Ask Trainer Dan: Good Recall Methods

My Tail Hurts From Wagging So Much is pleased to introduce our readers to Dan Cicio – a dog trainer at     My Doggies Daycare in Southern California. He started there as a kennel supervisor and quickly realized just how much he enjoyed working with the dogs, to the point that he knew it would be his life’s work. Understanding dog behavior and responses always interested him, so training was the natural course.

Dan is now a certified trainer through the Animal Behavior College, and will be answering reader questions about dog training and behavior for My Tail Hurts From Wagging So Much on a regular basis.

“I get to work with a wide variety of dogs and owners on a number of different issues, and it’s always fun and exciting!,” Dan told My Tail Hurts From Wagging So Much about why he likes his job so much.

We are so excited to be working with him, because not only is he a fellow animal lover and great trainer, but he turned his passion for pets into a career!! And, in our book, that is pretty awesome!

For the first installment, Dan answers a reader’s question about good recall methods. 

READER: Many times we let our dogs off leash, and while we’ve trained them to come when called, they sometimes get so intensely occupied with whatever it is they are chasing, or doing that they don’t listen. It puts us into a panic! What are some good recall methods, and ongoing training, you would suggest to do so this doesn’t happen?


The first suggestion is the obvious one: dogs should be leashed when in an open area until they have a solid recall.  Using a longer, non-retractable, lead can help greatly with this (I generally use a 30-ft. lead in such situations, but there are many options).
The problem here is that recall is likely the most difficult command that we regularly teach dogs.  You’re trying to get them to drop everything they’re doing–often when they’ve found something interesting–and come running over to you instead!  Because of this, a few things are important to remember while training your dog’s recall.  The number one thing is that recall should be the most rewarded behavior, as it’s the most difficult.  Your dog should get his favorite treat/toy/scritch/etc. for obeying a recall.
The second, and nearly as important, thing to remember is to *not* use the command unless you know your dog will obey.  If the goal is for your dog to come running every time you say “Come!”, don’t say “Come!” unless he’s going to come running.  Start small, only a foot or two away.  Offer him his favorite thing, and when he reaches forward to take it, say “Come!” in a happy, excited voice.  As you work on this, slowly increase the distance he has to go, but remember to never say “Come!” until he’s already on his way.
When your dog is a good distance away–at least 10 feet or so–and doing something on his own, make sure you have his attention before calling him to come.  I like to use my dog’s name at this point.  I’ll call out “Splat!” and wait for him to look at me.  When he does, *then* it’s okay to call him over.  I like to also use very clear body language to entice him: gesturing towards me and dropping down to his level.  When he gets to me, he gets rewarded and praised heavily.
The last thing to remember is that you NEVER want to call your dog with a recall command and then punish him or do something unpleasant.  Don’t use “Come!” if it’s bathtime and your dog isn’t a fan of the water!  Also, remember to let him go back to what he was doing most of the time.  If “Come!” always means “no more fun”, then he’s going to stop obeying eventually.  Whenever Splat’s off having fun, I like to call him over to me, give him some attention, praise, and a treat, then say “Okay!” and let him go back to what he was doing.  This way, recall is fun, rewarding, and doesn’t mean something bad’s about to happen!
Have a training question you would like Dan to answer? E-mail us at michellemaskaly (at) yahoo dotcom

5 thoughts on “Ask Trainer Dan: Good Recall Methods

  1. Great suggestions! We just had this problem a few weeks ago. Sammy went after a cat and we couldn't get her to come back to us.

  2. Hi Sally, thanks for the feedback! I hope these tips can help out for next time. Just remember that the groundwork needs to be well-laid before trying to call a dog back in the heat of a chase! 🙂

  3. Great answer to a difficult question Dan. I will be checking back on the site for more informative feedback, so enjoyed your post.

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