Getting Your Dog to Come When Called, Even With Distractions

recall training

Whether it’s a dropped leash, slipped collar, open door, or unlocked gate, chances are that at some point your dog will get loose. A loose dog can get into all sorts of trouble with other dogs, people, and especially motor vehicles. The best way to decrease the risk of your dog getting injured, should they get loose, is to train a rock-solid recall. Recall training that results in a recall behavior is arguably the most important command to teach your dog. 

How To Train A Recall

Before you go anywhere, the building blocks to a great recall behavior lie in your relationship with your dog; your dog should genuinely want to be near you. Strengthening your relationship with your dog will inevitably strengthen the recall he or she will later learn.

Some things to remember:

  • An effective recall behavior is not created overnight. This is a practice that takes time, patience, and consistency. 
  • If you train a great recall and then never practice again, your dog will forget the behavior when they get loose and it truly counts. 
  • Any kind of training takes a positive attitude; if you feel you’re having a bad day, it’s probably best to skip training. 
  • Training sessions should be fun, short, and end on a positive note.

What You’ll Need For Recall Training:

  • A distraction-free training space
  • A long leash (not retractable)
  • Treats (high-value)
  • A command (I use “come”)
  1. In the House
    1. In a quiet room with minimal distractions, call your dog to you.
    2. Reward with a treat and physical praise.
    3. Let your dog walk away, then call them back to you again.
    4. If your dog stays with you, throw a treat across the room before calling them back.
  1. Leashed Walk
    1. Take a structured, leashed walk, avoiding as many distractions as possible.
    2. Use your command only when your dog is walking calmly forward. As soon as your dog turns their head, offer them a treat and verbal praise. Then use a release word so they know they can continue moving forward.
    3. The release is an important part of recall training; it’s important for your dog to know that they can go back to what they were doing once they check in with you.
    4. If your dog checks in with you (turns their head to look at you), immediately offer a treat and praise. This teaches your dog that coming back to you is rewarding, whether you asked them to or not.
    5. If your dog isn’t returning to you, try calling their name as you move a few steps backward. The backward motion will entice your dog to “chase” you.
  2. Long Leash Walk
    1. When your dog reliably responds to your command on a short leash, progress to recall training with a longer leash. 
    2. Repeat the previous steps on the longer line.
    3. Remember to take gradual steps. If your dog does not respond well on a long leash, go back to using a shorter leash until he or she is ready to progress.

  1. Add Distractions
    1. Once you have a reliable on-leash recall, add increasingly intense distractions, starting, of course, with very mild ones.
    2. Try visiting a local park with several visitors or inviting a friend over into your backyard. Begin with mild distractions that will not trigger your dog’s prey drive.
    3. Have your dog stay with you and reward each time he or she checks in with you. 
    4. Once your dog seems focused on you and not the distraction, move forward and give your dog some free reign on the leash.
    5. Timing at this stage is important. Use your command immediately after your dog notices the distraction; if you wait until your dog has completely tuned everything else out, you’ve missed your window.

  1. Off-Leash in a Fenced Area
    1. If you’ve added distractions and your dog still returns to you from 15-20 feet away reliably, you can move to off-leash exercises in a fenced-in area.
    2. To set your dog up for success, make sure your dog’s on-leash recall training is near perfect, even with distractions, before taking off the leash. It’s important to be honest with yourself regarding your dog’s progress and not to advance to the next step too soon or too quickly.
    3. Do not call your dog in this stage unless you are sure he or she will respond; if you call your dog and they do not return, they learn that there are no consequences for ignoring you.
    4. Once your dog is distracted, run backward to engage your dog’s prey and play drive. As they run towards you, use your command word. Heavily reward them when they reach you.
    5. Practice, practice practice.
    6. Make sure you use variation in types of treats and other rewards: don’t let your dog get bored with his or her reinforcers.

  1. Off-Leash with No Fence

This is really no different than off-leash with a fence in terms of training. Be sure your dog has a very effective recall in enclosed areas before moving outside the safety of a fence.

Tip: Play games with your dog to strengthen and practice their recall.

Like all training, creating a recall behavior with your dog can be a painstaking and frustrating experience. Once you work through the steps and succeed in training the behavior, both you and your dog will be able to rest easy knowing you can recall your canine companion from potentially dangerous situations.

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