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Puppy Recall Training Guide: 7 Games, Tips & Techniques | Pupford

September 29th, 2023

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Focusing on a puppy’s recall training should be at the top of every pup parent’s to-do list!

Not only can it keep your dog safe and give you peace of mind, but it ultimately gives you and your pup greater freedom and adventure in the long run.

Related Reading: Backpacking with Dogs Guide

Whether training a puppy or an older dog, this article is going to break down everything (seriously) you need to know about recall training. And it’s not gonna be a boring “call your dog back and reward” type article, we’re gonna dive into some pro tips, necessary tools, and even fun recall games to play with your pup!

Here’s what we will cover:

  • What is recall?
  • Why does recall matter?
  • How to teach a puppy recall
  • 7 tips, techniques & games for teaching a strong recall
  • Additional FAQs about recall

Alright… come! Let’s dive into recall. 👇


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Dog recall is the process of teaching your puppy to come back to you when called, regardless of the environment or distractions around them.

And ideally, your dog comes back the first time you ask.

That sounds simple, but it takes a solid amount of time, practice, and patience.

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


teaching a dog recall can help keep them safe from danger

Out of all the dog behaviors out there, recall just might be the most important.

If you have your dog off leash while on a hike and see another animal approaching, you need your dog to come back when you call.

If you’re at a dog park and a fight breaks out across the way, you need your dog to come back when you call.

If you’re walking through a park and see broken glass, you need your dog to come back when you call.

The importance of a reliable and strong recall can’t be understated. A strong recall gives you peace of mind when out with your dog, keeps them away from danger, and ultimately help you feel comfortable allowing your dog more freedom!

PS- Read our full article about how much freedom a puppy should have here.


While there are entire courses dedicated to puppy recall training (check out our recall course here), I want to give a basic overview of how to teach a puppy recall.

Here are the steps to teach recall:

  1. Stand away from your puppy
  2. Call your dog to you, lure them, or call their name, this is the verbal cue
  3. When your dog comes to you, praise and reward with a treat

That’s it.

While of course, it’s more complicated (this article isn’t over), that truly is the basic mechanics of how to teach your dog or puppy to come back to you when you ask.

Essentially you’re going to repeat those three steps from varying distances and with varying distraction levels. Over and over. And over again!

A major key to recall success is adding the 3 D’s (see section 2 below) and practice, practice, and more practice.

Here’s a video from Zak George about how to teach recall if you are a visual learner.

Arguably the most important piece of teaching a strong recall is repetition. Remember that it takes time and repeated reinforcement for your dog to want to come back when you call! Some may call this a total recall.


a dog running back to their owner after practicing recall

Now that we’ve covered the basics of recall, I want to dive into 7 tips that have helped me secure a solid recall with my dogs. And of course, we will look at some things not to do!

Here are 7 tips, games, and techniques to keep in mind when teaching a dog or puppy recall:

  1. Use a long lead
  2. Start inside with no distractions
  3. Use varying reinforcers
  4. Don’t ask too much of your dog
  5. Every recall should be a positive experience
  6. Play fun recall games
  7. Find the right “recall word” or cue for your pup

Alright, let’s dive into each idea below. ⬇️

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


Using a long leash for recall training isn’t optional. A long leash (or long lead) is just that, a leash that is much longer than your typical 6-foot leash.

You can buy a long lead in sizes ranging from 10 feet all the way up to 100+ feet. For most use cases, a 30-foot leash is a perfect option when teaching recall.

The beauty of a long leash is two-fold.

  1. Safety
  2. Control


Teaching recall requires you to walk large distances away from your dog and call them back to you. But what about in those early stages when your puppy’s recall isn’t super reliable?

Are you just gonna hope they come and not run in the other direction and chase a squirrel?

The world is full of things (cars, other dogs, cliffs, etc.) that can quickly become dangerous for a dog on the loose. When you use a long lead, you are able to practice recall from 30 feet (or more) away without having to worry about your dog running off.

