Recall – Drilling and Check-in Recall – Public Version


The Question

Evelyn and I started to talk about recall on our Whatsapp conversation.

Evelyn: Harvey ... saw another dog he was off. Unfortunately he was attacked by a black lab as a consequence. I was terrified after that to let Harvey off the lead near other dogs.

Harvey was one of Evelyn's previous dogs and her experience with him led her to be worried about the new pup, Milo, Border Terrier, 12 weeks old.

Jenny: I'd really like to start by pointing you to some bits and pieces I think will be of most help to you. Is it okay if I do that?

Evelyn: Yes no problem

Recall - Drilling and Check-in Recall


I sympathise massively. It's very scary it is when they go fleeing off and won't come back and you've no idea what's going to happen when they get up to that other dog or the road or whatever.

I also sympathise that there's so much advice available, it can be difficult to know get your training into order, an order which starts right and heads off bit by bit until we're where we want to be.

I think I'd like to start with the goal, helps you build the steps you need to get there if you have an idea where you're going! And even better, write it down, humans are not so good at remembering such.

I find a lot of new trainers are happy with a recall which gets the dog back to them eventually, maybe he's a bit slow, maybe we need to call him a few times to get him back, maybe distractions are too much for our recall. Added to this, a lot of dogs will come back to within some distance of you, but when you reach out to get hold of them, they bounce off like they're playing a most fun game of tag. So, when thinking about our goals for teaching recall in class, I came up with the following:

When you call him, he comes back straight away and quickly then lets you put the leash on.

Hettie puppy does recall

Hettie & Mo demonstrating target/catch

"Straight away and quickly" means, in time, working against distractions.  But I think we should be wary about starting work against distractions too early in the process. We want first of all to have a very solid behaviour in place: We call him → he comes immediately → we catch him. And once he'll do this with minimum distraction, say when he's in the living room and simply looking the other way but not terribly busy with something else, that's the time to start adding distractions.

And how to get to: We call him → he comes immediately → we catch him?  Drilling. The videos and audios on your Web Course will help you prepare your drills, and we work them in class/visits too.


Clarity is everything. And a good recall command is pretty vital, although you can get a lot of the early drills done without adding a command (in fact it's advisable to do so), which is why I've put commands after drilling in my programme.

We hear a lot of un-convinced commands going on for recall, too quiet, inconsistent, too long! If you have a very quiet voice, consider using a whistle.

Check-in Recalls

Although we do work a lot on this in classes, I thought this would be an ideal spot to write more.

The goal is that he learns to seek our permission before he goes off to greet another dog or person. I've had dogs in the past who've been so good at this that when they see another dog they come straight back to me to find out what they should do about it! These dogs are great because they tell me when something's coming along the path even if I've not caught sight yet.

I'm guessing that that's what Evelyn is actually after.

My rule is that my dogs go off to greet under 2 conditions. 1) They've got my permission to do so and 2) We have the permission of the other owner. Like this:

Jenny: Can they say hello?

Other owner: Hold on a second, I'm just going to get him calmed down a bit.


Jenny: Can they say hello?

Other owner: Of course!

Jenny (to her dog): Okay, go play!


Jenny: Can they say hello?

Other owner: Actually, he's not feeling very well today, perhaps we'll just give it a miss?


So, how to teach?

First you need to get a good pay attention. He needs to learn to look at you (straight away and quickly) whenever you ask. "Name for attention" is good: "Beanie!" and he looks. Never: "Beanie, Beanie, Beanie, BEANIE!"

Once you've drilled the basics in an easy environment against no or easy distractions, and he's as good as you think he's able to get (as in, he's looking at you straight away and quickly every time you say his name and he keeps looking at you until you release: "Go see!"), it's time to work in out and about.

You can get and maintain his attention more than once for each dog you see. Being safe of course.  I'd advise only working with other dogs who are on-leash unless your partner-dog is familiar to you and your dog.

He needs to actually SEE the other dog for it to work! It's no good getting his attention when you've seen the other dog and he hasn't. I think this is the reason that the exercise breaks down so often when people try it. It's because our trainee dog learns that we're asking for his attention because there's something of massive interest approaching so he looks about to see what all the fuss is about. If we do it the other way about, that he looks at dog/person first and then we get him under control, he knows what's there already and isn't so tempted to seek about for what he's missing.

And once we've got him good at paying attention when he sees a dog/person we can start to build our recall drills into the picture. See a dog → recall.  And you can do this over and over, even with the same distraction-dog.

Short leash first, then long line or flexi and when it comes time to try it out off leash, if possible work with a familiar dog/person so that both ends of the exercise are somewhat under your control. If this isn't possible, and I know the real world often doesn't allow us perfect scenarios, I don't think there's much alternative but to risk it among unfamiliar dogs/people, crossing our fingers that all our hard work gives us a pretty good chance of him getting it right.

And if he does get it right, please don't be mean with rewards in your surprise at how wonderful he is! Pour the whole bag of chicken into your dog! And then play lovely tug and fetch game. And then give him the remaining chicken that got stuck at the bottom of your pocket.

I do hope this gives you a good solid start to getting that recall you're after where Milo doesn't charge after random dogs in the park and even if he does, he's learned to look at dog then look back at you so you stand a good chance of being able to recall him when he's on the approach to another dog. Straight away and quickly!


  1. Plan and keep notes
  2. Daily drilling
  3. Commands
  4. Check-in recalls
    1. Attention and release
    2. Adding recall

And next episode...

Please do feel able to ask questions, share highs and lows, and when you feel you're ready to start working more on improvements (eg distractions), just let me know.
©️ Jenny Adams

June 2021

STUDENT VERSION. Student versions are blocked from public view. You can share with anyone who’s involved in training your dog, but please don’t share protected content publicly without checking with us first. We need people to come to class so we can feed our dogs.

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PUBLIC VERSION. Public versions of student questions are summmarised, mostly for confidentiality reasons.

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