How to teach your dog to come back to you

Training your dog recall

There are few finer sights than seeing your dog enjoy the freedom of running off the lead. But before you can let your pup loose, you need to be sure that they’re going to come back. 

Although at times it can seem like a challenging process, teaching your dog recall will help to keep them safe when they’re out and about and improve their sociability and cooperativeness.

Kathleen Pohl, a vet from Zetland Vets in Bristol and My Family Vets talks us through her top tips for achieving successful recall. 

BorrowMyDoggy dog running with a field with a ball in it's mouth
Doggy member Wilbur

Puppy recall training

A great place to start recall training is in the garden with your puppy on the lead. With patience, positivity, and plenty of treats, follow these initial steps: 

  • Take a step back from your pup

  • Using a flat hand, ask them to stay

  • Pause for about 5 seconds

  • Call your pup back

  • Reward them with a treat

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your dog while they are learning the basics. You can experiment with different treats and rewards, such as their favourite toy or lots of verbal praise. 

Training generally works better in short sessions, no longer than 5 minutes, a few times a day. The main takeaway is to teach your dog that coming back to you is always a good thing.

Once your dog has picked up the basics of recall, you start increasing the distance between you as well as adding in some distractions, such as toys or other people, to replicate the experience of a walk in the park. 

Always remember to treat your dog when they come back to you, no matter how long they take to come back. 

Teaching recall to a stubborn dog

If your dog is stubborn when it comes to recall, don’t worry. This is perfectly normal and affects lots of dog owners. Recall can be worked on regardless of how old your dog is. 

Here are some tips that will help your dog master coming back to you, no matter how stubborn they are.   

  • Make sure everyone in your house uses the same recall cue word that you’re using. Whether it’s ‘here’ or ‘come’ or something different altogether, consistency is key. 

  • Try not to overuse your cue word. Give your pooch 5 seconds or so to respond before you call them again. Overuse can mean that the phrase loses its meaning. 

  • If your dog doesn’t come back right away, stay calm and use a positive tone of voice. Using a negative or angry tone of voice will make your dog less likely to return. They need to build up a positive association with coming when called. 

  • Keep the rewards exciting. Use high-value rewards (such as cheese or chicken) when your dog comes away from something interesting and welcome them with open and positive body language. 

By practising recall daily; with encouragement, a positive attitude and tasty treats, you will see real improvement in your dog’s recall. 

Recall training with a long lead

One tactic you can use when it comes to recall training is using a long lead. You can attach the long lead, also known as a long line or a training lead, to their harness to keep them safe whilst they are training. 

This stops them from running into trouble whilst letting them experience the ebb and flow of the park environment. 

With the long line attached, call their name and reward them each time they respond. If they come over to you, reward them with even more treats.  

When you decide that the time is right to let your dog off the lead, you should start off somewhere safe. Make sure the environment is secure, away from traffic and mostly free of distractions (such as too many other dogs).

You should only let a dog off the lead when they are consistently responding to 90% of your calls. 

Remember that if you’re walking through an area containing livestock or game, you must keep your dog on a lead at all times. 

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