Recall: How to Train Your Dog to Come Back

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Teaching your dog good recall skills is essential. Knowing she’ll come back when called means you can give her more freedom to roam and sniff on walks without putting her in undue danger. In fact, recall is a skill that may even save her life one day. But when it comes to training your dog in recall skills, where should you start? Read on for tips and strategies.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Training Recall

Step 1: Introducing recall

Start in a quiet, familiar environment, like your home. Standing close to your dog, and making sure she’s focused on you, show her you have a reward in your hand. Then call “Come!” as enthusiastically as you can.

When she comes, give her the treat, along with lots of praise and pets. The goal is to teach your dog that coming to you is the best, most fun thing imaginable, and good things happen when she comes back.

Step 2: Increase distance

Keep repeating the exercise over the next few days and weeks, gradually increasing the distance she must cross to get to you.

If at any stage your dog doesn’t respond correctly, reduce the distance between you until she’s successful, then increase again slowly. Also, try to practice at random times, when your dog doesn’t expect it, to get her accustomed to coming when called at all times.

Step 3: Add distractions

When your dog is successfully coming every time you call, you can move your practice sessions outside and begin adding distractions, like other people and other dogs that your dog has to pass on her way back to you. Note: Make sure this is done in a safe, enclosed area, like a fenced yard!

Keep your dog on a long leash while practicing recall outside until you’re sure she’ll come back when you call, obeying any local laws regarding leash lengths. Never practice off-leash recall exercises anywhere there is even a remote chance that your dog could get hit by a car.

More Tips for How to Achieve Perfect Recall

  • Use high-value treats and toys as a reward. With lots of competing interests and distractions, you need to really motivate your dog to come to you. The usual biscuit may not cut it! Try a very small chunk of cheese or something else you know your dog loves.

  • Set your dog up to win. Help your dog feel successful by waiting until she’s had a quick run around and is already coming back towards you before calling her to come.

  • Don’t repeat yourself. Calling “Come! Come! Come!” over and over again will just teach your dog that she doesn’t have to listen the first time you call. If your dog doesn’t respond, take a step back in your training until you’re successful.

  • Don’t call your dog only for “negative” reasons. If you only ever recall your dog to put her leash back on and go home, she’ll quickly learn that “come” means the fun is over. To avoid creating this negative association, make sure to recall your dog a few times during each play session, reward her, and then allow her to go and play again.

Recall in an emergency

If you ever need your dog to come back urgently in an emergency, don’t chase her. She’ll likely think it’s a game and keep running away from you. Instead, try running away from her to incentivize her to chase you.

If you ever need your dog to come back urgently in an emergency, don’t chase her. Instead, try running away from her.

Alternatives to off-leash

Some dogs just aren’t great at coming back, and no matter how much training you do, you may not feel comfortable letting them off the lead. That’s okay! Trust your instincts. Dogs still enjoy on-leash walks, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re depriving them—you’re being a responsible dog parent and doing what’s best for them.

Fenced-in dog parks also offer a great opportunity for dogs to run around, play, and socialize, without any worry that they’ll get too far away.


Teaching recall can take months, so stay patient. Just remember to keep praising every success, no matter how small.

Finally, one important note to keep in mind: under no circumstances should a dog ever be allowed off the leash if she is being walked anywhere near cars. Off-leash walking is to be reserved for hiking trails, enclosed parks, and other completely safe locations. Remember that no matter how good your dog’s recall skills are, no dog can be trusted to come back when called 100% of the time. Better to play it safe than sorry!

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