. mariannehovde says:

    This is a great post. I think we all have multiple stories of off leash dogs running up to ours. And yes, I have heard the “It’s ok, she’s friendly” line as a dog 3 times the size of my reactive terrier is heading for us.

    I actually did a very similar recall game with a client the other day, but we were outside and I had the two owners call the dog back and forth between them. I sat right in the dog’s path shaking a bag of treats as she went past. After a couple of failures, she ran right past me. The owners loved it, and I think the dog felt good about herself too 🙂


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