Honestly, I could end here with safety, but let’s look at control as well.

using a long lead to teach recall is vital for success


When I say control I mean the ability to guide, direct, and nudge your dog where you want them to be. A distraction can pop up at any time, so be ready.

For example, let’s pretend you have your dog on a 30-foot lead and you’re practicing a 10-foot recall. If you call your dog and he starts to come toward you but then gets distracted by a bird (it happens), you can gently put some tension on the leash to re-engage your dog.

It doesn’t have to be a yank, hard pull, or collar pop. In the vast majority of cases, a gentle reminder of the task at hand will snap your pup back into recall mode. We strongly believe focusing on positive reinforcement is the best route to long-term reinforcement with puppy training.


We’ve already hinted at this, but distractions can be the most challenging part of teaching your puppy to come when called.

In the early stages of recall training, you should practice with little to zero distractions.

Let me say it again…

In the early stages of training a puppy to recall, you should practice with little to zero distractions.

That will likely mean that you will begin your dog’s recall training inside of your home! Yep, throw a 6-foot leash on your dog and practice getting them to come to you right in your living room.

It may seem overly simple, but that’s how dogs (and us humans) learn.

If your goal was to teach someone to play Piano Concerto No. 20 by Mozart, you wouldn’t start by handing them the sheet music and letting them sit down on the keys.

Instead, you would cover basic music theory, teach basic notes and chords, and have them practice their scales. And that would just be the beginning.

Think of an off-leash recall around distractions as Piano Concerto No. 20. Practicing recall in the living room with no distractions is like teaching a new student where Middle C is on the piano.

When in doubt, reduce distractions and increase repetitions before moving on to more difficult environments.

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


always start your recall training in a less distracting environment

In dog training you’ll often hear about the 3 D’s, they are:

  1. Distance
  2. Duration
  3. Distraction

While duration isn’t as applicable to recall as it is to practice a strong ‘stay’, distance and distraction are things you should strongly consider as you practice recall with your dog.

For distance, you’re going to practice recall from very short distances a LOT. Only once your dog really has a strong grasp on close-distance recalls would you move to further distance.

And another important point to remember with the 3 D’s is that you typically only want to increase the level of one “D” at a time. So if you’re teaching a 30-foot recall for the first time, you would want to do it in a low-distraction environment.

Our goal with recall, and all puppy training, is to set our dogs up for success! Ask too much and you will end up with a frustrated dog who won’t want to keep learning (more on that later).


While training treats are vital for teaching recall, they aren’t the only type of reinforcement that can help your dog learn to come back to you!

Each dog is unique and each dog responds differently to certain rewards.

Some dogs would do anything for a tasty piece of salmon.

Some dogs will focus completely on the prospect of a ball being thrown.

Some dogs find great reinforcement and joy from pets and verbal praise.

So find what works best for your dog and use it to reward your dog when they come back to you!

dogs can be taught recall by using fetch as a reward

The biggest breakthrough in my dog Scout’s recall was when we started using fetch as a reward for her coming back. We’d call her back to us, and when she was close enough for us to grab we would mark the behavior (marking is saying ‘yes’ or using an actual clicker to signal the correct behavior) and then throw her ball as the reward!

We literally spent months banging our heads against the wall trying to get her to recall outside with no luck. She didn’t care about food outside!

But once we introduced play as a way to teach recall, everything improved!

Try out new things, experiment with rewards, and remember that the more difficult the behavior you’re asking for the higher the “value” should be for the reward.

I know some pup parents who only use extra special rewards (like real steak or fish) as part of their recall training.


And on this note, don’t worry about phasing out rewards, praise or treats too quickly when teaching recall.

Our dogs need a heavy amount of reinforcement when learning this difficult behavior. I would recommend that in the first year of teaching recall you give a reward each and every time your dog returns.

Once you’re extremely confident in your dog’s recall and they exhibit that they will come back even around distractions, then you can start to phase out treats and rewards.

