How to train your dog to come back when called

Keep your dog safe by teaching them to return to you.

A Trailhound runs outside in a field with a Dogs Trust staff member

Most dogs love having a good run off their lead.

But before you let your pooch loose, you need to be confident that they’ll always come back when you call; whatever’s going on around them. 

You need to teach your dog that coming back to you is always a good thing, and will result in tasty snacks, a fuss, or whatever reward they like best

Why your dog won’t listen to you

When you let your dog off their lead, a whole world of choice opens up to them.

Your dog could decide that chasing a squirrel or playing with another dog is more exciting than coming back to you (they see you every day, after all).

They could also be unsure that you want them to return. 

For more great dog training advice take a look at our Dog School.

Three easy steps to teach your dog to come back when called

1. Teach your dog to respond to their name before adding recall

Teaching your pooch their name makes it easy for you to grab their attention when you need it. This can be a lifesaver if you need them to focus on you quickly to save them from harm.

After you’re confident you can get their attention, you can add in your chosen recall cue.

Choose a short, snappy word like ‘come’ or ‘here’, or a whistle if you prefer. Also add in a visual cue, like holding your arms open wide, in case they can’t hear you.

Stop your dog getting confused by making sure everyone in your household knows which word and movement you’re using.

Use your recall cue sparingly, giving your dog at least five seconds to respond before calling again. Don’t call again if you think they’re unlikely to return, as this could teach them that it’s okay to not come back.

2. Always reward your dog when they come back

Start indoors, in your garden, or in another enclosed space with some tasty treats to hand.

Get your dog’s attention with their name, then use your recall cue and take a step away from them. Reward them with praise and a tasty treat when they come to you.

Make sure your rewards are exciting and tempting – especially if your dog has come away from something particularly interesting (like a squirrel or another dog).

When calling them, use a happy, excited voice and welcoming body language (crouched down, arms open). Always praise your dog for coming back no matter how long it takes.

As your dog improves, you won’t need to give them a treat every time they come back. But remember to reward them every so often to keep them motivated.

3. Add in some distractions and increase the length of the recall distance

Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog and the level of distractions you call them away from. You can eventually leave the garden and venture out into the world. 

Let them move away from you before using your recall cue, and use a long line attached to their harness to keep them safe during training.

If they ignore you, stay calm – getting angry or shouting will make them not want to come back to you. Instead, gently guide them in with the long line (never pull your dog towards you), or go and collect them.

Reward them with high-value treats when they return without extra guidance from you, so they build up a positive association with coming when called.

Trailhound dog running to camera with a toy in their mouth, in a field on a sunny day.
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What to do if your dog keeps running away from you

Running off can be very unsafe for your dog.

Busy roads, other dogs, farmed animals, and dog thieves are just a few of the possible dangers if they’re running around unsupervised. 

If your pooch keeps darting off when you call them, stick with training on a long lead attached to a harness, and only let them off-lead in secure areas. 

Only let your dog off their lead in open spaces when you’re confident they’ll come back when called. 

Always ensure microchip details are kept up-to-date and your dog is wearing a collar or harness with your name and address on at all times in public. This will help you reunite with your best pal if they get lost.

Dog training classes from Dog School

If you find your dogs recall isn't quite where is should be, it might be worth enrolling in some dog training lessons. Our online Dogs Trust Dog School give practical training to help you and your pooch understand each other better.

No breed of dog is currently banned in Ireland. But if you have certain types or breeds of dog there are additional rules you must follow, in accordance with the Control of Dogs Regulations 1998. This applies to the following types of dog, as well as strains or cross-breeds of these breeds:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • English Bull Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Bull Mastiff
  • Dobermann Pinscher
  • German Shepherd (Alsatian)
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Rottweiler
  • Japanese Akita
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Bandog

This means that while in a public place these dogs, or strains and crosses thereof, must be:

  • Wearing a muzzle
  • Kept on a short strong lead (under 2m)
  • With someone over the age of 16, who is capable of controlling them
  • Wearing a collar with the name and address of their owner

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