How to Ruin Your ‘Recall’, Easily!

This sounds like a silly title for a dog training blog. No trainer would ever want to teach you how to ruin your dog’s recall or ‘come’ cue! The sad truth is though, that despite valiant attempts to teach human’s how to train this particular behavior, a perfectly good recall is ruined every ten seconds. Ok, I made up that statistic, I guess it just seems like every 10 seconds! Recalls always start out great! They work wonderfully for about 6 to 8 weeks, and then something happens…..


First, there are the many obvious ways that you can ruin a recall. These are the ones that your trainer probably warned you about.

1. Call your dog to ‘come’ and then do something he doesn’t like: put him in the crate then go to work for the day, cut his nails or give him a bath. That will help him make the association that ‘come’ = bad thing.

2. Use ‘come’ when you are about to end a good time: play fetch but then call him to ‘come’ so you can go inside and ignore him while you make dinner. That will help him learn that ‘come’ = end of fun.

3. Call your dog to come when you can’t enforce it or control the situation: call him when he is distracted at a distance with no leash on and you can’t get him quickly. That will teach him that ‘come’ = an option for consideration. I call this the ‘wishful thinking’ recall, the one where you are expecting your dog to perform a behavior you haven’t even taught yet (e.g., leaving a distraction).

Most people understand these three problem areas and try to avoid them. So then, what eventually goes wrong? Why do recalls get ruined so easily? The answer is systematic over-use. This is the lazy person’s route to dog training. They begin to use the word ‘come’ to mean other things, like stop poking in the trash, stop barking, don’t go in that room, or leave that (whatever) alone. Whenever the person is too tired to actually train the dog, they call the dog to ‘come’.

When the dog hears ‘come’ ceaselessly throughout the day, and most of the time it doesn’t lead to anything important to the dog, he begins to learn that it is irrelevant. ‘Come’ should be something special, a wonderful and surprise event in your dog’s day! It should never be reduced to a nagging, repeated duty. ‘Come’ should mean run to me, something wonderful is about to happen!

If you don’t want to ruin your recall, use other words and train your dog for the varied behaviors you want performed. For instance, if you want your dog to come in the house, train him to respond to the cue “let’s go in”. If you want him to go in his crate, train him to respond to “kennel up”. If you want him to get out of the trash, train “leave-it”.

While ruining a good recall may be easy, it is much easier to maintain a good recall than to try and fix it once it has been damaged. Keep it good, keep it controlled and keep it special and you will have a recall your dog always responds to!