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5 Reasons Your Dog Ignores Your Recall and How To Fix It

white dog in field

Recalling your dog is one of the most crucial commands you can teach them. Whether in the park, beach, or backyard, a reliable recall helps to ensure your dog's safety and your peace of mind. But what happens when your dog consistently ignores your recall commands? In this post, we'll explore why dogs sometimes ignore recall and provide practical tips to improve your dog's response for the best recall experience.

Understanding Why Dogs Ignore Recall:

1. Lack of Training: Dogs only recognize recall commands if properly trained to respond to them. 

2. Distractions: Dogs are easily distracted, especially in stimulating environments like parks or around other animals. Your dog may ignore you because something else has captured their attention, such as a squirrel, another dog, or an interesting smell.

3. Negative Associations: If your dog associates coming to you with negative experiences, such as bath time, the end of playtime, or being kenneled as you leave the house, they may be less inclined to respond to your recall commands. Your “Come” starts to mean “something bad is about to happen, run away!”.

4. Inconsistent Training: Inconsistency in training can confuse your dog. If you've been lax with enforcing recall commands in the past, your dog may not take them seriously when you need them to.

5. Wrong definition: You have inadvertently taught your dog that their recall cue means it’s time to play a chase game. Now, you must chase them around until you catch them, which is some dogs' favorite game.

All five of these are extremely common and surprisingly easy to do. When teaching your dog recall, it is essential to only use your cue when you know you can get them to come to you no matter what. When a dog learns it can blow off this command, your most crucial command starts to become unreliable. Now that we know about how recall training can go wrong, let’s dive into how to avoid and fix these common reasons your dog is ignoring their recall. 

How to train a reliable recall:

Phase 1

Start by having your dog on a long line– the goal of this exercise is to have one end of the leash attached to your dog and a helper to hold the other end of the leash. (If you don’t have a helper, you can wrap the leash behind a tree or post to create a pulley system, check out our video on this technique.)

Have your helper hold the leash handle while your dog pulls at the other end to get to you– the person holding the leash should not allow your dog to get to you, and you should be about 6 feet away from your dog.

  • Show your dog a toy and get them very excited to come to you. 

  • Once your dog is excited and you know they’ll run toward you, say your recall cue clearly and loudly once. This should cue your helper to drop the leash and your dog to run to you to get the toy. 

  • As your dog runs toward you, back up quickly to have them follow you. 

  • After a few steps back, let them grab the toy, give them a quick play session, and then repeat.

Phase 2

Once your dog starts to get the hang of this and comes each time you call them, it's time to move to phase two. As you did above, get your dog excited to go for the toy, but this time, put the toy behind your back before you call them. When they come racing to you, grab their collar, give them the toy, and have a play session, then repeat.

Phase 3

Repeat step two without getting your dog super excited. Have them at the end of the leash with you 6 feet away. Cue them, and when they come running, bring the toy out.

Phase 4

Now that your dog understands the word, you can interchange the reward between toys and treats. As you continue to see progress with them coming back to you and you being able to grab their collar, you will start to randomize your reward frequency. This means they won't get the reward every time, but it happens frequently enough to keep your dog returning reliably in hopes of a reward.

Phase 5

You're now ready to add distractions and distance. I recommend starting at Phase 2 in each new environment, and if your dog struggles with each new distraction, go back to Phase 1.

Practice, practice, practice! This is a critical command, and I recommend practicing it everywhere. As an example, while on walks, take a handful of treats and their favorite toy. Release your dog out of the heel position and let them sniff while distracted. Use your recall cue and back up quickly. When they run towards you, grab their collar and reward them. Give them lots of praise and then send them back to what they were doing. This last part is vital, but I'll touch on it more. 

Dealing with distractions:

 Distractions will significantly depend on your dog. Until you have a 96% reliable recall, your dog should be on a leash at all times, (only an e-collar will get you to 99% reliability, but more on that later.) Having your dog on a leash will be your insurance policy when working around distractions. Remember, if they learn they can ignore your cue and do something that’s more rewarding to them, getting your recall back to reliable becomes harder and harder. Gradually increase the level of difficulty when choosing what distractions to work around. Pro tip: When it’s safe, always allow your dog to return to the thing distracting them. When your dog learns that if they listen to your cue, they will get something extraordinary from you AND go back and check out that super awesome smell in the bush, your dog will never have a reason to ignore you. 

Creating a Positive Association:

Using your recall cue to call your dog in from the backyard or end play time at the beach will deteriorate your cue. Your dog will start to associate “Come” with being pulled away from having fun or bad things happening (like a bath, for example.) This association can cause your dog to stop returning to you when you call them or even run the other way. To avoid this, I use a less formal secondary recall that usually involves more of a game. Teaching your dog the touch command is a great secondary recall cue. With “touch”,  your dog should touch their nose to your hand. This cue is a great way to get your dog back to you during these times without risking the reputation of your formal recall cue. If your dog ignores a “touch” command, you still have your formal recall command for emergencies. When using the “touch” command to leave fun situations, it’s crucial to randomize when you use it. (If “touch” is always used before leaving a fun situation, your dog will start to understand this association.) 

If your recall cue is already tarnished, pick a different word and retrain using the method above starting from Phase 1. 

Fixing Inconsistencies:

When you use your recall cue, it is essential to always follow through. Anytime you call your dog, they must come back to you. There are 0 exceptions. If you become lax on this, your dog will not understand the difference between when you’re serious and when you’re not. If you’re using your recall cue at a time when you’re not in a position to follow through, it’s best to use your secondary cue. 

Changing the Definition:

 Oh no! Your dog thinks your recall cue means it's time to play tag, and you’re it! Playing with your dog is highly rewarding to them. If you use your recall cue and then begin to chase your dog around the house, you've just made their day. When using your recall cue, always run away from them. Dogs naturally want to follow something that is moving (prey drive). If you find your dog starting to turn recall into playtime, it's best to put them back on the leash and return to Phase 1 of recall training. And by all means, stop chasing your dog during recall practice. 

By understanding why dogs ignore recall commands and implementing consistent training techniques, you can improve your dog's response and enjoy stress-free outings together. Remember to be patient, positive, and persistent in your training efforts. Soon, you'll have a dog who comes running every time you call them. 

Now that you have a solid recall of your dog, you're one step closer to having an off-leash, reliable canine companion. The next step is adding in e-collar training, we’ll touch on this next time– stay tuned!  

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