Recalls - Building Value and Making Them Reliable

Al's Dog Training Tips

Recalls – Building Value and Making Them Reliable

I really like recalls. It’s one of the most fun things to watch a dog do.  I love filming my dog Gabby in slow motion when we’re doing 50-70 yard recalls.  She’ll be off-leash, and there are distractions around, it’s one of the most beautiful things for me to watch.  So, how does one produce a happy, fast and reliable recall?  It’s not necessarily a short process, but I’d like to outline what it takes to build that type of recall.

Step one, you have to make some great associations between your command; I prefer to use the dogs’ name and the behavior of your dog turning around when you call.  They will hear their name, then turn around.  At that very moment in time, you want to begin the process of reinforcement.  The next thing is you need to build an immense amount of value. The value of having the dog come all the way back into your personal space to receive a reward that is very meaningful for the dog. 

The Treat Toss Game

Other dog trainers have created tons of games to get dogs to understand how wonderful it is to come to you.  I call my version “the treat toss game.”  It’s on my YouTube channel if you’re interested.  It’s a game where I throw a single, high-value piece of food at a wall or doorway, preferably a narrow entryway.  As the dog goes to chase after it, he gets the treat will stop at the door. Then as soon as the dog puts its mouth on it. I call the dog, and at that point, the dog has no option but to turn around.  When they do turn around, I’m going to tell them what a great dog they are. I’ll then promise them a reward when they make it all the way back to me.  I’ll pet them and give them more food and start the game all over again. 

If you watch, it’s a very fast-paced game.  If you want to see this process, send me a text, and I’ll send you a link to watch this game.  It’s really fantastic.  I play some version of this game every day for several months with my young puppies.  

Fundamental Problems

One of the fundamental problems with the treat toss game is that when you call a dog, they’ll estimate the value of coming back. A lot of the time, that’s going to be based on how much practice you put in with your dog. No matter how many times you play this game, there will be things in the environment that’s better than that.  It may be another dog, a squirrel, a car, which may cause your dog. They will think, “it’s not valuable enough for me to come.”  This is where long leashes and other tools really help. They help the dog understand it’s about making a choice. And they must do it because there is a consequence for not coming. 

What It Will Look Like

Let’s talk about what these recalls look like.  In the beginning, you and your trainer will have a training collar picked out for your dog that’s the right fit.  I then let the dog get about 10 feet away, putting a little pressure down the line. I call their name and guide them back to me using the leash. As they come, I’m going to reward them, and I’m going to make sure the leash is 100% slack when the dog comes back.  I will then let the dog get away again, then call them while using the leash to bring them back again.  The leash is slack, I make the reward.  I intentionally go and find a time for the dog where they are distracted so I can do this again.  If I call them and they make me have to reel them in, I’m not necessarily going to reward them because I don’t reward bad behaviors.  If I do call them and they come to me easily, then it’s going to be a big reward.  

Over time, you’ll see as you practice recalls more with these distractions; the dog will learn the differences of their choices.  They will prefer to come and get the reward and they will want to avoid any of the consequences of not complying with what you want. I can’t tell you enough that rewarding your dog is the foundation of this. But unfortunately, because some things are more valuable than the history of your game, you need to take steps to teach the dog there are consequences for not coming when called. 

Again, if you want to see what the “treat toss game” looks like, send me a message at (832) 734-5189. Find more tips like this right here on my website at

Happy Training!

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