7 Tips For Improving Your Dog Recall

About the author: Tegan Whalan is a dog enthusiast. She writes a blog called Some Thoughts About Dogs, which concentrates on all matters dog-related. Tegan is a border terrier lover, owner, and breeder, and also is involved in greyhound rescue.

Dogs can be great friends and great companions for all sorts of activities.  And, let’s face it, taking your doggy pal for a walk off lead is the best kind of fun.  However, it is imperative for your dog’s safety that it comes back when called. Here are seven tips to help train a recall.

1 Choose a unique word

This may seem simple, but many people forget to actually teach their dogs one word that means ‘come back’.  You should choose a unique word that you won’t use all the time (so that means the dog’s name is not a good choice).  You want your dog to learn that when they hear the unique word, it only means one thing – ‘come back’!  If you choose a word that is not unique, then your dog may learn to ignore it because it hears it so often. So choose something unique.

2 Reward your dog a lot, and often, and with something awesome

Make that unique word special by rewarding it often.  Find out what your dog really likes, and use it to your advantage.  You want your dog to learn that the ‘unique word’ means that good stuff comes from you.  Importantly, this is an ongoing process!  You need to continually offer rewards for the dog responding to your unique word. You probably want to teach this daily to begin with, and then several times a month even with an adult dog.

3 Teach your dog to come back and to touch you

Many dogs will come back, but not close enough for you to put them back on lead. The trick is to teach your dog to touch you, or at least tolerate you touching them.  So your ‘unique word’ means ‘come back and let me touch you’. Many trainers suggest you perform a ‘collar grab’ before rewarding the dog for coming.

4 Make it clear when the dog can leave you

Use a ‘release command’.  Have a word (such as “okay”, or “free”, or “finish”), which means that your dog can now leave you.  This means that the dog is clear when they need to be near you, and when they can continue their run at the park.

5 Release your dog to fun things

That being said, feel free to use your environment as a reward! Sometimes dogs like things in their environment more than things you can provide.  So what you could do is call your dog, and then release it back to whatever fun it was having – like swimming, playing with other dogs, or simply sniffing.  You are rewarding your dog with what they like.

6 Never punish a dog for coming

Why would a dog want to come back to you if you’re not fun?  It’s common sense to never scowl a dog for coming back to you.  But also think on the dog’s level – if you call your dog, put it on lead, and take it home every time it comes, then that is pretty punishing as well. These things taint your recall and make it less reliable.

7 Never call in vain – it could be rewarded

Don’t call your dog when it will not come.  Like if your dog is busy with something really awesome, and you know he won’t come.  Calling in vain simply teaches the dog that when you call, ignoring you is a good thing.  Pick the times that you call, at least in the training phase.  If you can’t ensure that your dog will come, don’t call.

About the author: Tegan Whalan is a dog enthusiast. She writes a blog called Some Thoughts About Dogs, which concentrates on all matters dog-related. Tegan is a border terrier lover, owner, and breeder, and also is involved in greyhound rescue.

Also check out 7 Things You Should Never Feed Your Dog.


  1. These tips make a lot of sense – but do you think it is possible for a dog that has learned bad habits or never been trained, like a rescued dog, to learn obedience like this?

    • Hey Richard. Thanks for your comment.

      “Bad habits” often mean that the dog has learnt that not coming back when called is rewarding. Like in tip 7, when a dog has been asked to come back a lot unsuccessfully, then the dog has learnt that it’s not worth its while to come back.

      This is why teaching a new, unique word is so important. Starting with this foundation, it is possible to teach a dog with “bad habits” that your unique word always means come back, and always means rewards. By picking a new and unique word, it will not be tainted with “bad habits” – it is really a fresh canvas to build a very strong association, and also a good recall.

      Hope that makes sense!

      • that’s a very interesting approach: a unique word as a new canvas to build on. Gotta remember that if I ever get a dog again!

        It usually all comes down to consistency and patience. That’s why I now have a cat :)

  2. I have a three year old golden retriever who is perfect with the family, but gets overly excited with other dogs around. I also had a nine year old golden, but he passed away in August, so now I feel my three year old is lonely because she’s doing things she never would have done before (like eating things from the trash can). She is generally well-behaved, but lately she’s been acting up.

    I want to get her a puppy to play with. Do you think it’s a good idea to get her obedience training first or let the puppy come into the home first?



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