But remember, behavior that is rewarded gets repeated.

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


don’t ask too much of your puppy when first teaching come when called

As we discussed with our piano analogy, you want to be careful not to overwhelm, confuse, or ask too much of your dog when teaching recall.

If you’re still in the beginning stages of this behavior and you expect your pup to come back when they’re in the heat of a fun puppy play date, you’re going to be disappointed. Additionally, each time you ask your dog to come back and they don’t, you decrease the likelihood that they’ll come again the next time you ask!

Here’s what I mean. 👇

Envision you’re out at the park and you ask your dog to come back while they’re playing with their puppy friend.

“Sunny, come!”

No response…

“Sunny, come!!”

No response…

You then curse under your breath and give up.

What happens in that situation is your dog is actually being reinforced for NOT listening to you. The reinforcement comes in the form of continuing to play!

She heard you call, chose not to come back, and was still able to play. She got what she wanted and will be likely to repeat that in the future.

When in doubt, keep things simple in the beginning stages of recall training for your dog and do everything you can to set them up for success!


a dog getting lots of praise after doing a successful recall

If I had to pinpoint the #1-way pup parents ruin their dog’s recall it would be by punishing/scolding/ending something the dog enjoys/or doing something their dog hates (like being brushed) once their dog comes back to them.

You see this all the time…

Two pups are wrestling, playing, and having the time of their lives. Then a pup parent realizes they need to head home and calls their dog to them. The dog comes, somewhat reluctantly, and then they get leashed up and taken away from the play.

What’s the association made there? Coming to the human = playtime ending.


A pup parent calls their dog who turns and runs after a bird in the other direction. After a quick chase, the dog returns to the human only to be scolded for running away initially.

What’s the association made there? Coming to the human = being scolded.


Your dog is laying down calmly in the home and you call them over to you. Your good boy scampers over quickly only to have you start trying to trim their nails.

What’s the association made there? Coming to the human = a not enjoyable event like nail trimming happens.

Do you see the idea here?!

When we call our dogs to us and then immediately do something they won’t enjoy, we create a problem. And not only that, we create a problematic association.

Instead, we should focus on making it feel like a parents-are-out-of-town-for-the-weekend house party every time our dogs successfully come back to us! 🎉

So as I was taught by the great Traci Madson, if you are asking your dog to leave, stop playing, or otherwise end an enjoyable activity for them, go walk to them and get them without calling. It’s better than devaluing your recall word by saying it and your dog not coming back.

(Before you scroll to the comments to argue about this section, try to understand the sentiment and learning theory. Of course, this won’t always apply, but in many cases, it will. Don’t get hung up on the exact details, but rather the main point of not “wasting” or “devaluing” your recall cue.)

Let’s see other ways to keep it fun. ⏬

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


Remember the moment as a kid when you realized that some of the games you played in the classroom actually were helping you learn how to do math… 🤯

There’s a reason our teachers did this! Learning can feel boring, and when we’re bored we often stop paying attention.

We must channel our inner Mrs. Christensen teaching 3rd graders about geography (if you’re reading this ma’am, thanks for being a great teacher) and make recall fun!

Here are 3 fun recall games you can play with your dog to make learning fun (and effective) for you and your dog:

  1. The Bounce Back Game
  2. Hide & Seek
  3. Round Robin

Let’s break down each game below.

Bounce Back Game

The Bounce Back Game is an easy-to-play game that teaches your dog that the best rewards happen when they come back to you!

It’s all about teaching your dog that coming back to you is what “unlocks” more play and rewards.

Here’s how to play the Bounce Back Game.

1. You can start in your home or yard, but typically inside the home is easier.

2. Stand a few feet away from your dog and give the Recall Cue.

3. As soon as they get close to you, mark.

4. Instead of just giving the reward (typically a treat) by hand, toss it 5-7 feet away so your pup has to go after it.

5. Repeat this multiple times. Over time, your dog will immediately start to return to you once they have grabbed the treat you've thrown.

