Top 12 Ways To Ruin Your Dog’s Recall

I’ve had dogs with the best of recalls. And dogs with the worst of recalls.

But even my roaming adventure dogs would have done better if I hadn’t done all kinds of stupid things to ruin their recall.

Honey the golden retriever comes when she's called.

Just look at my recall. Am I well-trained or what?

How to Ruin Your Dog’s Recall

Go ahead. Try these things. And see if it doesn’t totally ruin your dog’s recall.

Call her when you want to clip her nails, give her a bath, or comb knots out of her fur. Yeah, every dog loves to come bounding over for grooming fun.

Only use cheap, dried biscuits as a treat when you call your dog. A dog’s thinking process: Hmmm, chase a squirrel? Or get a dried up biscuit covered in pocket lint?

Honey the Golden Retriever worships her ball.

Oh magic ball. I’ll come back for you every time.

Do the same thing every time your dog returns when you call her. Even yummy treats get boring fast. Honey is always surprised when she comes to me. She never knows if she’ll get a treat, a game of tug, or a stick to play with.

Stand still while you’re waiting for your dog to answer your recall. You might have to do this in an obedience competition. But nothing stops you from running away from your dog at home. And a fleeing human is irresistible to a dog who loves a game of chase.

Calling your dog away from play time. Don’t use your recall cue to call your dog from a fun game. You go to him.

Wait until you have an emergency to practice your recall. Yeah, by the time your dog is slipping out the gate to chase the neighbor’s cat, it’s too late to work on your recall cue.

Call your dog more than once. How many dogs have you seen whose recall cue is “Buster, come. C’mon, Buster. Get over here. Come. Buster. Buster. Come.”

Using your dog’s name as their recall cue. If your dog knows his name (and it’s amazing how many dogs don’t), hearing it should make him pay attention to you. The recall cue is a different word, like “come.”

Having too many recall cues. To a human, “come,” “come ‘ere,” “get over here,” and “don’t make me come over there to get you” mean basically the same thing. To a dog, it’s just crazy talk.

Only practicing your dog’s recall in the house when there are no other distractions. Expecting to call your dog away from a busy street when he’s only come to you in the house is like expecting a kid still using training wheels to compete in the Tour de France.

“Rewarding” your dog for coming to you by doing something she hates. For Honey, it’s patting her on top of the head. She just hates it. It must be the doggy equivalent of squeezing the cheeks. But how many of us do just that when our dogs come to us?

Failing to understand that a strong recall is the best thing you can teach your dog and it’s worth working on every day. I’ve had my share of recall fails with Honey. Luckily my recall fails taught me to do more training instead of teaching me how dangerous cars are to dogs who don’t return when they’re called.

Honey, the Golden Retriever, comes running back on her walk.

I’m commmmmmmmming.

A Strong Recall Saves Lives

In one of my worst recall fails, Honey ran out into the street to greet someone she loved. Luckily, no cars were coming.

But as I watched her running away from me as I called her, I vowed to teach Honey a perfect recall.

I have successfully called Honey back to me after she set out to chase a squirrel. And when another dog beckons to her in the park.

Convincing her not to run after someone she loves is a much bigger temptation. So I set her up for success by making sure she’s leashed when that’s a potential. But I also continue to work on her recall in more distracting environments facing bigger temptations.

And hopefully my only recall fail will be when Honey returns to me so quickly she knocks me on my butt.

Your Turn: Have all your dogs been equally good at coming when called? How have you strengthened their recall?

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Comments

  1. We have a loooong way to go on this – we don’t have too many opportunities to practice off-leash – but I make sure I’m not inadvertently “poisoning” the cue by following many of your tips here.

    • When Honey was younger, we used a 30 foot training line to work on recall outdoors. It’s safe while still giving you a chance to practice in a more distracting environment.

  2. I admit to almost all of those recall fails…Thanks for the push to do better.

  3. Great advice! I never thought of running away…that could certainly work with Luke who loves to chase. The girls are good with their recall, and we do continue to practice also. Luke is proving challenging, but he’s still learning, and we are going to keep at it until he gets it.

    • Recall is especially tough with dogs known for their sniffers. Just getting their attention is tough.

      I’d love to hear how the running away works for you. Maybe you’ll post some video someday? :)

      • Yeah, we have a Beagle cross and once she gets her nose on the ground…it’s tough getting her to come then. Also it doesn’t help that my daughter has recalled her with no goodies in hand. VERY tough!

  4. This is something I practice with Torrey all the time. Mostly she is awesome. I have stopped her in tracks from chasing wildlife. People she likes, that’s another matter.

    • Since you can’t bring a fenced yard with you everywhere you go, I can see how a really good recall is crucial.

