Recall dog training: Why does my dog ignore me when I call him?

June 10, 2021
dog recall training - dog running towards you

Recall Dog Training Workshop, Banstead

Sunday 27th June 1.30 pm

The workshop is 1.5 hours and is £30

Huntersfield Farm, Fairlawn Road, Banstead SM7 3AU

Perhaps you had a perfect recall with your dog, and it’s suddenly disappeared, or maybe it’s always been a struggle. 

Our dogs have minds of their own, but we can influence them to be excited to return every time you call, so you can enjoy the blissful off-lead walks you’ve always dreamed of. 

There are periods in a dog’s life when recall can become trickier, hello adolescence! When your dog becomes a teenager, suddenly, their behaviour changes. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the changes that trigger your dog to ignore you when you call and some solutions to help you have him come bounding back to you reliably.

Why does my dog ignore me when I call him? 

Essentially our dogs make choices based on what is most rewarding for them. If your dog is having a ton of fun running off to play with other dogs, get his nose busy in the bushes, or to greet people he’s spotted in the distance, then there’s some work to do on focus, connection, and fun! 

If your dog has suddenly started running off when previously his recall was fantastic, then I’m going to hazard a guess that you have an adolescent dog on your hands!

When our dogs hit the teenage phase, a lot is going on for them. Their brains are developing, they have growing pains, and some feel more confident and keen to discover new things. 

Alternatively, your puppy may be in the second fear phase, and they may bolt if spooked by something. Suddenly things that didn’t worry them at all previously become very scary. 

When we’re working on recall, the first thing to consider is safety. That’s the safety of your dog, other dogs in the vicinity, and people. 

If your dog doesn’t yet have a reliable recall, then a long lead is a brilliant tool to keep everybody safe while you practise.

Recall training with long lead

Using a long lead for recall training takes a bit of practice. We want to avoid getting in a tangle, painful burn, and injury to your dog and others.  

  1. Attach the long lead to a harness, never your dog’s collar
  2. Be cautious about using a long lead during play with other dogs
  3. Don’t wrap it around your hands or fingers. Instead, hold it in a loop like in the video below

When nylon long leads get wet or muddy, they get heavier, and they are a bit of a nightmare to clean! 

Biothane long leads are a really good option. They are lighter, easier to clean, and less likely to cause you ‘rope burn’. 

The long lead must be attached to a harness as attaching to your dog’s collar could cause serious injury. If your dog is pulled to a sudden stop then the harness will spread the force of this across your dog’s body. With a collar, the full force would be applied to your dog’s neck, which is an incredibly sensitive part of your dog’s body. 

We need to consider the weight of the longline and your dog’s size and build. Choose a length, thickness, and material that will be comfortable for your dog. Have a look at the leash clip to ensure that it isn’t too bulky or heavy for your dog. 

It’s tempting to drop your long line and let your dog play with other dogs while he’s wearing it. This can quickly end up with the long lead tied around dog’s legs and tightening as your dog runs and moves, which can cause serious injury. 

I recommend using your long lead to actively train a good recall rather than to allow play with other dogs. While you may avoid your dog running off, you could encounter significant injuries instead.  

In our upcoming recall dog training workshop, we will cover how to use a long line safely to reduce the chance of injury to you, your dog, and passers-by! 

Teaching your dog recall 

Teaching your dog recall is a skill that involves several elements. The first thing we need to consider to teach a perfect recall is what motivates your dog. 

You may find the clue to this in what your dog is running off to seek when he won’t come back!

If your dog is seeking out other dogs or people, he is likely looking for fun and attention. In this instance, a toy or a game may be more rewarding to your dog than the use of food. 

You can use your dog’s favourite toy only on walks in order to retain its value and make it extra special.

If your dog is motivated by movement, such as bikes, scooters, or joggers, then the way you deliver your treats can help. Introduce movement to your treat delivery to gain your dog’s attention. You can roll or throw the treats for your dog to chase. 

If your dog runs off following a scent, introducing some nosework on your walks can help your dog meet his desires while staying close to you. This can be as simple as scattering some smelly and tasty treats in long grass for him to seek. 

Practise your nosework games at home first and introduce a find it cue, which will help your dog to understand what’s happening when you play in more distracting environments like busy parks.

Be aware of your surroundings and set your dog up for success

It’s really important to know your dog’s triggers. What stimuli are likely to cause your dog to lose all focus on you and go bounding off into the distance? 

Is a pond or lake an invitation your dog can’t resist? Are kids playing or bikes whizzing past too tempting to ignore? Are squirrels your dog’s holy grail?

recall dog training dog in pond

Like any new skill we teach our dogs, we need to start easy and slowly progress to more challenging tasks. 

