Every single dog needs to learn “recall.” The best time to train your puppy to come when called is right from the start. As early as 8 weeks old, puppies are able to start working on the building blocks this vital life skill.
There are several advantages to teaching your puppy to come when called that will serve you and him for his entire life. You'll be able to:
Below we will offer some general tips as well as three methods to train your puppy to come when called. Keep in mind that it can take several months to get recall strong enough that you can count on it when you need it.
Furthermore, some breeds such as scent hounds will always be at a higher risk of ignoring your recall command because of their strong drive to follow prey trails. Always use a “safety first” approach to letting your dog off-leash in unfenced areas unless you are positive that her recall is stronger than any possible distractor.
Our three methods will give you the basics of different ways to reinforce and teach your puppy to come when called. There are also some general tips to keep in mind regardless of what method you are using if you want to build the strongest possible recall:
Never repeat your command. If you start getting in the habit of calling your puppy repeatedly without results, all you are doing is weakening the command. Use it ONCE, give your puppy a chance to follow through, bribe or entice if necessary, and if all of that fails, give her a “hard ignore” or a consequence depending on what stage of training you are in.
Do not issue your recall command in a harsh or angry tone. Dogs really are not dumb. They work just like people – if something seems like it is going to result in good times they will do it, if something seems like it is going to end in bad times, they will try to avoid it. Use common sense and call your puppy with a positive, inviting and playful tone.
Build a collar touch into your recall, BEFORE you reward. Imagine you teach your puppy to come when called and she is on the fast track to building this skill. Then one day you need to get her on a leash in a hurry – she comes when you call her but as soon as you reach for her collar, she bolts off again into danger because she knows that the only time you ever reach for that collar is to put a leash on – no fun! By including a collar touch with the recall drills right from the start, you will avoid this common pitfall.
Do not call your dog to you, then punish him. If you feel the need to punish your dog, it is better to go to him. If your dog comes to associate coming to you when called with punishment, you will have to start all over with a new recall command if you hope to get reliable results.
You can’t teach a good recall in a few training sessions. There is a difference between when you puppy understands what you want when you ask her to come, and when your puppy learns that no matter what else is going on, coming to you when called is always the right choice.
Rewards: It is usually easiest to start training with food rewards because you can dispense them quickly without interrupting the flow of early training sessions that work best with lots of repetition. However, over the course of training recall, you will want to use a variety of rewards, anything your puppy likes. This keeps her guessing, and builds some curiosity and drive to come back to find out what awesome thing she may get this time.
Long line: At some point you will need to take your recall drills outside, as well as add a consequence when your puppy does not come when called. A long leash or rope, 25’-50’ in length attached to his collar is the perfect tool for the job.
Keep sessions short: At 8 weeks your puppy has about 5 minutes of focus before he will get distracted. At 4 months with regular training, sessions can be anywhere between 10-20 minutes, depending on the dog. Training too long is one of the biggest mistakes many new trainers make.