3 Must Knows For A Perfect Recall

My dog Honey isn’t perfect. But she has a very reliable recall.

Most of the time.

But there are three “must knows” for helping Honey to have a perfect recall. And I bet they’re the same three thing you must know to keep your dog’s recall strong.3 Must Knows For A Perfect Recalll

Three Rules For A Perfect Recall

Did you ever notice how much easier everything is when you can break it down to three rules?

After years of failures, I’ve discovered the three things I must know to keep Honey coming to me every time I call her.

I must know:

  • What my dog loves more than anything else
  • What is most likely to cause her to fail
  • When to stop relying on her recall and start relying on her leash

Here’s how knowing those three things helps Honey have an excellent recall.

Honey the golden retriever loves playing in sand. If only it helped her recall.

I love playing in sand. How are you going to use that information to keep me coming to you every time?

What Honey Loves

One of the downsides of positive reinforcement for training is the overemphasis on food treats.

It’s not the science of behaviorism that tells us to use food treats. Rather it’s an easy tool for us dumb humans.

I do it too.

But to have a bomb proof recall, you need to know, I mean really know, what your dog loves above all else.

Honey enjoys a nice soft treat. She adores a ball or squeaky toy.

Honey the golden retriever loves to play tug.

This is the BEST. GAME. EVER.

But she loves a dog loving human. Especially if they have a soft treat and a squeaky toy.

If I take Honey into a park to play off leash, I need to have a toy and a treat. But more importantly, I need to put my full focus on having fun with her.

Honey the golden retriever plays a game with Mike.

A parade could go by with a float of golden retrievers tossing treats and I wouldn’t leave my fun game.

If I take a moment to scoop some poop or turn my attention to something else, Honey will start looking for another dog lover who has his own treat and toys.

Which brings me to my second must know.

What Causes Honey To Fail

For Honey, the answer to the first question is also the answer to the second question. Because Honey loves people more than anything else, that’s what will cause her to forget her recall.

My biggest training failures happen when I underestimate the effect a friendly human with a treat or toy will have on my dog.

And if the friendly human is across a busy street, I could have more than a training problem to deal with.

Honey the golden retriever yearns for friends on the boat.

I wish our boat had a larger crew. I love meeting new people. I guess I’ll just save my love for the auto pilot.

Which is why I also need to know one more thing to help Honey have a perfect recall.

When To Rely On A Leash Instead Of Recall

I’ve known dogs who are so perfectly in tune with their humans that they’d never leave their side.

As much as I’d love to have that with Honey, I’m too lazy a trainer to reinforce it enough. And Honey is too sociable a dog to be able to count on it.

Which is why I need to know when it’s unreasonable to expect Honey to return to me when I call her off-leash.

For some dogs, especially those who follow their noses everywhere, it’s anywhere but a white-walled room with no windows or doors.

For Honey, it’s when I see a new person and their dog entering the park we’re already playing in.

As soon as I spot another dog lover, I snap Honey’s leash back on. If I don’t, I know I’ll regret it.

Besides, why do I want to set Honey up for failure?

Insisting your dog have a perfect recall in front of their biggest temptation is like asking someone to stick to a 1500 calorie a day diet while living over a bakery.

Honey wears a leash when we can't be sure of her recall.

This picture would look much better without my harness and leash. Do you leave it on so you have a way to hold on if an alligator gets me?

What You Must Know To Help Your Dog’s Recall

Every dog is different. So what I’ve discovered about Honey is probably not true for your dog.

And while not every dog will learn to return to you in any situation, any dog will return to you if you know what they love, their biggest temptation, and when to stop relying on recall and start relying on the leash.

Your turn: What keeps your dog from having a perfect recall? Or are you one of those super teams that never fails?

Positive Pet Training Hop


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  1. Martine says:

    Our boys are led by their noses. We live on a forested property. When they get a scent on a walk, they’re gone. Once they realize they can’t catch what they’re following, they come back, but no amount of calling has any effect. The only way to address this would be to always walk them on a leash, which we don’t really want to do.