For a full video demonstration of this game, get access to the Recall Mastery Course here.

Hide & Seek

playing hide and seek is a fun recall game for your dog’s training

Hide and seek is probably the most commonly played game in the world. I mean, who hasn’t at one point in time fooled their friends for 30+ minutes by hiding deep in a coat closet?

This game makes the same motion and learning experience of recall (returning to you) but turns it into a fun game! You can play this game in your home, at a park, or in your yard.

Here’s how to play hide and seek for teaching recall:

  1. Get your dog into a sit (or down) stay. If they don’t have this on lock, you’ll need to enlist the help of a 2nd person to hold your dog while you hide
  2. Go into another room or hiding spot (you don’t have to be extremely concealed, that isn’t the point)
  3. Call your dog with your recall cue
  4. When your dog comes and finds you, mark and reward

Here’s a video covering how to teach your dog to play hide and seek for recall.

Round Robin

The Round Robin game is similar to monkey-in-the-middle, but without all the frustration and kids ending up crying to their teacher for being picked on.

The beauty of this game is that it helps your dog to learn to listen to their recall cue from other people, not just you!

This game is best played in a fenced-in yard or in a home. It can be played with just 2 people but is often more fun and challenging if you play with more people.

Here’s how to play the Round Robin game with your dog.

  1. If playing with 2 people, stand across from each other about 10 feet or so apart. IF playing with more than 2 people, make a circle.
  2. Each person participating should have treats to reward your dog with.
  3. Have one person give the Recall Cue.
  4. Once your dog comes to you, mark and reward. If they don't come, check out the Troubleshooting Steps in the section below.
  5. Immediately after rewarding your dog, have the other person give the Recall Cue. Mark and reward when the dog comes to the person who gave the Recall Cue.
  6. After practicing and repeating, try increasing the difficulty through some of the following ways ⤵️
    1. Increase the distance between people
    2. Have the other people tempt/try to deter the dog away from the Cue giver
    3. Add in distractions, other noises, objects, etc.

For a full video demonstration of this game, get access to the Recall Mastery Course here.

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


using the right recall word is important

While most people think of a recall word or recall cue they think of ‘come’. And while that works great, some pup parents prefer more unique recall words.

Here's a list of some common (and some unique) recall words to use for recall training.

  • Come
  • Here
  • This way
  • Home
  • To me
  • Return
  • Follow me
  • Back to base
  • Heel (often used for a more formal recall with the dog returning to a specific position next to the handler)
  • C’mere
  • Back
  • Clapping (not the word, but actually clapping)

At the end of the day, it does not matter what word you choose. What matters is that you are consistent with your recall word. Always use it when working on recall!

And on that note, keep it positive. As we mentioned above, this word should only have positive connotations attached to it!

Do you use a unique recall word? Be sure to tell us in the comments.


You hopefully are feeling much more confident and excited about teaching your dog recall. But before you run out to practice, let’s cover some additional frequently asked questions about recall training. ⏬


teaching recall can often take 6 to 12 months

All questions about how long teaching a behavior takes are impossible to definitively answer, and it’s the same for recall.

Wondering how long recall training takes is like wondering how long it takes to learn the piano (we’re going back here 🎹).

Technically if I can play Hot Cross Buns then I know how to play the piano… But do I really know how to play the piano? Not really.

With recall, your dog will show varying degrees of progression and understanding when it comes to recalling. Your pup might “know” how to recall while in your yard, but what about in a busy park with other dogs, kids, and squirrels zooming by?

I would say on average it takes anywhere from 6-12 months to teach an extremely reliable and strong recall. That will depend on how often you practice, your dog’s learning abilities, and a variety of other factors.

And as a note, recall training is a lifelong process. My dogs are adults with extremely strong recall, but that doesn’t stop me from doing some maintenance recall training every so often.

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


You call your dog back to you and they do not come, now what?

First off, it’s important to recognize that there are two parts to this question:

  1. What do I do right then and there
  2. What do I do after the non-returning-recall episode


When your dog chooses not to return when called, you still need to take action and get them back to you.

