Why won’t my dog come back?

4 October 2009 117 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.



  • Margaret said:

    Thank you SO much for these excellent suggestions, they make complete sense. I can’t wait to start on some of your ideas, especially the hide and seek games.

    Margaret +one very excitable and distractable labrador

  • lorraine said:

    excelent and good common sense..
    my three year old lab refuses to return on command and sallies back in his own time, I have found myself becoming frustrated although never punished him!!! well correction!! my body launguage is transmiting otherwise, he obviously senses my displeasure and has recently became even more defiant, why would he want to come back to me when he knows its home time and he will be left on his own for several hours until my return.. I definatly agree with theese suggestions and am off out to excite and play with my boyo..
    thanks.. I will be back ..


  • Sue McFarland said:

    I love this article. The tips and suggestions all make sense. Making training fun and interesting for our dogs helps keep their focus and also means that we don’t see training as a chore. We have been to many obedience classes and I have to say that some use quite heavy handed techniques and I am not a fan of that type of training. The training advice in this article is exactly what we are lookin for.

  • andrea said:

    Thankyou so much for opening my eyes!!!!. My 9 month old Lab is fantastic at everything else but will not come back for me. Can’t wait to try your suggestions

  • Caroline said:

    Very good article, my 10 month German Pointer has been good but she has fallen back in recent weeks; becoming more distracted by scents and chasing birds, finding tasty bits to eat etc, but this has encouraged me to up my game. I like the idea of the long washing line.Thanks

  • Joanna Bird said:

    Thank for this! My 10 week old border terrier is a very determind lady and finds chewing stones or grass more interesting than comeing back to me! She hasnt ventured outside the garden yet. Great advice, I can really understand things from her perspective now! Thank you

  • Louise said:

    I have an Alaskan Malamute who has recently started getting wise to releasing after his park trips so gives me a wide berth and stays just far enough away so I cant catch him. I’ve resorted to having to lunge at him or catch him off guard but will be now trying some of the tactics mentioned like… hiding behind the tree and some games and fun stuff so he’s more willing to come back. Thanks for the advice.

  • Seers said:

    Great tips…we have an 18 month old labradoodle who is getting worse and worse at coming back when called. I spent an hour chasing him through various fields the other day! I will try and take your tips on board.

  • Karen said:

    Thanks a lot for the advice, been having trouble getting my 10 month old German Shepherd to come back when he is playing with other dogs. Will have a go at a few of your tips especially the hide and seek game.

  • Nikki said:

    Thanks so much.. Our 7 year old kelpie cross has always had problems and we have become scared to let him off the lead in case in runs out of park… Have been searching for so long as I want him to have a good old run… Love the long line idea – he has a tracking lead which would be ideal for this x

  • Genevieve Bergeron said:

    What a great article! I hope you don’t mind, but I will be sharing like crazy! Wonderful!

  • Laura said:

    Fantastic advice..I have an 18 month plummer terrier and a staffy and only one will sometimes come back the other finds everything else much more interesting!! Will defo use the hide and seek game…love it. thank you 🙂

  • Alison said:

    Thank you – after just coming back from a very frustrating and equally upsetting walk with my 9 month old jack russell – how pleased are me and my partner to read this article, so were not useless dog owners, just need practice patience and above all understanding – phew!

  • lisa said:

    thanks for the tips cant wait to try them on my puppy chucky as he ran off this morning and upset a little boy he didn’t come back when I called him

  • Linda said:

    It was very reassuring to read your article and other peoples comments. My 11 month old working cocker spaniel had always been brilliant at recall. He is still good now until he knows it is nearly time to go back on his lead and then off into the bushes he goes. He pops out every now and then to see where I am then off he goes again.
    I always praise him when he finally returns. I will be trying out some of the suggestions but it is good to know that I’m not alone with this problem

  • Sam said:

    Excellent! My Springer can be good at coming back, but then at other times a defiant glint appears in her eye and off she potters, keeping an eye on me but ignoring my whistle and calls to return. I feel a great sense or failure falling over me that is no doubt readable in my body language and dispirited voice! This article has given me some fresh ideas and I will try harder!