      Coming back instead of chasing critters is impressive. Good for Torrey.

  5. Great post–and a very important one. I think one should practice recall all the time. Never assume your dog has it down and doesn’t need refreshers.

    –Woofs (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats

    • Especially since a good recall is a life saver.

      And yes, all training needs refreshers. I have to remember that about my husband too. :)

  6. Nothing under the sun and stars would prevent my dogs from chasing a cat. There’s a new cat along my usual morning walk, so now the boys are leashed in that area. Jimmy will go back for 2nds and 3rds even after getting his face swatted with full out claws!

    • Well you know the cats are just mocking the boys, right? They’re showing off because they get to run around without leashes. :)

  7. One thing that I learned was not to use “treat, want a treat???” or our clicker to get our dogs to come back. It’s ooohhhh so tempting and I have cheated with the “treat” one when the dogs have turned a potty break into a play session, but I know that we need them to come when we call them.

    With me, they have a 90% recall; with J, it’s 99%. Amazing.

    • OMD, I forgot that one! I can’t believe it.

      Have you been watching me through binoculars?

      In my defense, I have only done the cookie thing when it’s below 0 degrees, Honey’s outside rolling in the snow, and I really, really, really have to pee.

      BTW, the recall ratios are the exact opposite in our household. I’m continually frustrated by my husband’s insistence on calling Honey more than once.

  8. This is the perfect post on recall! Whenever I’ve been asked for advice on this topic, I say the exact same stuff – except I probably forget parts. Now I’ll just refer people here!
    Lucky for us, we had trainers early on who instilled these principles in us, so we learned from Moses as a puppy and started with Alma as soon as she was adopted. And I’m glad – because it takes a LONG time to build up consistent recall in all places at all times at all distances (I’d conservatively guess > one year). And it takes even longer if you’ve effed it up.

    • I never thought about how long it takes to train an excellent recall. But now that you’ve made me think about it, a year or so sounds about right.

      And of course, it’s hard to know when you’ve really gotten a perfect recall. After all, any dog can find a distraction that’s irresistible.

  9. Bravo!

  10. Just ordered a 50′ leash so we can practice this safely!

    • OOh, I should have added that to my tips. We used a long leash with Honey when we started out. It’s a great way to keep things safe while practicing in a distracting place.

      Can’t wait to see how it goes.

  11. Great post! My recall has good days and bad days LOL

    • Well Malamutes are famous for being independent. Your humans are probably thrilled you ever come when you’re called. :)

  12. I am totally guilty of the “saying it more than once” thing. I am not sure what I am SUPPOSED to do though if my first call doesn’t break her attention on something else. Just not care and try it again another time and see if she comes after one call?

    • This is a tough one. The key is to work on it really hard in the house and back yard before you try it outside in a really distracting environment.

      The other important thing is to call your dog before their nose takes over and they lose their mind. The more you reinforce it when they have a good chance of succeeding, the better they’ll be able to keep part of their attention on you at all times.

      Of course this is much tougher with a dachshund than with a golden retriever. I had a horrible time working on it with my hound mix, Shadow. Her best recall was only about 75%. But she got tremendously better with regular practice.

  13. Oh, goodness no! The hard part for us with Küster is that at some point, the game has to end and he has to get back in the van to either wait for his turn again or to go back home, and he doesn’t ever want the game to end. We’ve made it better by building his recall into part of the game, but he can still be a turkey at times.

    • The dark side of having a dog with a strong drive, huh?

      Do you have some extra special toy or something that Kuster only gets in the car when he finishes his search practice?

  14. I have to remind myself all of the time not to keep repeating the command. I am so guilty of that. The trainer introduced us to chicken hot dogs, as a treat for a job well done. Dexter loves them.

    • My husband repeats the cue all the time too. I cannot get him to stop.

      Maybe I need to start clicker training my hubby? :)

      We use turkey hot dogs for Honey. I buy them up like crazy when they go on sale.

  15. I so need to work on recall – with both doodles. They are “ok” with it, but you’ve just reinforced that there is so much more I could be doing to improve. Thank you.

    • It’s easy to reinforce when you make it into a game. I’m sure your doodles are always up for some fun, right? :)

  16. This is SUCH a wonderful post and so spot-on. I’ve been guilty of many of those, but I’m really striving to be mindful of their recall and how I use/enforce it. Your point about setting them up for success is so important!

  17. Erin & Co. says:

    Since my yard is not fenced, recall is the first thing I work on when bringing a new dog into the home. I work on it by rewarding the dog anytime they come near me inside, that way outside they know what to expect I always, always, always reward off-leash outdoor recall, and it may be a multi-step reward (praise, dash towards the house, then food reward inside .. which also serves to make going inside fun and not something to be dreaded!)

