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My Dog Won't Come Back!

24/01/2023 - Training Tips and Principles

Why doesn’t my dog come back?

One of the most common issues I see is owners who struggle to get their dogs to come back to them when out, so I thought it might be useful to jot down some thoughts on what to consider to help you with your wayward hound. My approach is the one that I use for all my problem solving consultations:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • And how to you get there?

It’s simple, and gets to the root of the issue. Most people are looking for a happy smiling dog coming back to them, just like Jess above. Let's see how you might achieve that.


My first thing to establish with clients is where you are now with your training, and that means a whole lot of challenging questions and observations of your dog's off lead behaviour and your behaviour when your dog is off lead. Here’s some of the questions I might ask.

Have you trained your recall?
Yes, that might seems a silly question, but often these things evolve. You call your puppy’s name and they eagerly come back to you EVERY SINGLE TIME, and you think you have it cracked. Then it goes wrong and falls apart, and you have nothing to fall back on.

What have you trained?
Often it is not what you think. Does it mean come to me and sit? Come with me? Come in from the garden past me? Often people are lazy in the way they think about this. They are also lazy in the way they use the cue and reinforce it. Recall training is simple when you break it down, but it takes a while to build up difficulty, particularly if you have a puppy travelling through adolescence and adulting.

What do you think your dog understands your recall cue means?
That’s always an interesting one to answer. Think about it now. If you use your dog’s name does it ALWAYS mean to come to you, or do you use it other times. If you use another word think about EXACTLY what you think that means to your dog.

What makes it difficult for your dog to come back?
Some dogs are sniffing their way along a hedgerow, some love people, some just want to play with other dogs, some are after their balls. Recognise you are distracting them away from things which are totally what they want to do. Grade the different things that you would like your dog to come away from. For some, coming away from a person is easy, but dog’s are super exciting, or vice versa.

What do you do if your dog does not come back?
Do you repeat your call? Do you get frustrated, even angry? Think about how this behaviour might have poisoned your recall cue, in other words, make is LESS likely that your dog will come back next time.

What do you do when your dog does come back?
Does your dog come back and look adoringly into your eyes, happy to have a lead put on? Or does your dog dodge away from you or only come to a couple of metres away? Or take the food then run off straight away back to playing with their friends? Do you get them to sit? Put them on the lead? Have you rewarded with food to start with but now feel that is not necessary?

Answer these questions about you and your dog so that you have a better understanding of where you are now?

Is that REALLY what you do?
Haha! That’s what you think you do, however, sometimes that is not what you really do.
The amount of times I say to people ‘do you realise that …. ‘
… you change your recall voice as soon as there is something that you are worried about?
… don’t call what you said, Fido come, sometimes you say Fido here, come here, etc.?
… all the family say different things?
… all the family have different ways of rewarding your dog?
… you repeat your cue within a micro-second, getting louder?
I could go on, but you get the picture. Look at what you really do both when you are relaxed, and when YOU are put under a bit of pressure by an approaching dog, or a person, or birds on the beach.

My biggest recommendation is to video yourself calling your dog. It’s so easy these days and will tell you a lot.


Now we know where you are now, think about your goal. This is something people don’t consider enough. Not all recalls are the same.

Think about comes at the end of the sentence ‘I would like to be able to …’ and make it as detailed as possible including locations, conditions, and distractions.

For example, I would like my dog to come back when I call them when playing with dogs on the beach, I might not want him on the lead, but I would like him to be happy having the lead put on.

See how it is all about what you want rather than what you don’t want.

Think about locations, who is out with the dog, the environment, what and who else might be in the environment, things your dog might be frustrated or excited by, things your dog might be worried about, weather, and so on.

Where do YOU want to be with your coming back when called? Write down your goal now.


I am not going to go in to the detail of training your recall here, but suffice to say, you need to set yourself and your dog up for success in your training. Let’s think about YOU.

Choose the right place
Most of all, think about yourself and what YOU feel comfortable with at the moment, because if you put yourself, and ultimately your dog, in the wrong place, you are setting yourself up to fail. Challenge and push forward, but don’t overwhelm.
The biggest problems that I see are when we put ourselves in situations that are not right for us and are not right for our dogs. That means our behaviour changes and our dogs check out until we sort ourselves out.

As I say to people often ‘you are in the wrong place.’

The right place is somewhere you can relax, not be overly vigilant, calmly do your recall and not feel you need to eyeball your dog all the time. You want to be able to see what works and what doesn’t work and if your head is worrying about other things, you will likely be sending your dog off away from you.

How do you find the right place?
You have various options, which boil down to ensuring that when you are practicing either you have some control over the environment or the dog.

  • Fenced off fields can be great for training, especially the ones that are more ‘real’ rather than a flat field. You know you are not going to be disturbed by others or embarrassed by your dog, so you can practice your training in comfort.
  • Long lines can be great for training, but practice with you line on your own first (yes, with no dog!), then with your dog in a really easy space. Your line should never be heaped on the floor otherwise if your dog takes off your arm is going with them. Ensure you work the line so that you don’t have loads of slack.
  • Public places with one entrance / exit can be good as you can keep an eye, but don’t be over-vigilant about the entrance as you will likely send your dog over there.
  • Beaches you can often see a long way ahead of you so can work well, but just be mindful of f the stability of the surface and what is there that might disturb your training such as birds, smells, etc.

This is a quick insight in to how to approach problem solving recall, there is so much more, and in person sessions or workshops can be a great way to hone down your individual issues.

For details of my recall workshops click here
For details of my recall 1 to 1 package click here