Why won’t my dog come back?

4 October 2009 128 Comments
Why won’t my dog come back?

There is only one reason why anyone’s dog won’t come back when called. It’s because you’re boring. If your dog would rather sniff a lamppost, rummage in a hedgerow, scamper off to meet other dogs or people, or chase a squirrel, it’s because they think all those things are more interesting than you are.

To get your dog to come back every time, you have to be more interesting than anything else on earth. A tall order perhaps? Yes, but certainly achievable.

Let’s start with how your dog perceives you in everyday life. Are you the apple of their eye, or can they wrap you around their little pad? Does your dog consider that you are someone to look up to, or do they ignore you when they feel like it? Do you provide affection when they demand it; can you be provoked into a response whenever they try hard enough? Do you have to repeat commands? Is their response variable depending upon what they are doing? If your dog thinks that they are controlling your relationship, they will not pay attention when you ask.  If they can take what you provide whenever they want, why should they come back because you say so? What’s in it for them? The answer should be “affection” or at least “attention”. If the answer is “nothing”, then your dog doesn’t value your affection and attention sufficiently, and you may need to re-examine your relationship.

Once you have your relationship on the right footing, you might just find that your dog pays you more attention generally and is far more inclined to come when called anyway. You might need to do no more than that for a better recall!

Most dogs, however, will benefit from learning a new set of rules about coming back when called and it isn’t rocket science, or a ‘secret’, just plain ordinary training that all dogs can understand. To do that you will need to understand how dogs learn so that you can implement the training in a way that will work quickly, and work for you.

The first stage will be to teach your dog what ‘come’ really means. It means ‘if you come here you will be rewarded for it’, and like all dog training it is best started in a place with no distractions. Indoors is best to achieve fluency before generalising to the outdoors and this training is one of the best games you can play…

The Recall Game

To teach Sandy to come back, and have fun doing it, you will need Sandy, two or more human players and some tasty doggie treats.

  • Ben takes hold of Sandy’s collar and holds it tight with one hand.
  • Maisie shows Sandy a treat and runs away into another room.
  • When out of sight, Maisie calls Sandy’s name and the chosen recall word – how about “Come” or “Here”?
  • Ben lets Sandy go and she rushes into the other room to find Maisie.
  • When she arrives, Maisie takes hold of Sandy’s collar and then gives her the treat (and cuddles and praise).
  • After Sandy has eaten the treat (small ones so she just gets a taste and wants more!) Maisie continues to hold her collar and Ben shows her a treat.
  • Ben then runs away to another room and calls whilst Maisie holds her.
  • When she runs to Ben, he too takes hold of her collar before rewarding her.
  • Turn it into a game of hide and seek, moving each time, so Sandy has to really look for the hidden person to get the reward.
  • Play for as long as Sandy really wants the treat (stop before she gets too full up).

The recall game teaches Sandy to come when called, and not to mind her collar being touched, because both things predict a nice outcome. When Sandy is really good at the recall game, play it in the garden, or on walks.

The Dark Side

It’s understandable that people get very frustrated and angry when their dog doesn’t come back when called. However, when their owner is angry, a dog can tell from their body language and tone of voice that all is not well, and will be even less likely to want to go back to them. So, how do we go about convincing the dog that you are the best thing on offer? By never punishing a dog when they return, no matter how long you have been waiting, shouting and worrying, and always rewarding the dog when they come to you, however long it takes. Punishing includes smacking or hitting, shouting or berating, frowning or scowling, or even just ignoring.

Things to Make Your Dog Want to Come Back

Even if you have played the recall game and your dog is very good indoors, you will still have to compete with distractions outdoors. These are some things that you might consider to help keep yourself the most interesting thing on offer:

Rewards – Rewards can be praise, food treats, playing a game or with a toy, or cuddles. Use a high value reward for coming back outdoors. If you use dog biscuits indoors, use sausage outdoors.

Get Attention – If you haven’t got your dog’s attention, they won’t come. Use your dog’s name, clap or whistle (high pitches are more attractive to dogs than low ones); use exciting tones; crouch down to dog-height; lie on your back and wave your legs in the air if necessary, but get your dog’s attention!

Feedback – Once they start to come, praise, praise, praise. They’re not here yet, but they’re heading in the right direction!

