The Five Rules of Recall

In a perfect world, dogs would come every time we call. They would reason—with the human logic we so often ascribe them—that obedience is in their long-term interest. They would respect our parental authority or respond out of sheer devotion. Well, dogs may be family members who love us dearly, but they are not people. Dogs prioritize doggie things, which means that other dogs, good sniffs, and off-leash fun win almost every contest.

It isn’t personal—your dog is just being a dog. If you want a bullet-proof recall for when it truly counts, you must train it, patiently and consistently. Here’s what to remember:

Never call your dog for anything unpleasant. Things like nail clipping, bathing, or having his leash clipped on to go home from the park. In short, anything that might give him pause the next time you call him.

Never call your dog if you are not sure he will come. All recalls should be successful recalls. Work at your dog’s level: If he has a kindergarten-level recall, don’t give him a graduate assignment like being called away from a cat in a tree.

If you call your dog and he doesn’t come, you must make it happen. Run over to him and put a treat in front of his nose, backing up as you get his attention so he follows you.

Never repeat the command. Resist the urge to call over and over. It only teaches your dog to tune out the command. Call once and, if necessary, use rule 3. Make the recall happen.

Use fabulous rewards to get fabulous recalls. If you want your dog to stop whatever interesting doggie thing he is doing and come running to you, make it worth his while. Use extra yummy treats—no dry biscuits here!—or a well-thrown ball, if that is your dog’s fancy.