My dog won't come back when called

MANAGING WALKS AND THE RECALL COMMAND (Dogs who don’t come back when called)


Why does the problem develop?

Insufficient graduated practice of the recall by the owner in a variety of circumstances, different situations and distances.

Insuffiecient time and repeats (especially on the long line it may take months not days)

Owners tend to get into the habit of only calling the dog back when something “interesting” happens rather than calling the dog back frequently and giving a reward such as a tit bit, praise or game with a toy (what you use depends on what your dog finds interesting).  It has got to be something he is interested in and this will vary from dog to dog and breed to breed).  


Health and Safety  

When using a long line or flexi lead use gloves to prevent rope burn

Learn to use flexi leads correctly by applying and releasing the break in a more stop go action rather than hauling the dog in like a fish.  

We do NOT  recommend electronic dog collars for recall problems.  In the the vary rare event that one might be necessary for stock chasing problems (and even then it is rarely necessary) a qualified behaviourist should be consulted first.



A proper fitting collar which does not allow the dog to slip out of it.  If you can put more than two fingers under it then it is too loose.

A long lead (at least double the length or two leads put together) or a long training lead, or a long light weight rope (such as a cord washing line).

Find out what your dog likes best.  Is it food, is it a toy or is it your praise?  Which ever it is, use it for the entire training programme and then gradually reduce the times it is given once the dog is retrained.  (See note at bottom of article).

Read the next piece on use of the flexi lead or long line and practice in the garden or other confined area first.

A safe area away from unfenced roads.




1. Dogs name (to get attention) give command "COME"

2. Jerk several times (not pull) so dog moves towards you doing the work himself  

3. Take up slack on the line or use brake on flexi lead at the same time as you do 1. (it helps if you move backwards at the same time).

4.  Repeat points 2 and 3 if necessary (dog should now be in front of you).

5. Praise/reward within 0.5 seconds.

6. SIT  reinforce with praise or reward within 0.5 seconds.


HEALTH AND SAFETY Always use gloves when using long lines and flexi leads to prevent rope burn.



STAGE ONE  Depending upon the dog, start on the flexi lead (where dog has little understanding of the recall command), or a long line or long lead left trailing (where the dog usually responds to the recall command at shorter distances).  If you start on the flexi lead, graduate to a long line or trailing lead once your dog has reliable responses.


If you have more than one dog, walk them separately if at all possible in the early stages.


1. Walk dog to heel to start with


2. Sit dog, reward/praise instantly within ½ a second


3. Wait 5/10 seconds (this can get longer over time)


4. Give release command e.g. “OK” (This is very important the dog needs to know when it is OK to go as well as come back)  You are giving the freedom but getting recall control in return.


5. During the walk recall your dog frequently, say every minute or so, immediately he is by you give verbal praise and any reward (do this within ½ a second of his return this timing is very important) and at the same time take hold of his collar/lead/line (hold close to the collar) so you have control. Then make him sit for a few seconds (praise/reward again) and then give the release command.  Do this at least every two minutes and possibly more often in the early stages.  This is to make sure your dog finds it pleasurable to return to you and not just have to come back when you are anxious or angry or because something more interesting comes around the corner.


A common mistake is that the dog returns to the handler and instead of immediately praising him they start trying to get him into the sit.  Praise first, sit next, praise again.


6. Be aware of situations and try to predict in advance.  Recall dog well before bends, corners etc. and walk him to heel.


Remember, it is usually easier to control your dog in narrow paths, with fences or dense cover each side, than in big open spaces.  Here it is much easier for the dog to go wrong and for him to spot temptations in the distance before you do.




Graduate to a shorter trailing lead or long line and proceed as from point one above.


Over time, as long as your dog keeps responding, you can continue shortening the lead to 12" or 18" or remove it in "safer" areas see 6. above.   By this time your dog has become conditioned.  (this can take 500 to a 1000 recall commands done well so persevere).




Playing hide and seek with your dog can help to keep his responses sharp.

Higher pitched, happy voices make most dogs more likely to come.  This is why whistles are sometimes very successful.  Clapping your hands can have the same effect but essentially you have to find a way to make yourself more interesting to your dog.  A deeper growly voice can sometimes prevent a dog doing something wrong but usually only whilst he is still thinking about it not when he has actually made his move.  




You need to make a judgement on the most appropriate option for any given situation (you will not make the right decision every time but persevere it gets better).


1. CALL ONCE  i,e Call name and RECALL COMMAND e.g. COME.  Walk, or preferably, run off in the opposite direction and mean it.  He should eventually come off after you but make sure he saw you go.




2. CALL ONCE and walk on quickly past the object of his attention.  He should eventually follow you up.


Once he comes don't forget to praise him instantly within ½ a second, even if it did take a longer time than you would like to get the response.




3. CALL ONCE and walk CALMLY to your dog (do not shout or get angry as he is likely to run off)  take hold of his collar/trailing lead or line.  You then have two options, depending upon the situation.


A. Firmly but gently tell him to sit, praise and then walk him off to heel. OR

B. Using the lead or long line.  Tell him to sit, back off in the direction you originally wished to call him in and carry out the recall as in STAGE ONE above.  This reiterates, to the dog, what you originally wanted and gives him the chance to get it right and be praised.


EVENTUALLY you will condition your dog to start coming as soon as he hears your command or as soon as he sees you start to walk towards him.


It is useful to practice 3B. when your dog decides to become engrossed in an interesting smell but is reasonably stationary.  In this situation the dog will often pretend not to hear you.  This gives you the opportunity to improve his responses in tempting situations. You do not always have to make him sit first but make sure you have hold of his collar or the lead/line to make him go through the recall.


The recall can be further improved by training and eventually combining the retrieve and leave/down commands.  This enables you to stop a dog when he is running towards exciting or moving objects.  




Dogs are not machines, there will always be some occasions when they (or you) get it wrong.  Don't despair, just keep working at it and you will eventually reduce the fail situations to manageable levels.  Carrying out the process will provide more mental stimulation for the dog and lead to more enjoyable walks and a better partnership for both of you.  Well trained dogs are happier dogs because we can give them more freedom.  



After the successful completion of stage two any tit bit reward can be reduced to a variable reward system.  Say once every 5 or 6 recalls but always remember to give verbal praise as a replacement.