Unpredictability – Don’t be a predictable bore on your walks.
Hide behind a tree or in a gateway; your dog will come and find you! The relief from the anxiety of losing you and the praise you heap on them will be a huge reward.
Run away. Just run in the opposite direction and your dog will come with you (it might be missing out on something). Both of these strategies will encourage your dog to keep one eye on you, as they don’t know what to expect.

Practice – Practice recalls on walks. Randomly call your dog, give them a reward and send them off again. Call them, clip on the lead, reward them and let them go again.

Think about the times when you call your dog. Home-time, end of the walk, to stop it meeting another dog/person, to stop it chasing something, to stop it eating or even sniffing something. From your dog’s point of view, being called often predicts the loss of something. It is an event that they associate with a negative outcome. You can change that by introducing positive associations.

Play – Playing games of any kind on your walks is a sure-fire way of keeping your dog’s attention. Practising some obedience is fun if there is a reward in it and it helps to increase your dog’s positive view of a recall.

Don’t grab – your dog as they run past. This won’t teach them anything except to give you a wider berth next time. Wait until they voluntarily come right up to you, take hold of their collar and reward.

Failsafe – If you really have no confidence that your dog will come back off the lead, you can practice on lead at first, or you can attach a long line (strong washing line?) to your dog’s collar and tie the other end to something sturdy, then play the recall game in a field. When your dog is very good at that, untie the other end of the line and play with it dragging on the ground. Your dog will still feel under control, but is free for a gallop (you can catch the end of the line in an emergency). As your dog becomes more dependable, cut the line in half, then half again and eventually there will be no line at all.


The more positively your dog views you and the keener they are to interact with you at any time, the more likely they will come back whenever you call them.



  • Joyce C said:

    Hello We have a 7 month old Labrador and a 13 year old Labrador. The 7 month old one is our 4th Lab and whereas the other 3 have been no problem training, all 3 never got distracted by looking for food !! However, the pup can be really good and very obedient for a few days then he will not return when called, and as I have seen from other owners it happens a lot !! The problem is that I am unable to take him on the long walks my husband takes him as I am unable to walk a long way due to illness. I would hate not to be able to let him off the lead as I have been able to do with the other 3. Any advise appreciated.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Joyce,
    7 months old is a difficult age, when he’s starting to become more independent. You have a couple of options. First is to use a long line: attach a line to his collar and let it drag when he is running free. If he doesn’t come back you don’t have to catch him, just the line. It also inhibits him slightly as he knows he is not free to run off. Second option is to increase your own attraction with games or food treats for regularly coming back to you on walks. Call him back, reward him and let him go off again. Also reward him for checking in with you voluntarily. You basically need to make yourself more interesting than the other things on walks and you can use whatever it is that he finds attractive.

  • Joyce C said:

    Hi David. Thank you for quick response. We will certainly try the advise you have given us and hopefully it won’t too long before he is coming back first time and leaving the crisp packets and takeaway food boxes alone !! 🙂

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Ah, yes, the difficulty is making yourself more attractive than a crisp packet to a Labrador – not as easy as it sounds. However, you have his youth on your side. There’s a good, “leave-it” game you can play. Take two people, treats and the crisp packet. Initially place the crisp packet on the floor just to one side of you but in reach. the other person should hold the dog by the collar. Second person call the dog and as they come close say “leave-it” in a nice pleasant tone whilst showing the (very nice) treat in the hand. Then reward the dog with the treat. Make sure you can quickly grab the packet if need be. The second person should then call “leave-it” in a nice tone and reward the dog for coming. Each time the dog leaves something it gets a reward. You can then progressively increase the salience of the packet (slightly further away or with a few crumbs in it) and each time your dog will leave it for something they think is better. If you are very careful and take it slowly you can progress to your dog jumping over a plate of food to get to you for a small piece of sausage. Tiny increments where you succeed every time is the key.
    Good luck,

  • Clare said:

    Hi David,
    I have an 11 month old German Shorthaired Pointer dog pup who is not neutered I have trained him from 8 weeks old. He is very bright and easily learnt to sit, stay, lie down, and recall from voice and whistle at home from different rooms and the garden and out on walks. I always practise the recall, play games and hide from him on all walks. He would also come back when we met other dogs but now this behaviour is getting worse. I have started putting him on the lead if I see a dog approaching and keep him on it until they are out of sight, but the other day as soon as I let him off after a good while after meeting other dogs he tore past me and charged back along the path and over a bridge and down the river to catch up with the other dogs. He wouldn’t listen and I had to retrieve him. He is displaying a lot of scent marking and licking the grass where I presume other dogs have urinated. There are areas where we have met bitches in season and now if I walk him there he will charge around like a crazed teenager looking for the dog. He does come back to find me but will hare off again as soon as he finds me. I have resorted to putting him back on the lead in these areas. Will this get better? I am not against having him neutered but I feel I should be able to train him without resorting to this. He’s such a lovely affectionate family dog who is great in every other way but I don’t want his hormones to over rule the next 10 years everytime we are out. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Claire,
    Some dogs are just more focussed on the hormonal influences of others, so it could be that your GSP has a greater tendency in that area. However he’s at the age where hormones can run riot, so there’s also a chance that it will be a temporary measure he will grow out of to some extent. But there’s no way of knowing which. If the plan is to neuter if it doesn’t improve, allowing him to practice in the meantime will reinforce the behaviour and make it more resistant to extinction.
    To improve control rather than have options of only on or off lead I would use a long line that he can drag. It gives you a half-way measure where you can work your socks off to make yourself more interesting so he wants to stay with you, but ultimately he cannot run off because you can stand on the line. Of course the nub is that he must want to stay with you, so you have to become more attractive than other dogs are.

  • June said:

    Hi David
    I have a year old border collie. She’s been a bit accident prone with a toe that fractured twice and had to be amputated and a cut pad, all resulting in a lot of confinement and rest from 7 to 11 months. A crucial time in any puppy’s life!
    She is generally a good dog and I have stepped up the training now, attending 2 classes a week. Her recall is good, comes when called and to a whistle, except when meeting other dogs which she loves! I have had some success in distraction with a tuggy toy but once she starts to play that’s it! I am invisible and she is deaf!
    Do you have any advice please or do you think she will grow out of it?
    Many thanks

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi June,
    Sorry to hear she’s been indisposed, but glad she’s able to get back into circulation. As she loses puppy behaviour it will become less important to run up to other dogs, but if she enjoys playing with them it may well continue. The crux is that you need to be more fun than they are so she prefers to play with you, so you may need to ramp up the fun for a while. Try to get her attention when the other dog is still a long way off – “if there’s a dog on the horizon, it’s time to play with mum!” You could also keep her on a long line so that she has no option but to focus on you.
    Keep up the training and it should all come together for you.

  • Rob Veitch said:

    Hi. What an inspiring article. I have an Estella mountain dog which is 11 months old. She is a beautiful friendly girl to people and other dogs but her recall is vertically non existent. She is a rescue dog and I have had her for 3 months from 8 months of age. I use a long training lead and when I call her she knows exactly what I am asking but only comes when she feels like it. Quite often she is very good and comes quickly but when I let her of the lead she seems to love the freedom and doesn’t come back. So frustrating and soul destroying when you feel you are progressing. Will try you techniques for sure. At 11 months do you think she is just pushing her luck and being a teenager or has the bad start to her life caused problems. Help please.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Rob, Couple of points. Firstly, yes, eleven months is the ‘stroppy-teenage’ time when she might be pushing boundaries, so just persevere past it. Second, three months is a short time for her to adjust to you, so it is early days yet. My booklet ‘Guide and Control’ will help you take more control of her generally, so she will be more inclined to come back.

  • Savana said:

    Hi David, I have two dobermans. One is a year old, and the other is a few months older. They both have a problem with coming when called. My female is still more obedient than my male. Eddie bursts out of his kennel, (which is securely closed, and has brick in front too) runs around the farm property, and then decides to roam around on the HIGHWAY! Trucks approaching, vehicles honking at him, I’m calling his name with treats in a positive tone, and he doesn’t even consider getting off the road. Once the cars finally drive around him, I proceed toward him, and he quickly runs across to the neighbors farm, and continues to ignore me. He’s not food motivated, attention motivated, or anything! There is absolutely NOTHING he would like better than to run away from me. Not out of fear, but for fun. (I never treat it like a game) My female has had extremes like this too, bad not as bad. What’s going on with my dogs?? I give them love, treat them well, try to let them know who’s leader, but I receive no respect in return. WHY NOT? How can I teach a stubborn dog that doesn’t like treats, and doesn’t want attention? WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Savana,
    Clearly I don’t have enough information for a full behavioural work-up, but this sounds very much like a relationship issue. Your dog breaks out of his kennel most probably because he is bored, and stays out for the same reason. What is it that you do with him? Train him, walk him on the lead? How do you interact with him? It seems that you have little value for him. There are ways to increase your value, but you need to work at it by training, playing and being with him. When you get the relationship right Eddie will value you more and will be more inclined to come when you call.

