Improve Your Dog’s Recall With Play

Sure, I can make Honey sit, stay, and come to me all day long. But the best way to improve her recall is through play.

Honey the golden retriever learns recall through play.

I’ll follow my tug toy anywhere.

Where Did She Go?

Honey loves to explore off leash. Luckily, she doesn’t go far.

That’s because I continually reinforce Honey’s attention on me by playing frequent games of Hide and Seek.

I wait until she’s deeply absorbed in a smell or chewing on a stick. Then I duck behind a tree to wait for her to notice I’ve gone.

Honey the golden retriever hides behind a tree with only her shadow showing.

I’m hiding. I bet you can’t find me.

The moment Honey notices I’m gone is an anxious one. So I don’t wait long before making a noise, bringing out a stinky treat (if I’m up wind of her), or calling out “Where’s Honey?”

Honey comes running and I reward her with a game of tug, that stinky treat, or a big scratch.

Honey the golden retriever comes out of hiding.

Here I am. Did you miss me?

You Can’t Miss Me If I Never Go

At a dog park, the person who makes me craziest is Oblivous Man (or Woman).

Salty Dog Park in Southport, NC

We were lucky to find a nice off-leash play area less than a mile from the marina we visited in Southport, NC.

As soon as they let their dog off leash to play, they plant their butt on a bench and gossip or sip their coffee with no regard for their dog at all.

Not only do they miss it if their dog has problems with another dog, they also conveniently miss the opportunity to clean up after him.

But most of all, they miss a grand opportunity to improve their dog’s recall.

When I take Honey to the dog park, I’m constantly on the move.

She’ll greet another dog and enjoy a quick game of bitey face. But once the play ebbs, she looks up to where she last saw me.

But I’m not there anymore. I’ve moved to another area in the park.

It’s like playing Hide and Seek in the wide open.

Honey the golden retriever comes running.

You’re hard to keep track of woman. But you wouldn’t be able to get away with this if we walked in the desert.

Once Honey spots me again, I either praise her verbally and tell her to return to play or I call her for a quick check in before releasing her to have more fun.

As a result, she has an excellent recall, even with the distractions of the dog park.

Don’t Try This If…

There are many reasons Hide and Seek is a good game for me to play with Honey:

  • I’ve practiced her recall with her since she was 8 weeks old.
  • She’s very bonded to me.
  • She’s just a little bit anxious about separating from me.
  • I only play Hide and Seek if we’re in a safe area with low risk of something going wrong (for instance, I’d never try it close to the road or with overwhelming distractions).
  • Over 100 years of breeding has given her a strong genetic likelihood to pay attention to people.

But Hide and Seek was a rotten game to play with two of my earlier dogs.

My first dog, Christie, had a strong sense of wanderlust. Whenever she could, she’d go on a walkabout just to see what there was to see.

Agatha and Christie, litter mates, pose for the camera.

Agatha, lying down, stuck to me like glue. Christie loved to roam.

She just had an independent spirit.

After Christie, I lived with Shadow who was so nose-driven that every part of her brain not associated with scent would shut down.

When Shadow’s sniffer kicked into overdrive, I could shout into her ear or pass liver under her nose and it wouldn’t distract her from the scent she was already tracking.

Sniffing Dog

We played sniffing games with Shadow in the house.

So don’t take your Beagle mix out to the park and blame me when he pays no attention when you duck behind a tree.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use play to train your dog’s recall. You just have to be more creative.

Play With Your Dog

If your dog isn’t trustworthy off leash outdoors, here are a few games you can play around the house to improve his recall:

  • While your dog is in another room or eating dinner, leave a trail for him to follow to find you. Depending on your dog, your trail could consist of treats or dirty laundry.
  • When your dog is dozing, slip under a blanket and call her name. When she comes, enjoy her favorite game or other treat.
  • Use his chase instinct by running away while calling him to you.

Most importantly, whatever games you play, make sure you never poison your dog’s recall. (I’ve made a list of twelve ways to ruin your dog’s recall and you’ll find a few more in the comments.)

Using play to improve your dog’s recall makes you more likely to practice. After all, you’re playing games. You don’t doing a serious training session.

And the more you practice, the better your dog’s recall will be.

Honey the golden retriever comes running.

Wait for me. I’m coming.

Your Turn: Do you have any favorite games that help your dog’s recall?

Positive Pet Training Hop

Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below.  Our theme for this month is play and trying out new training games.


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  1. Those are great ideas, I will do this with Torrey. She has good recall, but I think this would make it even better.

  2. Excellent suggestion for recall re-enforcement. Sam is the consummate sniffer so I have to keep my mom’s 3rd eye on him when we’re out in the front garden, otherwise he’d be half way to Kansas. Luckily he’s so bonded to me and almost always comes a-running right away when he realizes his mama calls. Whew!

  3. Fantastic tips, Pamela! Haley loves hide and seek too and anytime she wanders a little bit too far off-leash, I duck behind a tree or hide too because I know she’ll be looking for me soon and it helps remind her to stay a little closer next time.

    I LOVE that second picture of Honey’s shadow. That’s adorable!! 🙂

  4. Love the idea of using hide-and-seek for recall reward! We work on recall all the time but I haven’t tried that game. Our favorite is when Ted and I stand far apart in a field and call Toby back and forth several times, rewarding him with his favorite treat as he reaches us. He gets good exercise too.
    Good advice to know your dog and play accordingly. Honey is obviously loving hide and seek.

  5. bj-pup says:

    i’m collecting all these ideas and will use then when get another dog.

  6. Mom used to hide from me all the time when I was little, and I learned to pay close attention to her. Bailie tried that game last month and was in a panic. She needs to play a few more times to get the point I think.

  7. Great post! I hide from the girls, too! I also play a lot of “catch and release” (premack) games.

  8. I’ve often heard many say they play similar games with their dog for the same training reinforcement. I always forget and start screaming to the top of my lungs. Gotta remember to try this.

  9. I love that your recall cue is “Where’s Honey?”

  10. I played hide and seek with Mr. N once and he freaked out when he looked up and didn’t see me and started sprinting in the direction of home…. We don’t play that game really anymore! I think it’s good for dogs who are not as strongly velcro. Thanks for joining the hop!

  11. We play hide and seek, too! It’s especially reinforcing for Velcro-Nola.

  12. That’s great!!
    It’s so much fun to play hide and seek!

    Love x

  13. Chantel says:

    Great tips! I gave you a follow on bloglovin.

  14. These are great suggestions! We play hide and seek with the poodles, but I don’t do it spontaneously when they least expect it. I’ll have to try that!

  15. Thank you, thank you, I’ve been looking for ways to improve my dogs recall, but the thing is when they’re outside they become so focused on the scent of a squirrel, or movement of branches that a mere treat is nothing to them (it doesn’t help that they aren’t very food motivated to begin with). Also, do you have any suggestions with working with two dogs. We find that Harlee has trouble focusing when she is not around Luna, but when Luna is with her she usually interrupts a good training moment,
    Thanks Sarah

  16. I love playing games with Laika at the park, it really does enforce a strong recall. Though I have to admit she’s not the best candidate for hide & seek out in publis; she gets a little too anxious when one of us gets out of her sight & she’ll start letting out a high pitch whining noise that gets the attention of everyone around us. It’s a little bit awkward to say the least.

    She is fine playing hide & seek at home though, I think we just need to continue building up her confidence out in public before we try that again.

  17. Love the photo of Honey’s shadow! Kilo doesn’t get to be off leash, his recall isn’t strong enough that I’d trust he’d come back.