How to teach your dog to come back when called (aka recall)

December 22, 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
How to teach your dog recall

Recall is one of the most important skills you can teach your dog. Not only will it make your life a lot easier the next time you try to leave the dog park, but it could stop them from eating something dangerous, or keep them away from a speeding car.

The basics — calling your dog with a word, giving them a treat, and repeating this consistently — are just the start of recall training. Whether you're at the beginning of the process or looking to brush up your dog's recall, here are some ideas to make the training stick.

Start small

Call your dog from a few feet away, and reward them like they just crossed the Sahara to see you. Treats are important, but positive body language and enthusiastic praise are just as crucial. Only increase the recall distance when they're consistently coming when called.

This techniques also work if your formerly recall-trained pup has seemingly forgotten their training. Just go back to the basics.

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Don't sweat the command word

In my experience (and the American Kennel Club agrees!) the word you choose to employ isn't important, as long as it's not:

  1. something else you already use for training purposes

2. your dog's name.

Those two things are constantly used in other contexts, so they can get confusing really fast. Otherwise, you're free to choose a word that makes sense to you. Why? Because it's alllllll about the reward/word combo. "Come!" paired consistently with a treat is as effective as "Purple Potato!" + treat. Just make sure you choose your word wisely, since switching to new command word will take some retraining.

Don't set them up to fail

It might seem like a good idea to start recall training in the environments where you need it the MOST (the sidewalk, the dog park, etc.), but you'll just be setting your dog up to fail. Start in a safe, controlled, calm environment, and gradually increase exposure to the outdoors and public spaces.

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Use a leash outside

This one's especially important when you're transitioning from your calm living room to any outdoor environment. Start with your dog on a long lead so you’re able to enforce the command and have them safely secured if they lose focus. It's also wise to practice in an enclosed area, like a fenced yard or a sparsely populated dog park.

As your dog's recall abilities become more and more consistent, you can start allowing more slack, and eventually let them drag the leash along the ground while you're not holding it. Once your dog's recall abilities seem exceptionally strong, you can practice taking them off the leash altogether.

To make sure your dog's recall abilities are beyond reproach, test them in various environments, each offering different levels of distraction. This approach lets you gauge their readiness for increased freedom, which may vary depending on the setting.

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Try "puppy ping pong"

I just discovered this recall tip on Reddit, and I wish I knew this trick when I had a puppy.

You simply get two of your dog's favorite people—maybe you and the mailman, perhaps (kidding)—to call your pup back and forth and reward them each time they come. This method is effective for a couple of reasons. For one, it turns recall gaining into a fun game. Dogs–puppies especially—love play and attention, and a ping-pong party makes training more fun.

Just as importantly, alternating between two people helps create a real-world situation where the dog must choose to abandon one point of interest in favor of another.

Look, It's nice when your dog trots back to you in routine situations. But recall training truly proves its worth in chaotic or dangerous moments, like getting your dog away from a hostile animal or a jagged chicken bone on the sidewalk. Responding to recall commands in the face of distractions is an absolutely critical skill when you're trying to pry your pup away from something hazardous. In fact, it may be the most important benefit of effective recall training.

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Reinforce their training (with treats)

How does that saying go? "A treat right in front of your snout is worth two POTENTIAL treats in your owner's hand."

If you don't consistently carry treats—and use them to brush up on your pup's recall—your command word can lose it's magical allure.

Your dog is SMART. They're constantly evaluating their environment to seek out the greatest rewards, and they'll notice if those rewards suddenly vanish. If "Come" or "Purple Potato" start pulling your pup toward your empty hand, they may start to wonder if the nearest squirrel is a better option.

Don't get me wrong—as your dog gets better at following commands, you can (and should) taper off on the treat-giving. But you should do so gradually, and not entirely. Think of it as shifting into maintenance mode: Their rewards will become more unpredictable, but hardly non-existent. This system can actually keep your dog in a state of perpetually piqued interest.

It can be annoying to keep carrying treats with you even when your dog seems to be done with training, but that's just the thing: They're never REALLY done with training. The moment your dog decides you're more interesting than the cat who just sauntered into a busy street, you'll be glad you kept the treats flowing.

Be patient

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I know you're yearning for the day when your dog will FINALLY come when called. And some dogs really do catch on quickly.

But to keep your dog safe, you might need to keep them on a leash for even longer than you think is necessary.

And don't beat yourself up when things go wrong. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your dog can still get into trouble. That's where dog insurance comes in—it's designed to help you pay for those unexpected accidents or illnesses that crop up in your pup's lifetime.*

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.