  • meran said:

    nice article. May I share this?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Meran, it is in the public domain: of course you can share it. But thank you for asking 🙂


  • Tom said:

    I have an 18month old Cocker Spaniel bitch who has been well trained from a puppy and despite pulling on a lead (resolved by clipping lead on her chest instead)she was always a pleasure to take on walks. However, 2months ago she began to be a real pain to get to recall when on walks and even more difficult to get back on the lead, spending 20mins at times dodging efforts to get her back…this has gotten to the stage now where I’m reluctant to ever let her off the lead and despite some recall training with my wife, she is still a nightmare when let off the lead and we rely on pot luck getting her back on the lead at the end of the walk (treats don’t seem to work as she knows if she gets too close the lead will go on). Is her age/season a possible factor?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Tom,
    Yes, it is possible that being in season and being a stroppy teenager may be affecting her behaviour, but it won’t improve unless you take steps to change it. She clearly sees being free as more enjoyable than being back on the lead. Perhaps you could look at confining her to a long line for a while. Thirty feet of dragging line will slow her down and allow you not to need to get her all the way back. You only need catch the line, not her. Then you can see about making yourself more interesting, perhaps by playing some games with her on the walks and practising recalls then releasing her again. As she improves you can cut the line down gradually until it is gone altogether, but she will act as if it is still attached.
    Good luck,

  • Alice Barney said:

    I have a 1 year old Border/JR cross who we rescued at 7 months old. He has just been neutered. He is a lovely dog and I don’t want to train out all his exuberance but he just gets so excited when he sees or hears other dogs. He barrels up to them and gets straight in their face. This has resulted in a few scraps but we’re hoping the castration will help with this. What can we do to keep him with us, and not abandon us at the first sight of another dog in the distance. Once he has played with them, he will come back with the use of treats. Thank you.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Alice,
    This is not unusual behaviour in a young dog – it is puppy behaviour that they should grow out of. At one year old your guy should be doing that by now, but maybe he’s a late developer. There’s no real evidence that neutering helps behaviours such as that, but fingers crossed for you.
    The first thing is that until you have verbal control you should keep physical control, as some dogs don’t like being bowled-up at and can react aggressively. This can lead to aggression in your own dog too. Keep him on a long line so that you can always be sure that you can get him back to you, until he is trained properly.
    A treat is not in the same league as play with another dog, but play with you might be. Try rewarding him with a game for coming back – there are tips on using games in the predatory chase section if you scroll down to ‘Changing the target’. https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/how-do-i-stop-my-dog-chasing/ Once you have a toy with value, practice recalling him for the opportunity to play with you. As he matures the combination of a reduction in interest, prevention with the long line, and rewarding games with you should make him more reliable.
    Good luck,

  • Sydney said:

    I have a 16 month old Golden Retriever who is a big girl (34 kilos) and a handful walking on lead. At the very large dog-walking park she is wonderfully sociable with everyone – other dogs and their owners – and no problem off lead. She does keep an eye on me but once she’s decided that it’s time for a swim in the river along one side of the park, she can be impossible to call back and if I do manage to get her on the lead, she REALLY digs her heels in if I say ‘No, not today’ (rare). Most days we do go to the river so she has a very varied and exciting time out on our walks (twice a day – about 3 hours in total outside, somewhat less in the winter). The problem for me was exemplified in this article and I felt quite sad after reading it. She shows very little enthusiasm for me first thing in the morning or when I come in after a few hours away. No tail wagging, often she doesn’t even lift her head. I am VERY frustrated with her lukewarm response to me. Of an evening she will have snuggle on the sofa but she also is just as happy to be in the kitchen in her crate, alone. HELP!!!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    HI Sydney,
    First understand that some dogs just aren’t into people in the way that others are. You are lucky in that she is comfortable with her own company – many separation-distressed dog owners would envy that.
    Secondly you can increase your value to her with activities she enjoys – activities that you can both do together. These could be fetching or searching games where you are both involved. You can also improve your relationship if you follow the guidelines in my Guide and Control booklet, which will also help with her recall at difficult times. https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/guide-control-pet-dogs-behaviour/
    Good luck,

