How to Best Work Alongside Your Dog, Part 5: The Reliable Recall

Brought you to by Charley Perkins and Romi  

Recall is a vital command to ensure your dog’s safety when they are off leash.

As we found out in the previous post, “heel”  is a great tool not only for establishing and maintaining control, but also to get some necessary exercise each day with your dog (ideally outside). Right now, we are all inside with our dogs more than usual, and physical and psychological exercise is critical for our health and happiness. I know that Romi is a lot easier to have nearby if she has burned off some energy outdoors. Romi and I are lucky to live in a place where she can run off-leash, play fetch, and just explore, and we are really grateful for these unique circumstances.

For our living situation, it’s easiest to exercise Romi off-leash outside, butI always remember that I am ultimately responsible for her actions and her safety. It can be kind of scary to “disconnect” from your dog by letting them run, especially when you start to think about all the potential dangers out in the world and all the trouble your dog can get into. I worry most about uncontrolled interactions with aggressive dogs, wildlife, and busy streets. For those reasons, before you ever let your dog off the leash, you should have a 100% trust in your ability to “recall” them. Your dog’s recall should be strong enough that you can rely on it to steer them away from trouble, or from a potentially life-threatening situation, such as a busy road.

Your dog should recall as soon as you give the command–once, and only once.

Ideally, you establish a recall when your dog is a puppy. It’s easiest to teach recall in a hallway or a narrow space, as your dog only has one way to go (to you). Start the recall training by putting your dog at the end of the hallway.  You can let your dog explore their end hallway, then get their attention by saying their name. Try get down on the ground and be enthusiastic, and they will probably come right to you. If necessary, tempt them with a treat. Once your dog comes, quickly reward with a treat and tons of praise. Pretty soon, your dog will start to key into the fact that returning to you is a positive. Now you can label the recall.

You need to use a clear, simple term such as “come” or “here,” maybe also including your dog’s name (like “Romi, Here!”). Label the behavior with one clear term, give the command, and don’t repeat it. Once your dog is clearly coming your way, you can start praising, and always reward a job well done. If your dog doesn’t respond to your recall command at first, you may need to get their attention; try adding a clap or a whistle. Avoid the urge to say something repetitive like “Here girl, come on Romi, come here Romi, come on!’  This will only confuse your dog, as consistency is key to your dog commiting your command to their memory.  

Your dog should recall directly to you with some energy. They shouldn’t meander back to you, or get distracted, or take their time. As your dog starts to get the hang of recall, increase the challenge. Remember to take baby steps but add difficulty and distance, even if you are still in the house. Try a recall through a couple rooms and around a corner rather than just in a small hallway. If your dog doesn’t do well, just move back a step; you want to shoot for 100% success, so try to read your dog and move at your dog’s pace.

If you want to up the challenge even more, bring your dog outside on a long training lead. Go to an outdoor space with distractions, let your dog get some distance and forget about you, and then try the recall. Don’t use the cord to reel your dog in; just use it as a backup to keep your dog safe if they don’t come straight to you. If your dog starts to get distracted, you can give them a cue by a little tug on the cord just to get their attention. You can start that praise once they start moving toward you with focus.

When it’s time to practice “recall” off leash outside, remember to start training in a safe environment, like a dog yard or other fenced areas. 

Eventually, like me, you will likely have a situation where your dog ignores the command and/or takes too long to come back to you. When this happens, it’s very easy to get upset, and to give the command again more angrily.  It also can be  second nature to change the tone in your voice or to scold your dog when they finally get back to you.    Don’t do this. It is very confusing for your dog. Think about it: once your dog finally did what you wanted (come back to you), you gave it negative reinforcement. On the other hand you don’t want to praise it for coming back to you so slowly (also not your desired behavior).

As I hinted to above, Romi is sometimes a bit bit slow on her recall, especially if she’s been preoccupied by all the fun smells in our field, and it drives me crazy. When she does this, I work hard to keep my voice neutral and still praise her, but I don’t  reward her when she gets to me. I do reinforce the correct behavior right away, by leading or carrying  Romi back to where she lost focus, and having her sit. I then give her the recall command once with some extra positive enthusiasm, and she comes back quickly. It’s been rewarding to see her recall get so much faster and stronger.

Here we are practicing long-distance recall in Montana.

So there you have it. Recall is a fundamental skill to master, even if it is rare that your dog is off the leash. The secret is clarity, consistency, and a steady progression in difficulty. If your dog loses focus or confidence, just move back a step and drill the easier, more controlled recall more. This is a skill that you can start to practice as soon as your dog joins your household, and should never stop being trained and practiced. Keep in mind that recall drills are great for other family members to practice with your dog, too. The more reps the better, after all. I know that when I was little, I loved working with the dogs and was very proud of my ability as a dog trainer. 

One last tip for the day.  Involve your family or the people you live with in your dog’s training. I find that having a dog trained by and responding to multiple humans helps dogs socialize quicker, become more friendly, and be less protective. It is also great for your family because they will feel inspired to see the dog’s growth and progression, and concentrating on such a positive and fun activity will bring everyone together. Lastly, it’s great for you because it keeps both your dog and your family focused on a positive thing while you can use this time to be productive on something else.

I know that I have always loved “training” dogs.  Check out this funny old home video of me when I was three years old, practicing recall and learning what “enthusiastically” means. In all seriousness, expect your dog to have some difficulties learning the different voices in your household.  Remember to be consistent with the commands between trainers, and suggest that the other members of your household try to mimic your inflections in their commands.

Charley Perkins is Orvis Brand Marketing Manger, and a member of the third generation of family ownership.

Click here for previous posts in this series:

1. New Series: How to Best Work Alongside Your Dog
2. How to Create Productive Spaces for You and Your Dog, Part 1: Crate Training
3. How to Create Productive Spaces for You and Your Dog, Part 2: Place Training
4. How to Best Work Alongside Your Dog, Part 3: Behavior and Psychology
5. How to Best Work Alongside Your Dog, Part 4: Establishing Leadership with “Heel”

Products to Help Create Productive Spaces

Dog Beds

Throws and Dog Blankets

Indoor Gates and Fences

Dog Treats

(Romi and I like smaller sized training treats so you can train with more reps without over feeding.)

Moment of Chill videos, for when you need a break from training

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