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Dog running towards owner during recall training

The essentials

  • You can teach reliable recall training in four steps — Hint: every step uses praise and treats!
  • Move outside slowly — Make sure your dog consistently obeys their verbal cue indoors before holding training sessions outside.
  • It isn’t just for off-leash adventures — In dangerous situations that could steal your dog’s attention, reliable recall training may prevent a disaster.

If you’ve ever experienced your dog running out of sight, you’ll understand the dire need for a strong recall.  You can easily teach your dog to come when called in four easy steps. All you need is patience and a handful of treats or a favorite toy to get started.

4 steps to train your dog to come when called

1. Provide incentive

Grab a handful of your dog’s favorite treat or any “high-value” treat that is especially tasty. Using what they love is a great way to keep their attention — this can also be a toy if your pup isn’t super food-motivated.

2. Work on recall from a short distance indoors

With a treat in your hand, use the command word for “come” and feed them the reward. To ensure your pup comes back to you, attach a long leash and gently reel them in as you call their name and give the command.

Treat training like a game. Keeping your tone playful and loving will encourage your dog to listen to you and look forward to next time.

Dr. Cahn advises that it can be helpful to run backward away from your dog as you tell them to “come” — this can trigger their instinct to chase after you.

3. Move practice outside

Practice reliable recall training for a while indoors. Once you’re confident that your dog knows the command, move to a secure place outside. A fenced area works best, but if you don’t have access to one, you can use a long leash.

4. Practice in challenging environments

At first, you’ll want to maintain a controlled environment with a leash and/or a fenced yard with minimal distractions. Eventually, though, you’ll have to put your dog to the test.

Once you think they’re ready, take your dog to the park on a quiet day or another safe, open area. Practice telling them to come when you call them. Once they do, you can let them off the leash (in acceptable off-leash areas only).

Remember, this is the most critical step of your mission. Be proud of your dog for their progress!

Things to avoid 

It may feel natural to use your dog’s name as the command word when calling them, but experts discourage this because it doesn’t tell them what to do. While your dog might have a positive association with their name, they also might not always equate the word with the action of coming, which is important. You can call their name out to grab their attention, but add the “Come” command after.

Above all else, avoid conveying distress or annoyance when training your dog. If you scold or punish your dog, they’ll be less likely to come to you in the future. Positive reinforcement training with plenty of praise and treats works best.

The importance of having an “emergency” recall 

Most training situations necessitate a small amount of treats and an enormous amount of praise. After all, you don’t want your dog to develop obesity or other health problems while they’re learning to reliably recall. However, there is one situation that calls for a shower of treats or a decadent indulgence: emergency recall training.

Fires, fast cars, or dangerous animals can appear quickly and put your furry friend in precarious situations. Teaching your dog an emergency recall word or phrase in advance may quite literally save their life.

To teach your dog emergency recall, choose an exclusive word or phrase and compel them with an extra special treat — hotdogs, steak, or anything that may normally be off-limits (but is still safe for your dog to have). Teach your dog to associate the high-value treat with the word by following the same steps you used for reliable recall training.

You only use this word in truly dire situations, not when your pup won’t come to you at the dog park. You may need to refresh their memory every few months to ensure the skill is still there, but don’t overdo it or it won’t be as “special” to your dog.

Safety tips for reliable recall training 

Training your dog requires a certain level of trust. Following certain safety practices can reduce the risk of losing your dog.

  • Leash or enclosed area. It’s important to keep your dog on a leash or in an enclosed area—at least at first. Once your dog knows their cue word and obeys it consistently, you can begin letting them off-leash in a low-distraction environment free from other people, dogs, and squirrels.
  • Microchip. Proactively microchipping your dog gives them the best chance at being reunited with you if they accidentally get away. If someone finds your dog and brings them to a shelter or vet, they can scan their microchip to find your phone number and information.
  • Collar. Even if your dog wears a harness, it’s a good idea for them to also wear a collar with identification tags, including their rabies tag.

Teaching your dog to come on cue takes time, but is highly rewarding. Once you know your dog will come back — even if they’re out of sight — you can reliably let them exercise off-leash in your backyard or at the dog park.

Most importantly, teaching them an emergency recall word or phrase looks out for your dog’s safety in case they ever need to return to you quickly. Just remember — treats and high praise are the keys to success.

Frequently asked questions

What do you do when your dog won’t come when called?

If you’re training your dog and they won’t come, increase the treats, decrease distractions, and restrict the training area. For example, if you’re still indoors and they won’t come, try the command from across the living room instead of across the house. As soon as your dog comes to you, reward them with praise and treats.

Even though training can be frustrating, it’s important not to sound stressed or angry when you call them. A negative reaction decreases their likelihood of coming back next time, while an excited voice encourages them to return to you — and of course, their favorite food.

How long does it take to train a dog to come when called?

Dogs learn at different paces. Your dog may take on quickly, or several weeks might pass before they consistently come when called. Our tip? The more enticing the reward, the quicker they’ll learn, so pile on the praise and treats.

What are good recall words for dogs?

“Come” “here” or similar simple words work as a recall word. Whatever you choose, the most important thing is to stay consistent. You may also want to train your dog with an “emergency” recall word or phrase that’s rewarded with lots of praise and treats. While the word won’t be used on a regular basis, your dog will remember the good things that follow and may be more willing to come immediately when called. In certain situations, this powerful phrase may save their life.

How do you train a dog who ignores a recall?

While frustrating for training, some dogs are more independent minded than others and may willfully ignore your command to come. If this happens more often than not, increase their reward and move your training to a more contained area inside. Once they’ve mastered their recall cue indoors, you can relocate back outside or to a larger area indoors. If you’re having trouble it’s also a great idea to enroll in a class or private training sessions with a trainer. Just be sure to choose someone who uses positive reinforcement techniques..

What are some good reward ideas for reliable recall training?

Positive reinforcement is the most effective method of dog training because it relies on building a secure bond with your pup without using negative punishments or intimidation. You can use a combination of praise, rubs, scratches, toys, and treats for positive reinforcement training. If you know your dog likes chicken flavored jerky treats, use that. Just remember to break up treats into bite-sized pieces when training so your dog doesn’t consume an excessive amount of calories.