Bite Sized Recall Tips

From Jack and Billy
By Sally Bradbury

Use a Long Line

A long line can be used to give a dog freedom, but ensures they can’t get into trouble, run away, or get lost. Great for young puppies, dogs going through adolescence, and essential for newly adopted rescue dogs. Always attach a line to a harness.

Teach an Automatic Check In

Teaching a check in and reinforcing desirable behaviours start indoors. Set yourself a challenge. Put twenty treats in a pot on the kitchen side. Every time your puppy looks at you (not when you ask her to), give her a treat. Count the treats left at the end of the day. Next day, try and beat your record. Then take it to the garden. Lower your expectations for this. And of course then, eventually, out and about.

Be Fun to Be With

When you get to the field/park, start tossing treats for your puppy to catch, get a tug toy from your pocket and have a game for ten to twenty seconds, then run about and have her chase you. More treats, more play, drop the lead, pick up the lead, unclip the lead, put the lead back on, all whilst feeding and playing. Do this for a minute or two and finish with lead off, line on, putting toy and treats back in your pocket, and tell her “off you go”.

Whichever way she goes, you go the other way. Give her some sniff time, then start cheering and whooping and running again. Get the toy and treats out again, and repeat ad infinitum.

Collar Touch

Simply gently take hold of your dog’s collar, palm towards the side of his neck, every single time before you give him a treat, open the door to let him out, throw his a toy, put his lead on, take his lead off, give him his dinner, and anything else that is a pleasurable experience for him. Before you know it, he will be pushing his neck into your palm in anticipation of the reward. Add a verbal cue, and you have a great recall trick.


If a dog is bringing a toy back to you, then you’ve got a recall. If your dog enjoys a game of tug, then use a rope ball with a handle so he can chase, fetch, and then enjoy a tug game with you. You can keep the game interesting by throwing the toy into long grass and sending him to find it, with lots of whooping and cheering when he finds it and returns to you.

Chase the Kibble

Send him away by tossing a treat for him to find. More cheering when he finds it, and a really yummy treat for coming back to you, ready to go again. Stage two of this is to change position each time he goes away, so that part of the fun is turning around and looking for you.

The Dos and Don’ts for Teaching Recall
  • DON’T call your dog if they are busy and are not looking at you
  • DO call your dog excitedly when they are heading your way
  • DON’T call your dog back to you when you are walking towards them
  • DO change direction and encourage your dog to follow you and catch you up
  • DON’T chase your dog
  • DO run away and get him to chase you
  • DON’T call your dog only at the end of the walk
  • DO call him and put the lead on randomly during the walk
  • DON’T ever tell your dog off for a slow recall. It will be slower next time
  • DO praise and reward your dog for coming back, even if it took a while. Consider grading the rewards so that the quicker the recall. the better the reward
  • DON’T use the line to make him return to you. The training is far more effective if it’s his choice to return
  • DO use all these tips to make your dog want to return to you
Auto Check in When Seeing Another Dog

One reason for teaching a dog to check in with you. is when you encounter other dogs. He checks in before being given the okay to greet. This ensures that all four parties, both dogs and both humans, are mutually agreeable to the interaction before you release your dog. If it’s not appropriate, then you can reward him with something else and walk politely past. If it is, then what better reward than being able to say ‘hi’ to a canine friend? If your dog enthusiastically greets every dog he sees without checking if it’s okay first, then this will inevitably get him into trouble at some point. It may also lead to reactivity when on lead, because of the frustration of not being free to meet and greet.

Teaching a Predictive Cue

This is done using a thrown toy (or food) for the dog to chase, and adding a verbal cue. For this example we’ll use ‘TOY!’ Over several sessions, every single time you throw the toy for him to chase, you give the cue. Now for the clever bit; throw a different toy (boringly to start with), say nothing, and then immediately throw his favourite toy in the other direction as you shout ‘TOY!’ He should immediately be distracted from chasing the first thing he saw moving, and go after the second one, simply because of the power of the word ‘toy’.

Teach an Instant Down at a Distance

There are various ways to teach this once your dog understands the verbal cue to lie down, and it can often halt a dog in his tracks where recall has failed.


Food and Toys

If your dog is not motivated by food or toys outside, then you can increase the value of both quite easily. Put his food bowl away, put all of his meal in a food pouch, and hand feed him outside. In the garden to start with, before taking it out and about. He doesn’t have to do anything for it, other than step toward you and eat from your hand as you step back, saying his name excitedly. This is very effective if you can do it for all or most meals over a period of time. Obviously, no running about if he is eating. Just stroll to the park or the woods, eat dinner, and walk home. Then on walks food treats can now be used as a reward.

Pick up and put away all of the interactive toys indoors. At every opportunity, take a toy from the cupboard and run out to the garden to play for two minutes. No playing indoors if you want him to want to play outside.

And finally: If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

If your dog enjoys chasing birds, squirrels or rabbits, have him on his long line, attached to a harness, and join in the chase with him. Chase the squirrel up the tree, the rabbit down the hole and the birds…well, just chase them; whooping and cheering as you go. Be part of the fun, and your dog will stay engaged with you. He’ll probably join in a game of tug with you at the end too.