Buster goes to the Beach – Training Recall

If your dog doesn’t come 

when he is called,

you don’t have a dog!

Safety First!

The goal of all our training is to end with a dog who doesn’t need a leash. However most people don’t do the work necessary to get a reliable dog. They just let the dog off leash and then apologize as he jumps up, scares a child, jumps into the middle of a family picnic and steals the chicken legs!

Their idea of a recall is better described as “Come and Pray”.

They shout “Come”, swear and then pray.

The other mistake some people make, well actually a lot of people make, is to let the dog off leash at the park and let the dog just run around.

If the dog is in a high distraction environment and running in the opposite direction, away from you chasing a squirrel, heading for a trash can full of Big Mac wrappers at the school field or as he is herding and circling, scaring the Asian lady with a Maltese who is holding her dog to her breast and screaming and jumping up and down for some unearthly reason, please, please, please don’t shout “COME!”

Don’t shout “COME!” when the dog is running at 25 miles an hour in the opposite direction.

You did not do the work yet.

The dog has no idea why you are barking at him.

You DO know you are barking, right?

You are also labeling the opposite behavior to the one you think you are training!

Don’t teach your dog that “Come!” means “Chase a squirrel and run away from me!”

It is very frustrating and the next thing you might do is blame the dog for being stupid or stubborn or deliberately disobedient! Which is totally unfair to the dog!

You are the adult in this relationship, teach the dog what you want.


To train off leash behavior you need a leash!

Buster does 0-60 miles an hour in about a second and a half.

I don’t!

He can bob and weave and duck and stop and turn all at the same time while turning in circles!

I can’t!

So I need a plan B.

Plan B

First of all I leash him to an 80 lb dog to slow him down.

Teddy the Yellow Lab is my working dog, he loves to work. He is getting old now and can’t do a lot of the work he used to do. This he can do. Then I add a 30′ long line. I like the climbing rope long line because it is made so strongly, follows the dog smoothly, hardly ever snags and has a nice hand feel to grip if I do need to use it for restraint. (I very rarely do because my goal is to use it as little as possible.)

Excitement, fun and playfulness are also a given!

“Restraint Recall” I use Teddy my 16 year old Yellow Lab to help train an enthusiastic recall. You can use a willing friend to achieve the same result!


Also to be trained to a whistle tone.

What does “COME” mean to the dog?

Does it mean what YOU think it means?

What do YOU think it means?

To the dog “COME!” will mean, when correctly trained, all of the following nine components put together in the correct order in a continuous movement :

(As an aside would one of you maths wizards work out how many options there are for my five month old puppy getting these wrong! What do you think? Post a comment!)

1. Stop

Stop whatever you are doing, stop whatever you are thinking of doing next.

2. Turn

Turn immediately.

If you are running full speed in another direction, playing with your best friend, fighting with an enemy or have your head down a ground squirrel’s hole, stop now and turn.

3. Leave

Leave what you are doing.

4. Accelerate

Accelerate smartly! Like an Olympian in a 100 metre dash leaving the starting blocks.

5. Run directly

Run directly towards me as fast as your legs can carry you with passion, enthusiasm and vigor. Come straight to me.

6. Heel

Come in to a working position at my left heel.

7. Sit

Sit close enough and in a stable position so that I can hold your collar for safety, if I deem it necessary or desirable. I am not training a “fly-by”.

8. Stay

Stay until I release you, whether I am holding your collar or not.

Then you can go and play again.

9. Good Dog!

So it is actually a lot, a complex behavior that we frequently underestimate, for Buster a 5 month old puppy, to get his head round as a meaning for a one word cue.

If I am not requiring a complete recall, including all nine components, I will not use the word “Come!”.

For example if the dog is off-leash and I just want the dog to turn and accompany me in the direction I am traveling then I will use the command “This way!”

To train a great recall

I have found in my experience it is best to train recall by breaking the behavior into the separate components.

Train each component separately at first, the training can be on different days. For example here is Buster training Sit-Stay in a different environment on a previous day.

A great spot to be teaching Sit-Stay, he has an acceptable and understandable physical boundary. Setting him up to succeed! Mark Praise and Reward!

When you have all the components trained and practiced so that he can do them reliably and consistently then you stitch them together.

Back chaining is when you start at the end, the finish, and back chain the components one at a time.

  1. Good dog!
  2. Stay! Good Dog!
  3. Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  4. Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  5. Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  6. Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  7. Leave! Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  8. Turn! Leave! Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  9. Stop! Turn! Leave! Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!

We could use all these commands, but it does get a bit cumbersome and long-winded!

Now you have the behavior correctly trained, you can start incorporating the cue, “Come” and/or the whistle.

Then work the behavior, proof it, in training, in different environments reaching a gradually higher standard of performance in the 3 D’s of Dog Training. Duration, Distraction and Distance. Then when you do need it and it really matters, you can ask for the performance with confidence.

Setting a dog up for success

(and his owners!)

People often want me to train Come as a first behavior, that does not make much sense if you look at the whole behavior, you will find the learning way faster and with far fewer errors if you do each component as a separate behavior first, to identify mark and reward. It is way more fun for both you and the dog. The learning is also fast, fast, fast this way! So to be effective at pulling this together your dog should have a strong working knowledge of Sit, Stay and the Heel working position, Stop, Leave it, and “run towards me enthusiastically” in order to build a strong “Come” command. Even if he runs enthusiastically towards you it is not a safe and complete command without the finish.

If you shout “Come” and you did not do the work and your dog ignores you, it is not a dog problem. Be wise.

If you blow the whistle without training the recall you just become a whistle-blower!

The Magic Whistle

A couple of months ago someone observed me working a dog at the soccer field.

He was doing great recalls on the whistle. Ten perfect repetitions. I felt so pleased for him, I praised him and cuddled him and told him what a good boy he was and how proud I felt that he had learned this.

Next week I saw the same person there with their Husky, blowing a whistle again and again. Dog was completely ignoring them, as he has his whole life. They turned to me and said “the whistle doesn’t work with Huskies!”

True Story.

Back Chaining

This way the new bit of the behavior is worked on and the dog moves immediately into behaviors that it is familiar with and comfortable with. Like playing the piano or guitar there is intrinsic reward in repeating the parts that sound good! ( We also get to praise and reward the behavior).

Restrained Recall

The next part of this training is encouraging an enthusiastic energetic recall and for this I use a natural dog performance that I have alluded to in a previous post about loose leash training. The opposition reflex. The automatic pulling when restrained. So here I use it to our advantage, watch what happens with Buster and Teddy clipped together on the leash when I encourage Buster into a recall. He accelerates and pulls Teddy. Instead of the restraint slowing Buster down he treats the restraint as a challenge and increases his efforts. While he is in that mode, totally engaged in drive and acceleration towards me I can label a perfect recall. “Buster, COME!”

Magic Formula!

If your dog, pure bred, mixed breed or pound dog, shelter dog or stray does not come when he is called it has nothing to do with him being a rescued dog other than his education has been missing!

Your turn to do it right!

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