The first route is to start implementing all the ways you know how to get your dog’s attention.

You can clap, whistle, holler, start running in the other direction (it can be surprisingly effective), yell things like ‘treats’ or ‘food’, or any other host of actions.

If this gets your dog’s attention and they do come back to you, you need to reward them. Even if you want to curse at them in frustration, you need to do it in your high-pitched happy voice.

Every time your dog comes back to you, they need to be rewarded. Period.

dog getting a retreat after recalling to their human


Once your dog comes back and your panic and/or frustration settles down, it’s time to ask yourself if your dog really understands come when called.

I would recommend taking 1-2 “steps” back in your dog’s recall training, getting back to using a long lead, and practicing reinforcing each and every recall as much as you can.

And also ask yourself if you’ve set your dog up for success. There is a high likelihood that your dog isn’t coming back to you because they don’t actually understand the behavior, or haven’t been reinforced strongly enough when they do come back.

We’re all learning as growing as pup parents and it’s okay to make mistakes. The key to a strong recall is not to give too much freedom too early!


The best way to prevent your dog from running away when teaching recall is to use a long lead.

If you have the leash securely in one hand and the other end connected to your dog’s collar or harness, they won’t be able to run away.

Additionally, it may be worth considering working on some impulse control training generally!

And for additional learning, check out how to stop a dog from running out the door here.


You may have noticed that I haven’t once mentioned the use of e-collars when teaching recall. The reason is, it’s not necessary.

You do not need to use an e-collar to teach a reliable recall.

My two dogs have an extremely reliable and consistent recall and I’ve never once used an e-collar. So while you can use one, I don’t recommend it. A perfect recall can be taught through positive reinforcement training.

If you are willing to enter the conversation about aversives (which includes e-collars) with an open mind, I recommend you read this article about LIMA dog training and the Humane Hierarchy.


dogs of all ages can learn recall

The simple answer of whether an older dog can learn to recall is… yes.

The longer and more complex answer is that it will likely take a lot of untraining “bad” behaviors, extra practice and patience, and probably some really challenging initial recall training sessions.

All dogs can learn new behaviors and tricks. And while it’s easier to lay strong foundations for recall at a young age, it can also be done with older dogs.

You can apply all the same training tips and techniques we’ve discussed in this article to dogs of any age!

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


Training around distractions is challenging, no matter the behavior. It’s extra tough when it comes to teaching recall!

If your dog is overly distracted during recall training then it likely means you are asking too much of your dog at that current moment. Every dog has a “threshold” of distractions they’re able to handle before losing focus. Once you go over that threshold, no learning will occur.

So if you’re seeing that your dog is constantly overwhelmed and distracted during recall training then you may need to take a step or two back in the difficulty of distractions around your dog.

It can also be a good idea to generally work on getting your dog to focus on you!


Recall training is one of the most important behaviors you will teach your dog. If you have a puppy, I recommend devoting time to teaching recall every single day.

As a recap, here are 7 tips, games, and techniques to keep in mind when teaching a dog or puppy recall:

  1. Use a long lead
  2. Start inside with no distractions
  3. Use varying reinforcers
  4. Don’t ask too much of your dog
  5. Every recall should be a positive experience
  6. Play fun recall games
  7. Find the right “recall word” or cue for your pup

If you’re looking for a basic introduction to training recall, sign up for the 100% free online class 30 Day Perfect Pup! It covers behaviors like recall, stay, leash walking, and more. Sign up here!

If you're ready to take your dog’s recall to the next level, including transitioning to off-leash behavior then sign up for the Recall Mastery Course. It breaks recall training down into 11 different “levels” and even includes bonus recall games. Get access here!

What was the most effective way you found to teach your puppy recall? Tell us in the comments below!

🐶 Don’t miss out, sign up for the Recall Mastery Course to teach your dog a reliable recall. Get started here! 🐶 


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