  2. We have our own three tips for a perfect recall. 1. a fenced area, 2. absolutely no critters to be seen in the area 3. we need to be really tired or hungry. Basically, we are perfect at recall if we want to be, but anything for a hound to sniff and forget it. We’re okay with it, and it’s much less stress with us on leash in unfenced areas. Sure, we probably could get to the point of a perfect recall, but for what we enjoy doing, it really wouldn’t be worth the extreme amount of time and training. We are not dogs like retrievers who love to please humans, we like to please ourselves first most of the time.

  3. best list I’ve seen. Good job

  4. BD was pretty good, but Mity would always look around first before coming back – just to make sure there was nothing better on offer. If Mity decided to come back he would come racing at you, but then stop just out of arms reach away… you wouldn’t tell him what to do!

  5. Brilliant advice. Sam has the same problem with being too sociable but he’s also too stubborn at times. And he has no love or attention for balls or toys, only treats…most of the time. 😉

    Just love that sweet face of Honey onboard your boat. She’s one fabulous looking Golden! Just makes me want to leave lipstick marks all over her head. ღ

  6. I’m a trainer and have found that most dogs are on an invisible leash – that is, my dog seems to think he is connected to me if he is close to me or not too far away. Say, 10 feet. If he gets farther away than that, he knows he is free and can outrun me (actually he can always outrun me but he doesn’t know it). So, when he approaches the 10-foot distance, I call him back.

    Also, many trainers teach that the recall is the most important skill and can save your dog’s life so it must be reinforced each and every time (with treats, so wear a treat bag on a walk). (Other trainers say that a reliable recall is trained with a variable schedule of reinforcement.) And, what if it is an emergency and your don’t have any treats? Well, your dog has built up a reliable recall (if you have put a lot of deposits/treats in his bank for coming) and chances are that he will come. Then you love him like there is no tomorrow (for coming) and go buy him a steak!

  7. We haven’t worked on recall a lot, since we have our big fenced in yard, and having beagles and a fearful dog, aren’t in the habit of letting them off leashes anyway. However, Sheba is allowed off leash at times and she’s actually more responsive to treats than I thought she would be. However, on occasion she gets a bit too excited about her freedom, so we do need to work on this with her. I like your simple and concise tips, and I think a lot of it boils down to knowing your dog.

  8. Knowing when to keep them on leash is so important. As much as I’d love to live in a perfect world where our dogs can be “free” all day long I know it’s not safe. And I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to have a Beagle or hound that follows their nose more than I already deal with.

  9. Hmm… I don’t think a squirrel like being in my pocket? Mr. N’s recall is normally very good. He has his moments though and horses drive him crazy! Thanks for joining the hop!

  10. Great post! Simple to understand and follow through on.

    Scout is simple, he loves the Puller Rings. Sydney loves me. Rodrigo and Zoey are highly food motivated. I’ve used this knowledge to practice recall with them several days during the week.

    I can’t count on them when we’re away from home. Too many distractions and other loose leash dogs.

  11. Such simple yet integral tips! I think you’ve definitely simplified it. Good job!

  12. Great tips, as always! Sometimes I read your blog and think–Nala and Honey have a lot in common! But when I read this one, I think–oh man, Nala and Honey are very, very different.

    Nala loves food and me. She does not give a flip about strange people out in the world, but she does like meeting new dogs, so that’s when I need to make sure to stay close enough and attentive enough for Nala to remember how amusing I am (or to just call her and run off in another direction! Boy, she comes running fast). And lately, we’ve been trying letting her drag her long line on trails where it’s legal for her to be off-leash–but I decided not to last week when we went on a couple of hikes around dusk, when the deer are active. Just before sunset when possibly surrounded by big, flighty animals is the perfect time to rely on a leash for us!

  13. I like the way that you wrote this and the different point of view you took than the typical “tips for a good recall.” It should be easy for most owners to answer these three questions, which will absolutely lead to a great recall.

  14. BJ Pup (Lynda) says:

    When I get a new dog I’ll have to remember to put this in place. When let BJ off leash in Central Park, most of the time he would come when called. If not I could whisper the word “cookie” and would come running.