Want to know why your dog won’t come when called?
I’ve been there, my friend, and I’ve learned A LOT about dog recall when dealing with my own stubborn pup!
Read on to find out the top three reasons that your dog is ignoring the “come” command.
Then, find out what to do about it!
Table of Contents
What causes poor recall in dogs?
Your dog’s lack of recall is typically caused by three things: misunderstanding, prey drive, and negative associations to the command.
We’ll go over each one in more detail but first, let’s very quickly talk about why it’s such a bad thing.
FYI, “recall” is the short and sweet way of saying “comes when called,” in case you didn’t know that.
Why Your Dog’s Lack of Recall is so Dangerous
A dog that fails to come when called opens up a whole world of dangerous possibilities.
At best, you have a stubborn pup who refuses to come in from the rain, cold, or heat.
At worst, you have a dog that runs out the front door, ignores your calls, and gets lost. Then you spend hours in a panic searching for him.
At the unthinkable, you have a dog that runs away from you, gets hit by a car, or bites another person.
So, why is lack of recall so dangerous? Basically, because it means you have no control of your dog off-leash!
Even if you are 100% diligent about leashing your dog, things happen. Trust me. Things happen.
So, why does your dog have cruddy recall, and what can you do about it? Let’s look at the top three reasons.
I use “she” below, but obviously all of this refers to both genders. I just don’t like calling a dog “it,” and also because I’m using my Freya as an example.
Why Your Dog Won’t Come When Called
Before we discuss the reasons why your dog won’t come when called, there’s one thing you need to do: make sure she can hear you.
If your dog is ignoring all commands and doesn’t even come when the treat bag rattles, make a vet appointment to get her hearing checked.
Assuming you already know she can hear, let’s look at the main reasons for poor recall.
1. She doesn’t know what “come” means
Are you sure your dog actually knows what “come” means?
Yes, I know this is the same thing as tech support asking if you turned your PC off and on again, but it’s the #1 reason your dog won’t come when called!
You can’t just wave your hands, say “come here,” and expect your dog to know what it means. You have to teach her, first.
So, before you get frustrated, spend some time working on the “come” command.
2. She has a high prey drive
My Freya (that’s her above) knows exactly what the word “come” means but her need to catch her prey outweighs her desire to please me.
Pharaoh Hounds are notorious for having poor off-leash recall, and they’re not alone.
Other breeds with high prey drives include (but are not limited to):
- Airedale Terriers
- All sighthound breeds, such as Greyhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, and Salukis
- Mexican Hairless dogs
- Bull Terriers
High prey-drive breeds require quite a bit more work to improve their recall and you’ll have to face the reality that they can never 100% be trusted off-leash.
3. She associates “come” with bad things
If your dog know what “come” means and she doesn’t have a high prey drive, think about how you use the command.
- Are you yelling “come!” when she’s done something wrong?
- Are you only using it when you want to bring her in from outside?
- Are you following it up with something she abhors, like a trip to the vet?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your dog knows how to come, she just doesn’t like what happens when she obeys.
You’ll need to teach her that coming when called also means good things, like tasty treats and fun games.
Try these fun recall games to help her form positive associations with the command:
Once you figure out why your dog won’t come when called, it’s time to start working on her overall recall.
How to Improve Your Dog’s Recall
The obvious answer: take her to training classes! If you can’t afford them (they’re pricey) or want to do it on your own, keep reading.
1. Choose one word for the command
Before you even begin recall training, decide what word you’ll use and make sure the entire family knows it.
“Come” is the obvious choice but really, anything works as long as you consistently use just that work.
Seriously, even “bananas” works as long as you teach your dog that it means come when called.
Ready to just dive in? Check out this great video on quickly teaching a dog to come:
2. Stick to positive associations of the command
Remember what we talked about above: don’t use the command for unpleasant things.
In fact, choose an entirely different command for when you’re calling her inside or for a trip to the vet.
3. Choose high-value rewards
If you’ve been following along so far, you know that I prefer reward-based training over any other method.
When teaching “come,” you need to make the reward valuable enough to outweigh other factors (like the desire to chase a squirrel).
It’s a good idea to choose different rewards for different situations. For example, I use:
- Watermelon for indoor training
- Cheese for outdoor training with minimal distractions
- Hot dog pieces for highly distracting situations
You may even want to use a clicker to click the moment they start coming towards you, so they know that rewards are coming if they listen.
4. Release excess energy before your session
While you don’t want to work on training when your dog is tired or hungry, you also don’t want her to be rearing to run!
So, before you begin your session, play a few active game to release some of her excess energy.
You can also try taking a walk together first if you prefer.
5. Start off slowly without distractions
Start off indoors where distractions are minimal and it’s just you and your dog.
Don’t move your sessions outdoors until she’s mastered indoor recall. THEN take her outside into a fenced-in area.
Again, keep distractions at a minimum. For me, that means choosing a time of day when the squirrels aren’t terribly active!
Slowly add in more distractions, but always keep your dog on a long leash or in a fenced-in area.
6. Work on your bond
A dog that feels a strong bond to you is more likely to come when called.
Playing training games together strengthens your bond and helps reinforce basic commands.
My girl Freya and I play the “cheese game,” where I give her a series of commands followed by a bite of cheese.
She’s gotten so good that she can anticipate what command I’ll give her next just by my body language.
Since we’ve bonded so strongly with fun games, she now stops and waits for me in the yard when I approach with the leash. I don’t even have to give a command.
Need more tips on improving your dog’s recall? I love Victoria Stilwell’s advice in this video:
Accept that some dogs will never have perfect recall
I’m going to be brutally honest with you: some dogs will never have reliable off-leash recall.
While you can definitely train them to come in your own yard, you have to accept that some dogs can’t ever really run free.
My lab/collie and my German Shepherd both had excellent recall. I could let them out front with us off-leash and never worry (we used to be the only house on our road in the back of our development, so it was safe).
Freya, on the other hand, will never ever ever be off-leash outside our yard. For example, she’ll never go to a dog park.
While she now comes 100% of the time while in the yard now, I can’t trust that she’ll do it with so many distractions.
Still, we’re miles away from where we were when we started and recall training has definitely helped!
Even if she can never be off-leash, it’s good to know that I can get her in when it’s too hot, cold, or raining!