  • janice said:

    I am working on all of this with my rescued lurcher but at the moment I cannot see any way of letting him off his long line, ever. Not only does he have an off the scale prey drive, which is understandable as he must have been a working dog, he prefers to proactively hunt by scent (deer are his ultimate) so there doesn’t need to be anything there to chase, he will find a scent & disappear until he does find something to chase. Add to this his anxiety around strangers & his aggression/reactivity towards dogs (fear and frustration related not helped by 2 years in a rescue), & his overall predatory nature (I am certain he would hunt chase kill & eat practically anything with a pulse), we have a long road ahead.
    But I will not give up & I look forward to trying out the whole programme.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Janice, I would concentrate on keeping physical control (lead or line) until you have at least some resolution of his issues with people and dogs before looking towards controlling his predatory drive. If he has too many challenges to his emotional balance he will seek out opportunities for positive experiences, one of which is hunting. Removing the challenges reduces the emotional deficit and the need to hunt. Good luck, David

  • corrina said:

    hi we have 2 kelpies one is 2 and one is 9 mths the 9 mths old will not come back when called at beach or parks she has only just started doing this , if i call dogs back my older one comes the other just hangs out away from me . she watches other dog all the time thinks she likes her more then me , how can i get her into me and not my older dog ?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    At nine months she is just approaching the change to adult behaviour. She is no longer a puppy and is exercising her right not to do things she doesn’t want to do. Kelpies are bright. She has probably worked out that the times you call her back are to take her home – the fun stops. In any event, coming to you is of less value to her than not coming to you. You need to change that by becoming more valuable/interesting. Treats or game rewards throughout the walk will help (see article). She associates with your other dog all day every day – it is not surprising she likes her. You have to spend a great deal of time one-to-one training/playing with her to improve her opinion of you. Taking her out for walks by herself will help.

  • Janie Lowe said:

    Really good advice. I have a 7mth Cocker Spaniel who definitely has a strong mind of his own! If we’re walking where there’s not any other dogs he’s as good as gold and will come back, go off, comeback again etc but as soon as he sees another dog this all goes out of the window and he’ll play with them, follow them etc and doesn’t seem to care where we are. I really don’t want to keep him on his lead around other dogs all the time but am not sure if he’ll improve with age or if he should be kept on a lead until we can fully trust him.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Yes, at 7 months he will improve, but only so long as you guide him in the right direction. The long line (not extending lead) is your friend. Allow him to make the right decision, to come back, but control him from making the wrong one.

  • Theresa said:

    Thanks for this article, my 1year old crossbreed bichon/border collie just will not come back when called.she is smart and brilliant already at agility but like the previous person when we are around other dogs she will always go with them and run off. I have only been in a controlled environment when this has happened as I am too scared to let her off the lead in parks etc. we live very rurally so off lead exercise is no problem, we never encounter other dogs but have I left it too late to teach her to come back in a public place?
    Any advice appreciated

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Theresa, Puppies are prone to approaching other dogs, but you have far from left it too late. It’s just dog training. Start now! Use a long line and practice practice, practice. Failing that employ a good local dog trainer to help you. Check out http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/ for a trainer in your area.

  • Emily said:

    I have an 18 month cocker spaniel with virtually no boundaries with walking and would love some advice. Due to circumstances he spends the day with my father (a farmer) ‘roaming the farm’ he follows my dad around wherever he goes however on occasion he will go off by himself (mainly for pheasants, birds, hares etc) and on this occasion he wont come back on command. Once he is on the scent of something his selective hearing kicks in and he doesn’t care less whether you are there or not, however in his own time will return to find you. Whether its two minutes or ten minutes later. What are your opinions of this? As when its pouring with rain and you’ve just about had enough of getting soaked and a dog that wont come back it does become rather frustrating. All advice hugely appreciated – thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Emily,
    It seems that much of the time your spaniel is making his own decisions. Basically he sees no difference in wandering around with your Dad or on his own. The problem you have is when his preferences don’t coincide with yours. You also have a predatory issue that probably needs to be addressed if you want him to return https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/how-do-i-stop-my-dog-chasing/.
    He doesn’t come back because you aren’t sufficiently valuable for him, and to increase your value you need to take more control of him generally (or/and that of your Dad). Two books will help you: Guide & Control https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/guide-control-pet-dogs-behaviour/ and Stop! https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/stop-how-to-control-predatory-chasing-in-dogs/
    Good luck,

  • AnnieR said:

    It’s heartening to see I’m not alone!….My rescued Min-Pin/Dachshund mix, will come to ANYONE but me!! It’s embarrassing, actually, as if she’s escaping from abuse, when in fact, she is treated like a QUEEN! Thank you for the suggestions…I’ve been called many things, but never boring!!; that’s pretty humbling. I intend to follow your excellent suggestions…