  18. Mity has a rubbish recall, and will always look to see if there is a better option before coming back. However, he once took off after a rabbit and I don’t know if he sensed the panic in my voice but I yelled at him to stop and come . He stopped that instance spun on a dime and came shooting back to me.

    BD on the other hand always had a brilliant recall, and I like to practice it when we walk. Call him back to me, give him some fuss (which he loves) or a treat (which he aint bothered about) and then I release him to go have fun and throw a stick or ball or something. Worryingly, BDs recall is becoming a lot less reliable the more I practice. He still has moments when he’s brilliant, but the fact that it’s getting worse….. we did have a trainer say we had to make him bring the tennis ball back to us and drop it at our feet when walking (which I do sometimes) her logic was it would help with his aggression as by dropping it and us walking to it, he was walking us. I preferred to look at it as a new skill to learn, as collies are bright and I couldn’t see why he couldn’t learn to bring back a toy/ball to me. Do you think this could have wrecked his recall oh font of knowledge? :0)

  19. Gwynn’s recall isn’t perfect, but I was SO proud when he was off-leash in my front yard, saw some of his doggy friends down the street, started chasing them and did a full out boomerang move when I called him back. Always a good sign w hen your dog runs just as enthusiastically towards you as he does away!

  20. This is excellent, and I’m glad to hear someone else talking about the use of multiple call words and calling again and again. My best re call was with my first guide dog Simba. A friend & I were allowing our dogs to run in Philadelphia’s Valley Green Park. There’s a pond across from the Inn, which had ducks in it. Simba bolted for them, and my friend yelled, “He’s going to jump in with the ducks!” “Simba, HALT!” I yelled, and he stopped with his front feet right at the edge of the pond.

  21. They say my recall isn’t my best point. In fact, it’s hopeless if I think there is something that needs investigation!
    But I will always sit if asked – I just can’t help it! And that gives them time to catch up with me.

  22. These are some great how not to do it tips! Here’s another one: Only recall your dog when its time to go back to the car and go home. Guaranteed to ruin even the best of recalls (been there, done that!)

  23. My dog Ace has a good recall, but it could always be better. He won’t run off, but sometimes he ignores me if he’s smelling something good. I really need to work on using some highly valued food to reward him. Then his recall would be near perfect.

    Good point about using something your dog hates as a “reward.” My dad always picks his dogs up when he calls them, which they don’t like. They tolerate it, so he keeps doing it. Drives me crazy.

  24. People do the same boring thing when they call their dogs all the time. I see it at the dog park. The owner always has the same, semi-mediocre treat in their pocket when they call their buddy. Mixing it up is fun for the dog, and honestly more fun for the owner. Keep things interesting! Thanks for the ideas, and pointing out some of the mistakes all dog owners make.

  25. My neighbor (sadly now deceased) once asked if he should “punish” a dog for returning late after ignoring his call. I said of course not! he came back…be happy (like the prodigal son’s father) and work on his recall daily. He hunted Beagles….sometimes, our hounds have their own agendas r/t to their noses but, unless something like DEATH stops them, they do come home. Again, excellent post.

  26. Great list!!! The hardest one for me is to never scold her for what she was doing before I called her. I have to pretend that the “bad” behavior that preceded the recall never happened! And then I have to be more proactive in the future to prevent that behavior from even starting.

    Anyway, a great post!

  27. What a wonderful reminder of all those things we learned in “Recall” class. Sage definitely has a ways to go for that perfect recall, especially when there’s a cat beckoning across the street or that darn squirrel taunting her in the tree above. Something I need to work on more–your list is perfect!!

  28. Yes, I have ruined Fozzie’s recall…I think just with my bad energy when he breaks out of my yard and runs wild until he’s ready to come back. Which is not to say we haven’t worked on it, and done all the right things, and had success when we work in the back yard. But when he gets out of the yard and makes a beeline for the houses where the outdoor cats live, there’s just no way I can get him back!

    Your post is a good reminder to keep working, and work harder:)

  29. I read this like: Aha…yep…and that one! lol.

    I have to say I’m guilty of the vast majority of those mistakes. It’s one of those things that heat in the moment you forget best practices and just hope your dog comes running! Must. Do. Better. :-)

  30. CarolG. says:

    I trained my son’s recall at McDonalds Playland when he was little. I started off only going when I had a lot of time, I called him over many times to give him a hug or a bit of food he liked and then sent him off to play some more. I think I just remembered what I need to do to fix part of Flash’s recall issues. Reading what everyone else is doing is thought-provoking and helpful!

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