Training the Dog for a Reliable Recall

Achieving a reliable recall isn’t a matter of teaching a single exercise, the secret is in an amalgamation of different exercises and games.


  •  6′ loopless lead, if you have trouble sourcing one contact me.
  • Training treats.
  • Tug toy or rubber ring, having taught the dog how to play with it, carefully if the dog still has it’s puppy teeth.
  • Signal – think about what command you want to use, normally ‘come’.

Initial Steps

Whilst out walking with the dog, walk backwards and call the dog with a ‘come’ and reward with a treat, as you reward say ‘good’. This simple exercise is very important, it connects the cue ‘come’ with the behaviour, in a situation where the dog cannot ignore the cue, and it establishes ‘good’ as a reward marker. You can use any word you like, as a reward marker e.g. good, yes or gizmo! At this stage do not ask for a sit, just reward for the dog coming to you.

Once the dog is performing reliable, use the loopless lead, and as you walk backwards drop the lead and leave it trailing, (any problems you can just stand on the lead). At the same time you can become a bit more animated in body & voice, and try to get as far from the dog as possible, before he catches you.

Once established take this behaviour on the road, in different locations and with minor distractions. During this phase randomise the treat rewards, although you should always reward with your voice and behaviour.

In the early days it is important that the ‘come’ command is only given when you know that the dog will comply.

Adding a Little Control

Now we are going to ask a bit more from the dog! Starting back on a loose, loopless lead when the dog comes to you continue moving backwards luring with the treat. Then turn your body 180 degrees to the right, so that the dog is now being lured at heel by your left knee. After a few paces, about turn 180 degrees to the right for a pace or two then sit and reward, all the time telling the dog how good it is!

Once reliable, then drop the lead again and practise with the lead trailing.

Three exercises in one!! recall, heelwork and sit. Once reliable take it on the road again, different environments, minor distractions and randomized food rewards.


Food is a good way to teach a behaviour, but I have found that a toy, tug of war and play is a more reliable way of getting a dog back from a distraction. After all most dogs would rather play with another dog than come back to you for a treat, the trick is to transfer that desire for play to you.

I use a rope tug toy or a rubber ring both of which I carry in my left pocket or on my belt, (this also helps when I do heelwork with the dog).

So now we can replace the food treats with tug of war and play, unlike treats we don’t have to randomise the reward when it comes to play. With tug of war I am happy to let the dog win it, although with some breeds e.g. Staffies, Boxers, Rottweillers etc. I will ensure that the dog has a good ‘leave’ or ‘drop’ first.


A Bit More Control

All my dog training is reward based, ‘reward only’ (which is a fallacy anyway) training will always hit a glass ceiling when the dog finds a competing distraction more immediately interesting than you.

So we need to give ourselves some tools to use when the dog is really distracted. This is where I introduce a ‘No’, which can be adjusted according to the occasion, the ‘No’ is not a punishment it just tells the dog to change it’s behaviour.

With the dog on a loose loopless lead, I wait until the dog finds something mildly interesting. I will then say ‘No’, ‘Leave’ then ‘Come’ & ‘Sit’ and reward with a food treat. With my female clients I say that the no and leave should be in your husband/boyfriend voice, and the come and sit should be in your dog voice! Keeping the dog on the lead doesn’t mean yank the dog to you. However, the dog doesn’t have a choice so use the lead just to guide the dog to you. I have found that the dog soon picks this up, once they realise a treat is in the offing. You can use these commands when faced with bigger distractions, also practise with the lead trailing before dispensing with it all together.

Practise this with other dogs, first on the lead, remember they will be one of the biggest distractions. This is also an excellent exercise to deal with resource guarding again starting with something the dog is mildly interested in.

This also give us extra tools i.e. signals to use when the dog ignores the initial recall command.

Reinforcement Through Play

This can start with something as simple as you changing direction when the dog is loose and not watching you. They are quite happy to run off and do their own thing, but if you go another way without telling them! When they reach you have a play with them. This can then be made more interesting by hiding, either behind a tree or laying in long grass. One variation I like, especially with kids is to get them laying in the long grass then before releasing the dog saying ‘Where’s ………….’, eventually they will associate the name with the individual.

When calling your dog, as it approaches, throw a toy over your head, or between your legs if a small breed. This helps speed up the recall, the rubber ring is in it’s element here as it will still be rolling i.e. alive, when the dog gets to it. I then develop this exercise waiting until the dog is near then with the toy in my hand getting the dog to sit, then reward and play. The next step is to put the toy under your chin, use both hands out wide when you call the dog, as he sits in front of you just lift your chin. The dog will be in the perfect position close and looking up to the toy, the body language is ideal for calling the dog from a long distance.

Next are the retrieves, throw a toy and when the dog brings it back have a good play with it. A good trick here, I have found, if your dog drops the toy before giving it to you, then as soon as they pick it up walk off,they will often run to face you with the toy. They want you to know just how clever they are, you can then develop this game to retrieve anything with human scent on. Instead of a toy throw an old purse or wallet, encourage the dog to pick it up by playing with it, when the dog brings it to you exchange it for their toy and have a really good game. Eventually the dog will be happy to retrieve various articles, hidden or open, in exchange for a game.

If desired you could teach the dog just to indicate the article with it’s nose, and then reward with a toy and play.

This is not a complete examination of the recall, however, it provides a framework you can use and embellish as you wish.

 The primary aim of all these games is to get the dog running back to you willingly, in exchange for play which not only reinforces the recall, but also your relationship.


Dog, training, behaviour, recall, games, exercises.

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