positive reinforcment

Recall Training Made Easy


I was recently at Avoca Beach with three Hound Dog Hotel doggie guests. Unlike Pet Resorts, Kennels or casual Pet Minders, these type of exercise sessions which are held at exciting venues, are our daily normal activity. The dogs were playing together and swimming in the sea - great fun was being had not just by the dogs, but me also!

Mello Herbie and Pepper having a great time at Avoca

Mello Herbie and Pepper having a great time at Avoca

As we walked along the beach towards the Lagoon for more water play, I saw a lady with a large puppy on a long lead. 

She’d brought her puppy to the beach, where naturally he wanted to explore and play, yet she constantly pulled him away from everything. It was like taking a child into a Lolly shop and then saying they can’t have anything. It was obviously a frustrating experience for that young pup. In my opinion long leads should not be used used in this way as a restraint - they are a training aid and simply a nuisance when used as an alternative to a lack of training.

Being so constrained the pup was having no interaction with anything - not even its owner. Small wonder if he was allowed off leash he would have run away. 

Missing multiple opportunities to start training Recall, this woman was what I call a ‘Restrainer’. Whereas the key to successful dog training and Recall training, is to become an ‘Interacter’. 


Some breeds (Labs for example) are a breeze to train to Recall because their instinct is to keep with you. But it’s not hard to teach any dog if you go about it the right way. 

I have my own method that makes it easy to train Recall – I’ve named  it ‘Extreme Interaction’. When you adopt this you’ll achieve success in a short time.

To be an ‘Extreme Interacter’ means putting into action a mixture of approaches which are meaningful to a dog and give them constant, positive reinforcement through feedback (physical & verbal) and by providing food thus:
1)    terrific treats
2)    encouraging exciting voice
3)    physical reinforcement via touch
4)    play

The above together with a long lead is the starting point.


Attach a long lead attached to your dog's collar. 

Next, before you leave the house make sure you’re armed with ultra tasty treats. NO BORING KIBBLE! We’re talking food bursting with so much flavour that even a dog that is not terribly food focused won’t be able to resist:-

  • Fried Chicken breast
  • Delicious beef steak
  • Liverwurst

You’ve got your dog on the long lead. They will be excited (and you will too, keen to start the training) but DO NOT immediately start calling. Instead you are going to watch your dog and look for a very precise behaviour – which I’ll describe - before calling them.  

Patience is vital in this. Initially, and just for a short time, let them do their own thing, a bit of sniffing etc,.  If they want to greet other dogs let them, because your dog heading towards others is the wrong time to Recall as it will almost certainly ignore you, which sets you up for failure. 

Also, just because you have a long lead do not keep dragging your dog away from other dogs. Unless your pup is small and you are genuinely worried about the look of a specific dog, let your puppy greet another canines - a vital part of socialising. 

Ok so if we know the wrong times to Recall – when is it right? 

After your dog has expended some energy pay really close attention to them. Dogs as you know have short attention spans – and what you are looking out for is when your dog seems momentarily aimless – it’s when you notice them stand still for a second as if to say

‘hmm, what can I do next?’  & THAT is the precise moment to Recall. 

I’ll use the example of 3 month old GSP Pepper who I trained for a client recently. Pepper was highly food focused and smart too, so she learned in record time.

When I noticed Pepper having a ‘hmm, what can I do next?’ moment I’d Recall. But I didn’t just flatly call her name. Instead in a projected voice infused with enthusiasm and excitement I’d call. ‘PEPPER! COME!’

At which point there are two possible outcomes.

OUTCOME ONE – pup or dog comes to you

Your dog has come to you -  FANTASTIC! It is vital to have a treat ready and the second - AND I MEAN THE SECOND - they get to you that is the moment to deliver the tasty treat and at the same time verbally praise full of enthusiasm ‘GOOD DOG!!!’ 

At this stage never make them wait for the treat or tell them to sit first. The key here is - IMMEDIATELY THEY REACH YOU – for them to receive intense rewards in the form of a treat, praise and touch.

Also, as you release the terrific tasty treat with one hand, use your other hand to touch them around the neck and on the collar. This is so that they get used to being touched and don’t associate a hand on their collar with having the lead put on and being taken home = which means fun ends.

When a dog I’m training returns to me, from my reaction anyone nearby might think the dog just got a First from Oxford!  But I don’t care! All I care about is that my dog has come to my call -  and my job is to ensure s/he gets a wonderful experience – a flood of rewards and positive feedback.  

A quick way to think about it is being APT

A treat – immediately they reach you give them the treat
Praise  - using an encouraging tone
Touch – touch and fuss with free hand (especially around the neck). 

OUTCOME TWO – dog doesn’t come/ignores you

This is where the long lead as a training aid (not as a permanent restraint) comes into its own.

So, you called your dog in your most enthusiastic voice
Pepper! Come!’
But they didn’t come. That’s OK, it happens. Be patient, don’t keep repeating the command and no shouting or getting cross!

