Transform your dog’s recall with this simple tip from an expert trainer

Dog running along forest trail
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does your dog struggle to come to you when you call them? Teaching a reliable recall is one of the most frequently cited challenges amongst pet parents and it's not hard to see why.

When your dog is off leash, there are so many new sights, smells, and sounds that their instincts tell them to explore. In fact, environmental distractions may well be one of the main reasons your dog's recall isn't reliable

However, according to Julianna DeWillems, a certified dog behavior consultant and owner and head trainer at JW Dog Training & Behavior, immediate and enthusiastic recall responses are most likely to happen when we as owners apply positive reinforcement in a smart way.

"It's important to work WITH your dog, not against them," explains DeWillems. "Using observation and data, you want to find a reward that is MOST likely to reinforce your dog’s behavior under those conditions. Not all rewards are created equal."

So, what exactly does a smart application of positive reinforcement look like? Well, in a video shared to Instagram, which you can view above, DeWillems uses a real life training example featuring one of her trainers, Kayleigh, working with a dog that loves to chase critters. 

Instead of using treats as a reward for coming when called, Kayleigh starts a thrilling game of chase using one of the dog's favorite toys. 

"Instead of trying to stop or suppress the dog's desire to chase, we use it to our advantage, understanding the laws of learning," DeWillems explains. "We teach: if you turn away from that, you get to come chase this." 

Building value for the behavior of coming when called all comes down to selecting a reward that your dog views as valuable, as opposed to picking something that you see as being valuable. 

"We often use high value dog treats when teaching recall, but that’s not *always* going to be what the dog finds most reinforcing," DeWillems says. "Being able to pivot based on what the dog is telling us is an important skill."

If you think your dog would never recall away from chasing something, DeWillems says that it's important to remember that there are a lot of thoughtful steps that have gone into the progress she shows in her video. So if you're feeling stuck with your own dog, we recommend reaching out to a professional trainer for support.

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.