  • Carol Stubblefield said:

    Hello David,
    I purchased your book Stop. I have a rescue heeler labrador mis, possible 2 years old. High rabbit drive, he’s killed a few. I’ve just started on the toy recall games. He loves soft toys, yet I’m re thinking as the toy is soft. I’ll try a tennis ball. Really appreciate your books and articles I have lots of homework to do
    Thank you Carol

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Well done Carol,
    You’ve got a way to go, but it should be great fun too. Sometimes high drive dogs can seem like hard work, but they are the most rewarding when we get it right and work with them as opposed to against them.
    Good luck, David

  • Nickie said:

    My 18 month old labrador/German Shepard bitch has become a scamp on walks.
    Only for the last couple of weeks her training has gone out of the window.
    Is this normal? Is she going through a teenager time?
    She comes back on recalls but slowly and she no longer brings her ball to me. It’s like she expects me to go and fetch it. It’s a battle of the wills sometimes.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Nickie,
    Eighteen months is a bit old for the ‘stroppy teenager’ but I guess she could be a late developer. If this has been a sudden breakdown in training I would be slightly concerned that she might be poorly and have her checked by a vet, but if it is simply a response issue you need to workout why she is not responding as she has done previously.
    What tends to happen is that as dogs get older we think they are trained and reduce the incentives for good behaviour, and if we reduce the incentives the dog has no reason to perform the behaviour. Whether it is that or the teenage strop, the answer is to go back to basics by increasing the incentives. Ramp up the fun, make yourself more attractive to be with and return to. Convince your dog that you’re worth coming back to, rather than being a chore. You can’t win a battle of wills, but you can provide the right incentives to get the behaviour you want. If you’ve been there once you can get it back again.

  • Catherine said:

    I have a 9 month old westie, he is very gentle, loves people and other dogs but such a monkey when it comes to coming back of his lead.
    I Tried lots of your techniques and he now has a favourite toy just for walks which he loves. I’ve also tried walking away saying bye then and he thinks about it for a while but has recently started to come back much better. Hopefully with time he will get better and start to come back more I think it’s more me than him having the confidence to let him off. The tips were great thanks

  • Jo said:

    Hi David,
    I am a vet and frustrated owner of an 8 month old rescue terrier, Pixie, who we have had for about 2 months.
    Pixie is a very quick learner who just loves to perform her tricks for treats. She knows tons of commands including stay, leave it and drop.
    However, her recall is terrible. In the house recall is 100% and outside she’ll come and come and come.. until suddenly she sees/hears/smells something and takes off. She can usually be found in the nearest patch of gorse, although not for a good 45minutes, at which point she might come out, but usually only in order to move to the next bush along. I just know when she’s ‘switched off’ and there’s no good calling her as she won’t bother coming back until… well, we don’t know until when- so far we haven’t found the point at which she starts to worry that we aren’t there.

    We’ve tried recall for treats and also for toys. Neither works when she’s ‘on one’ (although I’ve been reading your article about chasing and haven’t tried a toy she can chase as such)
    I know she’s at an independent age but it’s so frustrating not being able to let her off, she loves to run!
    Have you got any tips?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jo,
    The first line encapsulates it for me, ‘8 month old’ ‘rescue’ ‘terrier’ ‘who we have had for about 2 months’. 8 months is ‘independence time’, where pups start to push the boundaries. ‘Rescue’ suggests she may not have had the most appropriate start in life and is now living the dream. ‘Terrier’, well feisty, plucky, independent… need I go on? ‘Had her for 2 months’ – nowhere near long enough to establish a proper relationship. What to do though??
    She sounds like she’s enjoying some predatory behaviour so my toy-recall for chasers is a good route. I would also keep her on a long line for a while, for safety and to make her understand that whilst coming back gets lots of goodies, running off is not an option. Finally, lots of structured obedience on walks will get her used to doing what you ask without thinking about the options.
    At 8 months you will need to keep up her basic training for another four months at least, and after only adopting her two months ago I would expect another four months before she learns your ‘rules’ and considers you a person of serious value. Yes, it looks like she’s a quick learner and ‘should know’ by now, but what you have is a partially trained pup, not yet the finished article. All the other little recall tips will add to the mix, running away from her, hiding occasionally, playing hide and seek games if there are two or more on the walk. But the underlying answer is, keep doing what you are doing with more time and patience. Good luck – Pixie sounds like great fun!