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Annie, no you are far from alone.
    Actually, “treating like a Queen” might also be contributing to her not coming back, depending upon how it is done. Adjusting your relationship slightly might make all the difference. Try looking at Guide & Control https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/guide-control-pet-dogs-behaviour/

  • Colette said:

    Hi David,

    I have a very unruly but loveable 3 year old bearded collie x. He is pretty obedient but he will not come back when let off the lead. It is a real shame asa I live next to open fields. If I let him off in an enclosed field he hares off and immediately runs the perimeter to find an escape hatch ! We have his brother (same litter) who is much more subdued…still a bit loopy but a little bit less than his brother and tends to run and come back of his own accord. They have both been ‘done’ and are healthy. Any advice gratefully received!

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Colette,
    I think the clue here lies in your description of your dog as “unruly”. He is probably not just difficult to control when he runs off, but the rest of the time as well. There are specific training techniques that you can use to help but really you need to go back right to basics for a while and re-adjust your relationship so that this guy starts looking to you for guidance rather than looking to escape from you. “Guide & Control” will tell you how to do that, then you can build on it with the training techniques outlined on this post. https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/guide-control-pet-dogs-behaviour/
    Good luck (and most of all, enjoy it!),

  • Lyn Jenkins said:

    Hi David
    We have a lab/collie cross, she is 16 months old and we rescued her as a puppy when she was 4 months old. When I take her for a walk, her recall is great she will say hello to other dogs and when I call her she comes. Everything sounds great? I take treats with me for her, a ball and thrower to play with but every now and again when it comes to getting her back on her lead she just won’t have it! As I go to put her lead on she skips to one side and then I know I’ve had it, I can walk away and she will follow me but as soon as I turn around she stops, if I walk back towards her she runs away. I’ve tried throwing the ball again and she will run after it and play but still won’t let me put her lead on! Today I have been standing out in the pouring rain with her for 45 minutes, trying to talk nicely to her, throwing her pieces of cheese, in the end I have had to walk home with her following 10 paces away from me, unfortunately we have a road to cross, luckily there were no cars coming and she ran to the side of me and into the gateway. She went straight to her bed because she knows she’s in trouble. It’s starting to happen more frequently and I’m so frustrated with her. We attend dog training classes and they say that we must reinforce the recall but she will come back when she isn’t this other dog

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lyn,
    The good thing is that you obviously have a good relationship because she has a lot of fun with you on walks. The problem is she doesn’t want the fun to stop and she knows that happens when the lead goes on. You need to go back to basics without spoiling your relationship. Get yourself a light long line that she can wear all the time when she is off-lead – about thirty feet or so. She can drag it whilst she is playing (it is a pain as it sometimes gets caught on things, so be careful, but it is worth it in the long run). When it is time to put the lead back on call her once. If she doesn’t come walk to the other end of the line (don’t speak) and gently reel her in, then put the lead on her and tell her what a good girl she is. Don’t argue with her; if she doesn’t come first time, she is reeled in and clipped on anyway. It is just inevitable. After a while she will start to realise that she can’t get away with not coming and you can reduce the length of the line, eventually reducing and reducing down to no line at all. It will probably take a few weeks, but you will get there in the end.
    Good luck,

  • Niki said:

    My chihuahua is so defiant. I will try this. I’ve found from the dogs I’ve had. Lab, boxer, Akita, chihuahua and Rottweiler, the rottis have always come back in command.

  • joan said:

    I have a kelpie he 6 hes great but dosent like been stroked i just wonderd if this is comen with them joan

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Joan,
    Kelpies are a working breed, so will be focussed on activities rather than lying about being stroked, and there are individual differences in all breeds, but there is no reason why your Kelpie can’t learn to enjoy being stroked in his down-time.

  • lee said:

    its all good and well if you have two people to help train what about if your alone with no help no b

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lee,
    You have a couple of options – option 1 would be to find someone. Go along to your local dog training class and ask if there’s anyone who would like to buddy-up – you’ll probably find another person just like you looking for help. Option 2 would be to take your dog out on a long line so you have control and regularly call them to you for a reward – takes longer, but you don’t need two people.