When you first start practising recall with your dog, you want to choose an environment with minimal distractions. If your local walking spots are too busy, then you could hire a secure dog field for an hour to practise in a safe environment. 

There are secure dog fields for hire in Redhill, which can be hired by the hour. They have high and secure fencing, and you will have the field entirely to yourself for the hour – so no other dogs or people to contend with! 

Paw Prints K9 Services offer a secure dog field for hire in Banstead. You can contact Jenny through the Facebook page or via email to enquire about booking. 

Once you’ve nailed your recall in an environment with low distractions, you can slowly begin recall training in a busier environment. Keep your distance from the things that are likely to be tempting to your dog and if you’re unable to avoid them, then put your dog on a shorter lead temporarily. 

When should I start recall training?

You can start recall training straight away! Before your puppy can go out, you can play recall games in the house and garden to set the foundations in place. 

As you progress to local parks and open spaces, use a long line until your puppy’s recall is reliable. 

If you have an older dog, then you can still begin working on their recall training. It’s never too late, and in fact, even dogs who have a perfect recall need to be reinforced for returning to retain their desire to come back!

Expect regressions! 

When you hit the adolescent phase in your dog’s life, their recall is likely to regress. This is completely normal and a developmental stage that most dogs go through. 

Stay consistent with your training, use a long line, and remember it’s totally ok for your dog to remain on the lead for as long as is needed to keep them safe. 

How do I get a perfect recall?

Every dog has their ‘thing’ they find difficult to resist. When your dog has developed their recall skills, it can be tempting to ditch the rewards entirely. If you want to retain a perfect recall, then it needs practising and reinforcing regularly. 

You can reduce the frequency of reward, but still try to reward your dog for returning to you at least a few times on each walk together. 

Practice makes perfect. 

What do you do when your dog won’t come back?

When your dog won’t come back, it is utterly panic-inducing. Try to remain calm and resist the urge to chase or shout. 

When you chase your dog, it turns into a game. If you’re chasing and shouting, your dog may even be worried about returning, so it’s counterproductive. 

Here are a couple of things that you can try if your dog won’t come back. 

Act excited, make exciting noises, and run in the other direction. Your dog may be enticed by this interesting behaviour and come after you! 

Resist the temptation to grab him and put his lead on at this point. Engage in the game a bit and then scatter some high-value treats on the ground. When your dog is retrieving these tasty treats, you can safely clip his lead on. 

If running around like an excited madperson doesn’t work, try sitting down on the ground looking wholly disinterested. This can spark curiosity in your dog, and the lack of attention for his fun and games may remove the fun of running away! 

Woman sat with dog - what to do if your dog won't come back

Again, if he comes near you, calmly scatter some food on the ground for him to retrieve. 

If your dog won’t come too close, then start by tossing treats further away from you, then some closer, and then some further away again. We want your dog to feel that he’s not walking into a trap so that he can relax and calm down. 

Lastly, as embarrassing and frustrating as it is when your dog won’t come back, don’t scold or tell him off when he finally returns. Contrary to popular belief, rewarding him when he does come back is not rewarding him for running amok. But punishing him will definitely result in him feeling that bad things happen when he returns. 

Best treats for recall training

For dogs who find recall a challenge, kibble just isn’t going to cut it. 

Use the tastiest treats you can for recall training, and if they’re a bit smelly, then all the better!

JR Pet Products pate is great. You can cut it up into tiny pieces, so you’re not overloading your dog with calories. It’s 100% meat, so no nasty chemicals or additives inside. And it smells awfully good to dogs too!

If your dog isn’t food motivated, using a ball or a special toy for walkies is a brilliant option. 

These tugs by Tug-E-Nuff are brilliant for recall training. They have a handle for your comfort and come in various lengths and materials. Some even have a ball on the end or squeakers inside. 

Recall dog training class in Banstead, Surrey

If you’d like some help with recall training for your dog, our next recall training workshop is on 27th June at 1.30 pm. 

The workshop takes place at Huntersfield Farm, Fairlawn Road, Banstead SM7 3AU, and is £30 for 90-minutes fun-filled training. 

We’ll set all the foundations in place to help you confidently teach your dog recall in a fun and effective way. 

Keep your dog safe, enjoy your walks, and feel confident again. 


Alex bracken dog training Banstead Epsom Ewell Cheam Woodmanstern Coulsdon Purley Caterham Chessington Ewell

Bracken Dog Training was established in 2013 offering in person and online training for all ages of dogs.

I am a member of the PPG working towards my APDT membership and I regularly take part in various dog trainer seminars and workshops

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