AYWYP: Week 17 – Recall Revisited part 1

When recall stops working

Recall is the hardest thing to conquer when you have a puppy. I met someone this morning with a young Jack Russell, on lead. The owner told me her recall wasn’t very good ‘if she sees something else she won’t come back’. What was she doing about it? Keeping her on lead. Boo. If you asked your dog, I believe they would rather be run over by a car than kept on lead their whole life. But if you put a bit of work into your recall, your dog won’t be run over by a car.

Not an instant fix

Getting your dog to come back to you is not something you teach at the start and then have forever more. You MUST work at it, day in, day out. I have talked about it from day one, but I practise it every single time I take my dogs out. I call them. And reward them for coming. Like this:

The dogs are running around and having fun, when I call Quin back to me. He comes back pretty well, going past the other dogs, who know it is not for them to come back (unless they want a sweetie!) Not a bad effort.

Recall goes wrong

I’m writing about recall again now, because at six months old, your puppy will start to change. I met someone the other day who said that their 7 month old Labrador puppy was no longer coming back to them. Ah, I said, he’s 7 months old, that’s why.

I don’t want to come back

At around this age, puppies start to think for themselves a bit more. They become more confident and able to go a bit further away from you. They also start to realise that if they don’t immediately come back to you, nothing bad happens. Great! So why bother? Well what’s the answer? You have to be more exciting than the other thing! That can be tough to do. Here’s my effort from today:

Can you see him thinking ‘what’s the point?’ I’ll just lie down, that’s something we’ve been practising. But he eventually realises that I mean it, so he does come. What do I do then? Smack him for being naughty and not coming back straight away? No. I am thrilled that he came! I have to actually be thrilled (even if I am secretly wishing I could kill him). Worse will happen in the future. I know that.

Two points to notice from this video:

  • My dogs are running around, off lead, next to a busy dual carriageway. They are not running into the road. Why would they? That is not the way we walk. I have shown them over the years that we go along the path. It is a familiar route to us all. More importantly though, I pay attention to my dogs and make sure I feel under control. They can run about, I can call them.
  • When Quin stops and doesn’t want to come back to me, I move away from him, not towards him.

Don’t chase your dog!

Who can run the fastest, you or your dog? If your dog is ten years old or more, a bit arthritic and maybe going a bit blind, AND if you are under 30 years old and regularly run marathons, you are still not faster than your dog! If your dog decides to run, that’s it, they’ve gone.

Border collies
fun at the beach

So there is absolutely no point in trying to catch your dog. If your dog doesn’t come towards you, you need to make yourself more interesting. That’s all there is to it. Running away from your dog is a great way to achieve this.

The collar grab

Putting the lead back on at the end of a walk is a massive problem point for most people. You go for a lovely long walk and then come to put the lead back on and the dog runs away. Here are the reasons why your dog does that:

  • they are not tired, the walk hasn’t been long enough (they are never tired!)
  • they know that it’s the end of the walk because you always finish the walk there
  • you expect your dog to come and sit calmly at your feet while you fiddle around with the lead
  • you don’t reward your dog for coming back to you.

In order to fix this, here’s what you do:

  1. always reward your dog for coming back to you
  2. call them back to you several times during the walk, not just at the end. Don’t forget to reward them!
  3. make sure you have hold of your dog before touching the lead.
  4. don’t expect them to sit and wait, just grab them and put the lead on. Make sure you reward them.

Here’s my video of a collar grab. I couldn’t hold the phone, grab him and put his lead on as I don’t have 3 hands! But it should show you how I get hold of him. NB: I don’t try and hold the collar, I hold him. I grab his fur, to stroke him and make a fuss of him. That physical engagement is a reward for him, so it reinforces his desire to come back to me. I have the lead clipped around my neck, so once I have him, I can easily grab the lead and clip it on.

It doesn’t have to be neat, or smart. It has to work for me and reward my dog.

Trust your dog

Going back to the point above about dogs not running into the road, I honestly wish people would trust their dogs more. Of course I realise that I have Border Collies and not all breeds of dog are as fast, manic and easily scared as mine. Oh wait, were you expecting me to say as trainable, intelligent and well-behaved as mine? Hmm.

Dogs will run about. They should, it’s what dogs do. But they come back. Here’s Quin again. Well it’s Luna standing around to start with; she’s 11 years old so really doesn’t go far now. Where’s Quin? Here he comes. I haven’t called him, he just comes back.

Bless him.

Let recall go wrong

Nobody’s perfect. Not even me. Lol. So it won’t go right all the time. It shouldn’t though, we don’t learn unless we experience problems. Please, please let your dog go through it. If you don’t give them a chance, how can they get better?

Don’t forget, there are plenty of safe ways you can practice and reward your recall. Call your dog around the house. Call them in from the garden. When you are out, start with letting them go to the end of a longline, or extendable lead and recalling them.

Border collies
Happiness is..

If you really are a scaredy-cat, just go somewhere you feel secure and practice. Don’t just go to a field and let your dog run about. RECALL THEM! and reward. Reward. Reward. Honestly, your dog will thank you for it.

Weekly Focus Challenge

Where are you up to with your recall?  Make a note of how your dog responds when you call him.  What do you do when he comes back?  How often do you call him?  Why does it go wrong?  What do you do about it?  If you don’t let him off lead, please find a way to practise this NOW.  The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to let go. 

Please share your thoughts and a photo? You can do this in the AYWYP Facebook group, or buy the workbook to keep your own record. Details below.

Buy the Workbook

The Workbook – A Year With Your Puppy is available to buy. It was written and designed to be a hands-on, interactive book for you. It will help you survive the first year with your puppy, but also act as a memento of that time and the journey you have been on. You can write notes and stick in pictures of your puppy throughout the year. Lovely!


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME, by filling in your email address below?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.


NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.

8 thoughts on “AYWYP: Week 17 – Recall Revisited part 1”

  1. Thank you for the fabulous training tips and the videos help so much as well. You have beautiful dogs….a real joy to behold and you can see how happy they are! I have a question regarding recall (sorry for the long post) as I have an 18 month old American Cocker Spaniel, Ollie, who had excellent recall for the first 10 months. I worked really hard at it and it was one of the things I was proudest of with my training. One day at the park at 10 months Ollie was spooked by another dog. I know the other dog did nothing wrong but Ollie became so frightened he bolted. I had to travel almost 2 kilometres to get him back and only got him back because another regular at the park saw him and grabbed him. Several times throughout the process he stopped, looked at me, and turned and kept going. I had the highest value treats with me that he loves but that didn’t stop him and I could see real fear in his eyes that it seemed even I was not enough (whom he trusted) to compel him to come to me. Eventually he was out of sight and it was the most terrifying experience I’ve had with my dogs yet and I’ve never run so hard in my life. I have learnt since that he shows signs of anxiety around certain noises and occasionally other dogs. I haven’t let him off the lead since then which breaks my heart. Do you have any experience with this kind of behaviour and any tips going forward so he can be off lead again. Thank you and kind regards, Kim, Melbourne, Australia.

    1. What a sad story, poor boy! Please, please don’t let one incident affect your whole life and that of your dog? Give him another chance? My dog ran all the way home once after seeing a couple of dogs. It never occurred to me to keep him on lead after that – it was just one day. He was around 10 months old at the time and lived for over 15 years. You are not changed by one experience and nor should your dog be.

      If you run after your dog, you are basically chasing them, or running away as well. Run away from them – they are much more likely to follow you. You then need to build their confidence and keep on working on that recall. Good luck!

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