  • Lou Wyatt said:

    Great tips. We have recently brought home an 11 month old wolfhound x lurcher from a rescue centre. He’s adorable and loving. BUT was taught nothing by previous owners. His recall is not good-to say the least! He also has separation anxiety (when you disappear to the kitchen or up the stairs!) and so these two issues need lots of hard work! I hope he can do it! 🙂 thanks for your article-very helpful!!

  • Nylah said:

    I’ve just been reading everyone’s responses to the article. I have a French bulldog puppy. I got him at almost 10 weeks old and have had him for 2 weeks. Training started straight away, within a few hours he learned to sit. He knows sit, down, wait, high 5. He’s learned to climb up and down stairs after me, waits when the front doors open so I go first, then him when asked. He walks well on and off the leash for the past week however, there is an issue.
    He suddenly won’t walk on the leash. Today I walked him before work and he refused to walk. I was getting frustrated as I needed to go. If I drop the leash and walk away he will follow. When he’s off leash and I call he will come. However when he sees another dog obviously that’s more interesting than me and he just turns deaf. I could shout until I’m blue in the face, he will not acknowledge me! I taught him his name and everytime he turned when called or came I clicked and rewarded. Is he just becoming more confident and defiant? I thought I was doing well establishing the pack order. Obviously not! I will need to try these methods out. Thanks

  • Jacqueline said:

    I have a two and half year old rescued lurcher who loves to chase other dogs for play. If the other dog shows no interest he comes back but if they want to play as well and worse if they are frightened and run from him he chases them down. Of course a lot of other dog owners are less than pleased at having their often small dogs chased and bowled over. I have started using a long training lead but if he sees another dog he still ignores me.I’m not sure if I Should I keep calling and reward when he eventually returns or should I reel him in when he ignores me and not reward. Also I have a couple of friends with dogs who love to chase around, should I stop him playing with these doggy friends until his recall is really good.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jacqueline,

    The reason that your dog doesn’t come back is that he dog enjoys playing with other dogs more than he enjoys being with you. Using a long line is a great idea because you can guide him into the behaviour you like and reward him. Keep hold of the end of the line so that you can bring him gently to you when another dog appears, then give him lots of praise and rewards. You can find out about increasing your value in the Guide & Control book. There’s not harm in letting him play with friends, so long as he asks you for permission first.

  • Ashley said:

    Hi, your comments are great. I have a 14 month old boxer and took her to an enclosed field this evening. She found an exit and nearly got out the field!! Extremely frustrating as I gave treats in my pocket and she does not listen to me at all!! She is brilliant round home, listens to everything I ask of her, but out in public excitement is just too much for her. I take her to training every week, she is now on intermediate level, so does listen to the commands that she has been taught, just not outside!! Where am I going wrong?

    Thank you

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Ashley, training alone won’t make your dog come back. You need to build a relationship in which your dog wants to do what you ask her to, which means increasing your value in situations where there is any doubt. Treats and other training will contribute to this, but aren’t the sole solution. Whilst you build that relationship (see Guide & Control if you need some help with that) keeping her on a long line will ensure she stays safe. Because she’s still young the world is a very exciting place, so it will become easier as she gets older as well.
    Regards, David

  • jacks said:

    Hi. Great article but my issues are slightly different and would love some advice!. Ive got a 2 year old patterdale terrier. He is the most lovable dog ever. Excellent with children (never even growled at any of them) excellent with people and excellent with other animals he knows (another dog 2 cats 2 rabbits and a lizard!) He comes and sits gives his oaw and lies down fine when at home. As soon as i take him out into the fields by my house he wont come back. Barks at other dogs and pulls stupidly on his kead. Ive been trying a training lead. He darts back and forth very hyper and dosent even look at me when i call him back. Tried with treats and still nothing…in the back garden hes fine and at home fine. As soon as we go out thats it, it all goes out of the window!. Thanks

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jacks, one of the interesting things about dog behaviour is that it is so varied. Whilst I’m not going to pretend that I can get to the bottom of your issues with your Patterdale, it certainly seems to be about the generalisation of learning and arousal levels. Something is arousing your dog in the fields and that is preventing him from both responding as trained and from learning. The only suggestion I have at this stage (without a vast amount of information) would be to take a long line and tie him out in the field whilst you sit with him until his arousal levels reduce, then go through the training programme again in that context. However I have no idea how long it will take for him to calm down, so be prepared for a long wait (take a picnic). You really need someone to come with you to see the behaviour – you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html
    Regards, David