Your next actions are crucial if you are going to condition and train your dog to know what you want. Remember, like all training, Recall ALWAYS HAS TO BE A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE! 

Here’s what you do.

You call again

‘Pepper! Come!’

If they come – great, carry on and use APT as above. But dogs are easily distracted so if they ignore you then you slightly tug the long lead - just enough to get their attention so they see you and the treat. 


If you are dragging your dog to you this is not Recall! 

Hopefully this second time they will trot or run to you and even if they took their time – still go overboard with APT   
A treat – immediately they reach you give them the treat
Praise  - using an encouraging tone
Touch – touch and fuss with free hand (especially around the neck). 


This process is repeated throughout your walk. Have plenty of treats and keep looking for when your dog does the ‘hmm, what can I do next?’ stance, because each time you can catch them at that moment is an opportunity for you to practice Recall. 

It will take quite a few outings of long lead training before you advance to Stage Two. 


Stage Two. When your dog is coming to you reliably on the long lead eventually it’s time to practise outside - preferably somewhere fenced for safety. (A garden is to start but the outside world is the goal).

Remember, everything that has been outlined above still applies. Dogs benefit from a consistent approach and so you continue to use  ‘Extreme Interaction’ throughout APT:

At this second stage you now add a fourth action to giving further reward which is Play 

This time, when Pepper had come to my Recall and I did APT, before she would leave me I’d instigate Play as follows:

As she reaches me I’m giving her the treat and she’s getting praise and touch. But then before she goes off I say, still full of excitement,  ‘Good girl Pepper, come on!’ and then run along the beach, or wherever, and she’d always chase me. 

So what I have done here is to add another level of interaction.

I’d run along with her next to me and then after a little way I’d slow down and  say ‘FREE!’ and that is her word to go off on her own.  

I might go through this Recall routine 15-20+ times on a 40-50min walk.

This is what ‘Extreme Interaction’ is all about - developing a real relationship with your dog which makes you more fun and interesting than anything else. The aim is that your dog will return to you of its own accord because it anticipates great things coming its way when it does so. You are the provider of fun, food and excitement  - not the one that stops its.

Even when I didn’t Recall Pepper and she was roaming free, if she wandered back to me I would often give her one of my irresistible treats. Although she had done nothing to earn the treat, do this to take every opportunity to keep re-inforcing (conditioning) your dog to think of you as 'the best'.  

The aim is for your dog to anticipate terrific things when near you, whether that is food, touch, voice, play – or a mixture of those things. (As time goes on food rewards for coming close to you are weaned off, instead supplement instead praise [enthusiastic] and/or touch). 

Do you see how this works?

 ‘Extreme Interaction’ is ramping up your actions and reactions towards your dog. Deliberately using extraordinarily high levels of enthusiasm and treats -  a quadruple whammy if you like:
1)    terrific treats – irresistible high value foods
2)    praise - with an encouraging exciting voice
3)    touch - which is physical reinforcement
4)    Play ‘Come On, Let’s Go!’

All this is fantastic fun and rewarding for your dog. What it reinforces in them is an association that anything to do with you is good, positive, rewarding – in every way shape and form. It’s a multiple, positive format and magnifies the effect of training on your dog.

And some of you might have noticed how often during this Blog I have repeated phrases

‘Extreme Interaction’ 
‘hmm, what can I do next?’

Because is we read things more than once they tend to stick. So in the same way if you repeat actions with your dog again and again they will stick!!!! 

If you follow the above and implement the actions with enough enthusiasm I promise you will be amazed that training Recall is actually fun – but most of all you’ll see results.

Let your dog grow in confidence by allowing them to play and interact with the world as well as you. And please, I beg you, don’t be one of those annoying people who constantly calls their dog for no reason. 

If a dog’s name is overused it becomes white noise - like having a radio on the background – you hear a noise but not the song. Constantly call your dog's name and you end up with something called ‘Learned Irrelevance’ Only Recall when it matters.

My approach will get results and pretty fast too, but you won’t get a bomb proof Recall over night.  I read a comment once that said it takes a thousand repetitions of Recall to produce a dog that will come to you in every scenario. 

And a world renowned Gun Dog trainer in the UK said it takes 2 years to train a Gun Dog to a standard that will be good enough for dogs to be taken into the field hunting.

Whilst our pet dogs rarely get to that level of obedience, Recall is so vital because it could just save your dogs’ life - so never give up. 

Your dog flying to you like a rocket is rewarding and a pleasure of itself. And to achieve it all you need to do is a bit of ‘Extreme Interacting’ Good luck!!

(I've posted a short clip of 3 month old Pepper coming to when I call just her name. Despite being about to go in the direction away from me, her obedience to Recall became so good she immediately turned and dashed back. I could have embedded the video but then you get all sorts of ads popping up, so here is the link if you want to view it, paste it in a browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTfLKafZQlk&feature=youtu.be)