  • Pamela Hargreaves said:

    I have a rescue Jack Russell/Bichon Frise cross, he is 1 year old, neutered. He is lovely except for recall, he is trained to the whistle, and I use high value treats when out, and a ball as he likes football. At first he was good at recall, but as I have given him more freedom he is giving me two fingers. I usually let him off lead when he could safely find his way home, as it can be half an hour he goes AWOL, and I do walk off a d leave him, or hide. He always co es like a little rocket when he decides he has had enough. I always reward him and never tell him off, although it is extremelyfrustrating. I have been reading some of the previous comments, and wonder if I should revert to less time off lead and working more on control. He is not allowed on chairs, bed, etc, and is well behaved in the house, plays nicely and shares the toy. I have also used the lead off, call, reward, let him go. Any help would,d be appreciated.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Pamela,
    At one year old he is at the ‘stroppy teenager’ phase where he will test the boundaries. Returning to practising more control will help, as will confining him with a long line. This won’t be for ever, but a short time whilst he settles down and you regain control of him. He needs to know that he will be rewarded for coming back, but running off is simply not an option.
    Good luck,

  • Brooke said:

    I have a Jack Russel/Foxy, she is 3 and I recently started training her in agility, she is great at home. Willing to come when needed, jump, weave and go through the tunnel. Even at a friends she’s willing to come, and perform. But when me and my brother took her down to the local school, that had a massive feild. She wasnt responding to my calls, and was only treat deprived. I was being encouraging and having a playful tone, but she wasnt intersted in me she was more focused on everything going on around me. She ended up running away, and unwilling to be caught. (even with treats) we tried pretending something else was happening to get her attenion but she didnt want anything to do with me. We tried all these ways and finally after 45 minutes she came. We ended up doing the rest of the session on the lead, as I was paranoid in loosing her. Ever since then when a dog walks passed her home or were on a walk, or even training she’ll bark like crazy and wont come when called. This has restricted us from doing shows, and going to camps. I understand that she may be excited to be in a new environment but shes well behaved on the long lead, just not without it, shes now started jumping out windows, digging holes etc to escape and she refuses to come when called. Please help.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Brooke,
    Foxy sounds like she can be great fun, but it also sounds like your relationship is a bit out of balance. Your post begs more questions than answers I’m afraid, and you probably need a one to one with a professional who can dig into the important elements of Foxy’s lifestyle. From what you say she’s missing something from her life and when she escapes she’s looking for it. It could be something as simple as mental stimulation (which you can find ways of supplying yourself) or even relaxation training. I’m not seeing private clients right now, and it looks like you are in NZ, so could be a long commute anyway, but I can recommend Mat Ward who is a Kiwi who works in the UK and will see you on a skype consultation. Mat is away for a couple of weeks but check him out and give him a call after 15th July https://www.petbehavioursorted.com/ Until then keep playing and training Foxy on a long line so she can’t get herself into trouble.
    Good luck.

  • Keri said:

    I’ve done it all. Spent so much money on training. I have two rescues and one will never, ever come back! He pulls on the leash, his nose to the ground and if he gets loose it’s an enormous understanding to get him back. He runs like a gazelle. He doesn’t care about funny sounds, affection or the steak I’m trying to lure him back with. I honestly thought he was deaf when I got him! ( he’s not) He is almost 3 years old. The DNA test said he’s a GP AmStaff Mix
    Primarily with some collie and lab thrown in. He also won’t lie down or follow commands if im not holding a high value treat.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Keri,
    Sorry to hear you are having trouble. What you describe is a strong willed dog that has taken control. Rather than specific training measures you need to take back control of your relationship with him before you can look at asking him to do anything. My book Guide and Control will tell you how to do that.https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/guide-control-pet-dogs-behaviour/
    Good luck,

  • Alison said:

    I have a 3.5 year old GoldenDoodle, who has a lovely temperament. However as we are in lockdown for Coronavirus she tends to explore when out on walks and we have difficulty recalling her. Today, she has gone through a Calvert in the road and onto fenced land and has not come back to us when we called. My husband had to jump the gate and try and locate her, which he did after 40 mins. Is it because she is out of routine that she is being difficult. We are exercising her twice a day. Any suggestions to rectify behaviour? Otherwise she will be on the lead from now in.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Alison,
    It’s likely that, like the rest of us, your Doodle is feeling the stress of lockdown and running off in an attempt to improve her mood by indulging in doggy stuff. You can help her by playing feel-good games with her, either indoors (find the treat) or on walks (either ‘fetch’ or running between you and your husband for tiny rewards). These games should focus her more on you and reduce the chances of her running off. However to be absolutely sure I would confine her to a long running line, so you can pick up the end of the line if she looks like she’s about to do a runner.
    Take care,

  • Gary said:

    I have a 14 month old working cocker spaniel, great recall until about 7 months old and then the terrible teens happened. He grew out of that and has been fine for several months but his prey drive is huge and has kicked back in again big time.
    I can be walking him off lead for an hour and he’s always coming back to me, gets a treat and he’s sent back off, but then he goes nose down randomly and he never hears you or knows you are there, he’s gone into the zone and he’s off, nothing, and I mean nothing will get him back, he would run for hours non stop and it has only been by luck I have caught him, then he looks at me as if to say ‘where have you been?’.
    I have only done reward based training and that sounds like what you endorse, but I have called at least half a dozen gundog trainers and they have said reward based training is useless for working bred spaniels, their prey drive will always be stronger than anything you have to offer. They all insist on discipline based training with consequences as the only way to train strong hunting breed bloodline dogs.
    Of course, I don’t want to scold my pet to teach him to come back so I would appreciate any advice please, I’m at my wits end

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Gary, if it is prey drive, and it sounds very much like it is, start with this https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/how-do-i-stop-my-dog-chasing/ and if you need more information the book will help https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/stop-how-to-control-predatory-chasing-in-dogs/
    Regards, David

  • Sam said:

    I have 11 month old retriever (turned 11 yesterday), he has not been neutered. He is our first dog and we are enjoying almost every bit of him except for recall. When there are no distractions, his recall is perfect, call him from a distance and he will come back. But as soon as he find a distraction, another dog, somebody walking or a child playing he turns completely deaf. He also tends to a lot of licking and sniffing where other dogs/bitches have pee’d. He doesn’t like the long leash either.
    I am persevering and continue to train him in the house, back garden and out in the park when walking him but it is becoming a challenge to unleash him in the park because I don’t know when he will shoot off and I will have to run after him.

    Given the current situation there are lot more people in the park and many of them are not dog lovers.

    Any help or guidance would be appreciated.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Sam,

    At eleven months old I would expect your boy to be at the stroppy teenager stage of seeing how far he can push boundaries and what he can get away with. He’s clearly still a work in progress rather than the finished article. Keep on with the training and you will see the benefits in due course.
    I wouldn’t use a long leash in the park but I would recommend a long line that you can drop to drag from time to time, or pick up when you need to, to make sure that not coming back isn’t an option when you ask. Keep him within the length of the long line (20 to 30 feet) and reward him frequently for coming back. If he doesn’t come when asked, pick up the end of the line and gently reel him in. It isn’t a punishment, but anything other than coming back isn’t an option. Reward him for coming even if you had to ‘remind’ him.

    Regards and good luck,


  • Mal said:

    My daughters 3 year old Labrador can carry out recall perfectly, then suddenly at the end of the walk he refuses to come and jumps about barking. It has taken up to 30 40 minutes to catch him at times. He only does this occasionally but it is very annoying when he is so unpredictable. Other times his recall is very good and he is rewarded with praise and a treat.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Mal,
    The clue is that this happens at the end of the walk. This means your Lab doesn’t want the fun to end and is turning it into a game of catch-me-if-you-can instead. Options include making the walks more tiring so that he is more ready to finish them or making the end of the walk more stimulating – maybe a special treat for ending that doesn’t come at any other time? And of course, good old fashioned going back to basics and practising obedience never goes amiss. If all else fails use a long line dragging for the whole walk so that at the end you don’t need to catch your dog, just pick up the line. Once he gets the idea there is no escape he will stop resisting.