  • Amy said:

    Hi David, I love this article! It makes so much sense to look at the situation from the dogs point of view!
    Wonder if you could offer some advice on an issue I’ve been having with our rescue dog, I’d be so grateful if you could help, I’m tearing my hair out!
    We have a 3 year old collie, George, who we rescued from a puppy farm at 14weeks old, he took LOTS of hard work to train and will take most opportunities to be defiant if allowed, but he’s very loyal and loving. The problem is our (approx 4yr old) Rottweiler rescue, Mildred. She’s perfect in the house and garden and always eager to please, very well trained, or so we thought… The minute she is away from the house and off lead, she’s off! Turns to look at us as we’re calling her and then just disappears again.
    We’ve been doing the long line recall and she’s brilliant, always really excited at her treat/affection rewards etc. but then as soon as we think we’ve cracked it, she’s let off lead and we go back to square one!
    This in itself is causing us issues, but additionally, when she runs off, our usually obedient collie will come when called, but just out of reach and then basically runs between us and Mildred and we end up looking like a set of bad dog owners who can’t control either dog, and shouting “George & Mildred” gets us funny looks as it is lol.
    Please tell me you have some advise, we’re stumped! I’m sure George is trying to be helpful going back and forth between us and Mildred, but I’m concerned all the hard work we put into his training is also going to unravel!
    Thanks 🙂

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Amy,
    I think the nub of this is your comment that “but then as soon as we think we’ve cracked it, she’s let off lead and we go back to square one!” as you’ve clearly not cracked it. You are going to need to keep going for longer with the long line until Mildred is 100%.
    You need to look at what Mildred wants – and then supply it yourself. Only then will she prefer to stay with you.
    George is doing what good collies do – trying to keep all the flock together.
    Train Mildred and George will be happy.
    Regards, David

  • Hazel said:

    My 16 week old pup was doing great off lead and coming when called or whistled. For the past few weeks she has started bolting off and not coming back when she sees a person or dog and when she is there she will not even acknowledge me even if I’m silly or do something to get her attention. I now find myself always looking what is ahead calling her and clipping her lead to her when I see a potential distraction. When she is at a distance where I am happy for her to go and meet the dog I unclipped her and say ok. All she wants to do is chase the dog and try to initiate play whether they want it or not, should I alow this? After the greet I was walking off a little then I would whistle and she would come. Now she just stays chasing the dog and ignores me. I was going to get her to come whilst she is close rather than me walking away as she will come if I am close and wave some chicken in front of her then put the lead on and Walk away with her praising her. Will this method be effective or can you recommend another way to eventually get her to listen to me and come?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Hazel,
    This is just a normal phase that your pup is going through, making some decisions for herself. The best way forward is to go back to recall training and at the same time keep her on a long line so that you can prevent her from running off and declining to come back. You can then control how and when she meets & greets other dogs and ensure she is under your control whilst her training gets back on track.

  • A West said:

    Hello David
    I have a 14 week old working cocker spaniel dog. I have been told by my vet and from family who have previously owned spaniels to keep him on the lead for 12 to 18 months. This will mean he will have gone past the adolescent stage and will be less likely to wander. What are your thoughts as I really want to do the right thing for him.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Ailsa,
    It’s an interesting take on “training” butit is undeniable that dogs settle down as they get older and past the adolescent stage. My preference would be to use the time between now and then to train him. I would use a long line so that he has the impression of some freedom whilst you teach him to come back when asked. You can keep or discard the long line depending upon how he responds to training. I’d be surprised if you couldn’t train him to come when called before he is eighteen months old.
    Good luck and enjoy your pup,

  • Tracy said:

    Hi David,

    Loved reading the article and everyone’s messages, it makes me feel slightly better that other folk out there are having troubles too!. I have a 14month old Collie Doodle, (border collie x miniature poodle) called Rafa. I’ve had him since he was 12 weeks old and we have been to training classes from the off. He’s a good boy and very intelligent yet stubborn!. His general behaviour is good and I have been down the treat route, but he’s not food orientated, he much prefers the ball and playing fetch as his reward. As he is getting older I’d say his behaviour is getting better and he listens to me and we have lots of fun out on our walks.

