“What is recall in dog training?” A great question asked by many dog guardians. In this article you’ll learn what recall means, how to train it, and how to maintain it.
Recall, or coming when called, is an extremely important behavior to train with your dog. A reliable recall not only makes you feel good when your dog comes bounding back to you, but it can be also be lifesaving in some situations.
Imagine your dog accidentally unclipped her leash on a walk and with her new freedom decides to bolt down the street. You scream, “come, come, COME!!!!” But she keeps on running.
This is a situation that should make your stomach turn over. It’s happened to me before, and it’s what made me rethink how I use and train for a reliable recall cue.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can train a reliable recall cue for your dog, keep reading. I’m going to layout my rules, steps, and best tips for training a recall in dog training.
When training a recall in dog training I always recommend starting with a brand new word. A word that your dog has never heard before. A word that has no meaning whatsoever.
Starting from scratch is the easiest and fastest way to install a reliable recall cue, so ditch whatever you’ve been using up to this point.
Luckily, training recall is easy, as long as you follow the steps. But first, review my three golden recall rules. Please keep these in mind during every step of recall training. They are important.
This means you’ll say your word, THEN give rewards. The order is very important and imperative for proper recall training.
Make sure you’re not shaking a bag of treats, reaching for snacks, taking treats out of the fridge or pantry, preparing treats, or anything of the sort before saying your recall word.
This is also incredibly important. We want a 1:1 ratio between your new recall word and rewards. This is what’s going to build a strong association between your recall word, and really good, happy, and excited feelings, which will eventually cause your dog to come to you and away from other things.
Recall is what we trainers call an expensive behavior. We’re asking our dogs to come away from play, smells, adventure, and fun to come to us boring old humans.
If we can make the reward for coming to us insanely delicious, fun, and more exciting than the environment, then we can increase the probability of them coming when called in the future.
Choose a new word. One that your dog has never heard before. I use “ven aca,” which is Spanish for “come here”.
You can choose something fun like, “unicorn,” “donut,” or “party time!” Sounds also work like “zip,” “beep beep,” or a unique whistle.
It just must be something that your dog has never heard before, and will only hear when you’re training, or seriously using your recall word.
Now that you have your new word, you’re ready to begin!
When your dog is least expecting it, yell your new word “unicorn!”
Wait 2 seconds by counting in your head “one, two.” Most likely, nothing is happening except your dog might be looking at you funny. This is to be expected at this stage.
After 2 seconds, SPRINT to the fridge and pull out the BEST food rewards like, pepperoni, Pecorino Romano cheese, chicken, steak, sardines, or anything else that your dog LOVES.
Give a generous amount of food to your dog. And when you think you’ve given enough, give more!
*Your dog does not have to come to you during this step. I repeat: your dog doesn’t have to do anything behavioral at this step, although they most likely will follow you as you run to the fridge.
Our goal for this step is to make your new word predictive of reinforcement, which overtime will cause your dog to jump up and sprint to you. This will eventually happen, just not yet.
Repeat Step 2 twice a day at random times. Once you see your dog’s head snapping towards you when you say the word move to Step 4.
Now that your dog is associating your new word with high value rewards you’ll start to see them look at you, snap their head in your direction, or even get up to come to you when you say your magic word.
Amazing! This is classical conditioning at its finest. Remember Pavlov’s dog from psych class? He rang a bell before delivering dinner, and eventually he noticed the dogs would salivate when the bell was rung. He concluded that they were anticipating or predicting their meal. We’re doing something similar!
Now back to Step 4.
In your home with no distractions say your magic word from 10 feet away. Say the word only once. Then back away, clap, make kissy or bird noises, or anything to get your dog to come to you. Once they come to you, give them handfuls of their favorite high value rewards.
And pat yourself on the back! You and your dog just completed their first recall!
Repeat this twice a day at random times. Once your dog is coming to you without you having to run backwards or act a complete fool, move to Step 5.
From a different room in your house yell out your magic recall word. Only move to this step if you can bet $100 that your dog will come to you from the other room.
Pop Quiz: Once your dog gets to you, what do you do?
Answer: Give a huge reward, of course!
See, you’re learning, too!
Now, try this exercise outside in a low distraction area. The backyard or a quiet park will do. After your dog has sniffed, gone to the bathroom, and explored the area it’s time to say your magic recall word.
After you yell your word, wait 2 seconds and see if your dog comes.
If your dog doesn’t come to you: back away quickly, clap, make kissy sounds, or whatever else will entice your dog to come to you. Sometimes running away from your dog will trigger a response for them to chase you, which is fun for them! It’s my go-to, and should always be a strategy in your back pocket.
Once they arrive give lots of BIG, YUMMY rewards, play tug, throw a ball, or give lots of praise!!
You can make this step harder by interrupting your dog mid-sniff for a recall. Or go to a more distracting environment.
Remember, you want to keep it at a level you know your dog can succeed at, and increase difficulty slowly. Failed attempts at recall training with your dog can be detrimental to your overall progress.
Set up: You just need yourself, a treat pouch filled with some yummy treats, and about a 5-10 yards of space in one direction. Try this first at your house with low distractions
Start: Throw a treat about 5 yards away from you so that your dog has to run away to get it. Once your dog eats the treat say your magic recall word. Once your dog gets to you say, “yes!” and throw the reward 5 yards away from you. Repeat!
Tip: If your dog doesn’t come to you then remember that you can clap your hands, make kissy sounds, back or run away from your dog, or do anything to entice them over to you.
Level Up: Throw the treat farther away from you, creating more distance and a more challenging recall. Or try this game in a new environment or with a little more distractions present. Remember to only level up when your dog is succeeding!
Set up: Recruit another person to play this game. Each of you should stand 5-10 yards apart. Each person needs a treat pouch with yummy treats.
Start: Person 1 says the recall word while Person 2 stands still. Person 1 will reward the dog once the dog. While the dog is still at Person 1 and after they finish eating the treat, Person 2 will recall the dog. Once the dog reaches Person 2, they will reward the dog. Repeat!
Tip: It might take some time for the dog to recall to Person 2. Think about it: the dog just received a reward from Person 1. Why would they go away from the yummy reinforcement? Person 2 needs to make themselves really exciting by clapping, using high pitched noises and happy talk, or back or run away.
Level Up: Add a third or fourth person and mix up the order. Make sure everyone has high value rewards and rewards generously.
Hi, I’m Lauren with Wildflower Dog Training!
Recall is one of my favorite behaviors to train and teach to clients. It’s so much fun! And it’s so rewarding to see your face light up when your dog finally runs to you after they’ve learned their magic recall word.
In that session we’ll
You can also check out my Wildflower Puppy Program, which is a done-for-you training package where I come to your home and do most of the training for you. It’s great for working professionals and busy families.
Or, if you have other training goals you’d like to accomplish like walking better on leash, or training polite manners like sitting to greet, dropping valuable items, or relaxing on a mat during dinner, check out my Adolescent & Adult Dog Training programs.