  • Rafael said:

    I have a 15 month old shih-tzu. If we are on a field by ourselves she is fine on the recall. However if she is playing with another dog she won’t come back and it’s more of a case where I have to wait until she is tired to grab her. I carry treats on me but they work for everything except getting her to stop playing and return to me.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Rafael,
    It seems that she finds playing with another dog more fun than coming back to you. There are no switches you can throw to change that, but there are ways you can make yourself more attractive to her. They break down into three categories: treats, games and your relationship. My book Guide and Control explains how you can manipulate these to gain more control over your dog. It will require a little time and effort, but it can be done.

  • Bryony said:

    Our 6 year old male greyhound/lurcher/pointer has taken to running off at the end of a walk in the forest. With calls and tasty treats ignored he will stroll back to the car park 30-40 minutes later.
    Until the last couple of months he had only done this on a few occasions.
    At wits end now ….any suggestions gratefully received

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Bryony,
    Yes, assuming he’s off hunting, there are lots of things you can do, starting with the advice on the webpage, https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/how-do-i-stop-my-dog-chasing/ but if you want a full explanation and programme of change it is all in the book.

  • Jan said:

    Hello , I have a working cocker girl now 3 . I have done all the above whistle training , long line training , amazing high value rewards . I noticed I was having a problem at 7 to 9 months after being so so so good . I did all the obedience training bought tug toys ( though she was only half interested in them ) all the re call games . Fern just stays away from me out of reach . She would never disappear on me she always has one eye on me . Just if the mood takes her she will decide not to come back may happen once a week then if it happens again we go back to square one . On the lead . We play on our walks like commends for her to focus on me . But just sometimes I test her so we just go for a walk and it’s then she will just do her thing and the red mist sets in and it doesn’t matter how much I call ( I know I shouldn’t over use her name but she gives me no choice ) Does any one else struggle with this .
    Sometimes I think she doesn’t like me she never really wants to please me I have to work for her where it should be she works for me .
    Thank you Jan

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jan,
    You’ve hit upon the difference between training and relationship. If your relationship isn’t right, all the training in the world won’t get you where you want to be. But, once you get your relationship right, training becomes much more effortless.
    I would recommend you take a look at your relationship and make sure you have control of the resources that your dog values, so that your relationship falls into line. This is a brief overview https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/who-is-in-control-of-your-relationship-you-or-your-dog/ but – if you are struggling, my booklet Guide and Control breaks it down for you in greater detail https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/out-now-guide-control-your-pet-dogs-behaviour/


  • Michele said:

    Hi David,
    I loved this article. It has given me inspiration to keep going, however what do you do with a dog that loves the sea above everything else and will not come out even for a steak? She is a 2,5 year old Show Cocker Spaniel who loves food, cuddles and is very sociable and loves to play. Her recall is perfect anywhere else other than the beach. We live near the beach and it is our daily morning walk. Whilst on the walk, she follows us along but won’t get out of the sea when we want her to. We don’t want to wear wellies all summer. Do you please have any advice?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Michele,
    How lucky – a walk on the beach whenever you like!
    This is a fairly common issue of not-coming-back-because-I-don’t-want-the-fun-to-end, with the added dimension of the sea. Children are prone to it too – I can remember when I was seven, my Mum calling me in as it got darker and darker, and me resisting ‘hearing’ until the very last minute I thought I could get away with it (and then a bit more).
    There are several things you can do with a reluctant spaniel though, such as adjusting your relationship so she doesn’t even contemplate not coming, and you can increase your value by playing games and obedience games for fun and reward. I had a GSD that was reluctant to come out of the river in the summer when I asked him to ‘come’, but if I asked for a sit, stand and sit again, he would automatically respond to the final recall.
    The final and most crucial element is to take control for a short while with a long line attached to her collar. You’ll have to be inventive because of the sea element and make it float, and maybe longer than usual to account for the waves, but if she has a line attached you call her once and if she doesn’t come it does not turn into a game where you have to catch her, just one where you take hold of the line and gently reel her in.
    It’s not an argument, just an inevitability. If she doesn’t come, she is made to come. It is no longer her choice. After a while she will start to come when she’s called because she knows she’s going to have to anyway, and a little while after that you can shorten and then discard the line altogether, and she’ll still act as though it is there.

    Good luck and enjoy your walks on the beach,


  • Michele said:

    That’s great, thanks David. I have tried the long lead option before, but I reckon I didn’t persist for long enough. I’ve got a few months before it’s toooo hot for wellies, so I’m going to start again – tomorrow! And do it during the walk and not just at home time… Thank you!

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