    BUT! the only thing is about Rafa, when he see’s another dog off he goes and ignores me and the ball, or he’ll take the ball with him. He lie’s down like he’s about to herd and might stay in that position for more than a minute or two, then runs fast at the dog wanting to play, after he’s said hello, he’ll mostly come back. I know once he lie’s down in herding motion, I’ve lost him ( I could have 50 tennis balls it would make no difference at this point!!) and I know he won’t come back until he’s approached the other dog and had a sniff. This is so frustrating as I don’t like him a) ignoring me and b) approaching the other dogs when I’ve called him back, their owners are impressed either!. I’ve used/use a long line but it’s like he knows he has it on and when it’s on he never puts a foot wrong, it’s like he’s at Crufts! and as soon as I unclip it he knows! I’ve used it for quite a while in the past, making it shorter as I go. It’s hard to tell when he’s ready for no line as his behaviour wearing it is perfect, how do you judge it then??. Any advise would be very much appreciated as I would love to sort this for good, thanks and thanks for helping us all!


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Tracy,
    At 14 months your dog is still maturing and probably at the stubborn “teenage” phase where he’s keen to make his own decisions. The issue you have is that he sees the opportunity to play with other dogs as being more attractive than anything you can offer him. This should reduce as he other dogs lose their attraction as he matures. You can increase your own attraction and take more control of him generally by applying Guide and Control principles https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/out-now-guide-control-your-pet-dogs-behaviour/
    While you do that I would also drop back to using a long line. If you don’t have verbal control you must have physical control. If he behaves impeccably and you can shorten it, you should be able to get away with a well behaved dog on a three foot dragging line?
    Finally I think it might be worth getting a special toy – something even more attractive than a ball, maybe a Kong on a rope or a Frisbee? Continue to use the ball for ordinary play/reward, but keep the special toy to produce only when another dog appears in the distance. Dog appearing = game with special toy. That could help redress the balance for you.
    Good luck,

  • Tracy said:

    Thanks David,

    I’ll keep going, hopefully we’ll get there in the end, thanks again for your advice, its very much appreciated.

    Tracy 🙂

  • jools r said:

    All sounds good…
    9 month old rescue Lakeland/Parson Jack Russell cross – sweet natured neutered girl. But get the impression stubborn breed! We’ve had her 5 weeks and trying hard but other dogs are far more fun than us. How do you become more interesting? What sort of actions or play make us more fun? Treats are ignored on the big beach; even a stick doesn’t appeal. I recognise patience is important, and her maturing will help, but is it worth taking her to dog socialisation classes? Or will that compound her ADHD breeding?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Jools,
    You have had a nine month old Lakeland/JR terrier for five weeks. You are right, I would expect her to be very focussed and not the easiest to train. Nine months old is a very difficult age, the equivalent to adolescence, when they are asserting their independence. At five weeks your relationship is embryonic – it takes time to develop. I’m not sure if you need socialisation, but it sounds like other dogs are already very important to her – maybe better not to highlight how great they are. What you do need to do is to take control of all aspects of her life – Guide and Control will show you how.
    Keep going and good luck, David

  • Val said:

    Hi David
    Thank you so much for this article – it does makes sense and I will be trying these techniques however we have a 7 month old cute boxer and over the last two days she has just realised she can round up a heard of 100 calves in the adjacent paddock and send them through the electric fence!! Then tonight the 400 cows were being grazed in another nearby paddock and to our horror she has now plucked up courage and took off after them, rounded them up and started herding the panicking cows down the narrow lane back to the cowshed! I eventually managed to call her off but what should I have done then? surely you don’t give her a reward when you eventually do get hold of her?
    We are on a 6 acre block and up till now she has been allowed to happily run free within this area ( although she can get under the electric fences) and sleeps on the porch at night. I look forward to your advice as I am very upset with her behaviour and feel I can’t trust her or let her out of our sight anymore. She has had two weeks at puppy obedience and is difficult to train as food is not her key motivator.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Val,
    This is a bit of a tough one because your boxer, at seven months old, has found out what exciting fun it is to chase cattle.
    You asked “surely you don’t give her a reward when you eventually do get hold of her?” I wouldn’t reward her massively, but don’t ever punish her for coming back. A simple, “thanks for coming back” as you walk her home will suffice. If you punish her she will continue to chase, but avoid coming back again.
    Up to now she has had free run of your place, but she is able to get out whenever she likes. If you continue to allow her to make her own decisions she will inevitably want to keep doing fun things – chasing cattle. So you have only really two choices, either supervise her at all times – keeping her under your control – or make the area in which she is kept secure so she can’t get out. Otherwise the draw of the cattle will prove too much for her.
    There is one final possibility, but it will take a bit of training, and that’s to teach her to herd the cattle on command, so she gets to do it, but only under your supervision – many cattle dogs do that every day, and it looks like she may have a talent for it 🙂
    Good luck,

  • Russell Clark said:

    We have a 5 month old Springador girl, she’s not so bad at home with regards to coming to you when called but when we are out that’s another story.
    To be honest I’m not the most patient of people (thank’s to my dad) so that obviously doesn’t help.
    I don’t punish her when she eventually comes back or when I get hold of her but like you say it’s the body language that gives off my mood.
    I will now take on board what you said and myself and the better half will give it a bash, and I don’t mean the dog!!
    I will be in touch.


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Russ, with a springador you might want to take it up a level and use some of the techniques for controlling dogs that chase https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/how-do-i-stop-my-dog-chasing/ or https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/stop-how-to-control-predatory-chasing-in-dogs/

  • Russell Clark said:

    Hi David

    Brilliant thank you for this help, we’ve already tried the hide and seek game which seemed to go down well.
    We need to find a somewhere quiet for this new training though.

    I’ll keep you posted.

    Thanks again


  • Dianne said:

    Hi, I have a 7 month old springer spaniel. Up til now she has been the most well behaved, gentle, loving little dog anyone could wish for and she gets lots of attention including playing tug in the house. She gets walked 4 miles each morning by a male friend and I take her out for an hour around teatime. She is off the lead for most of these walks so has a really good run. The last few nights have gone like this ….. I call her to me when it’s time to head for home, she comes nearly right up to me and as I reach for her lead she jumps back and runs off. This can go on for 30 mins until I have to enlist the help of passing dog walkers to help me catch her which is so embarrassing. I have tried luring her to me with special treats and she is so quick she manages to grab the treat and run away. She does not do this for my male friend, he says she comes right up to him and stands still while he puts on her lead. She does adore him and gets far more exited when he shows up in the morning than she does when I take her out. The only difference is he takes her for longer walks so maybe it’s because she is tired at the end of their walk and happy to be put on the lead. I am unable to take her for longer than an hour in the evening, and think she is behaving like this because she still has lots of energy. I know I am guilty of sounding stressed (which I am after a long day) and she is probably picking up on it. What upsets me the most is that she doesn’t behave like this with my friend and I feel that she respects him but not me. Any advice would be appreciated.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Dianne,
    You can see how she could enjoy the longer walk and not want to go home at the end of the shorter one. You have a couple of options. You could keep her on a long line to make sure you have physical control of her. Another option is to keep her guessing when the walk is going to end. Regularly throughout the walk call her to you, clip her onto the lead, walk her a few yards then let her off again. Finally increase your attraction by using games when you are out – play with her occasionally – see Guide & Control for further help with that.
    Forget trying to tire her out physically – the more exercise she gets the fitter she will become and the more exercise she will need. But you can tire her out mentally by playing games with her.

  • Lydia said:

    Hi, I am so excited to try all these tips out. I’ve been at my wits end with my 6 month old German Shepherd puppy who comes back when called in the house and follows closely on walks off lead as he doesn’t like to be separated from me. Even when playing with dogs which he loves if I walk on he comes running to keep up. The one area he’s struggling with is he’s very nervous of strangers and he has decided to run up to them barking and standing in front of them and refuses to come when called and I just have no idea what has made him do this or how to stop him.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lydia,
    Many GSD pups can develop this kind of nervousness of unfamiliar people, but treating it as a recall issue is unlikely to help. Barking at people could get him and you into serious trouble. I suggest you seek out a qualified behaviourist who can give you some one to one help. You can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html

  • Lindsey said:

    I have a 2-year old black lab which we’ve had since he was a puppy, who is perfectly obedient whenever he is off the lead with me and/or my husband and comes back to us without any problem. He spends Mon-Fri daytime in his kennel/run while we are at work and a professional dog walker picks him up in her van and takes him out every lunchtime with 4 or 5 other dogs, letting him off the lead for about 45 mins. She has been doing this with him for the last 5 months. However, over the last 2 weeks she has found him increasingly difficult to get back on the lead at the end of the walk. He won’t let her get near him and she says its getting worse every day. I can’t understand it as he’s always been fine with her up until now, and he is fine with me and my husband. Does anyone know why he might have developed this behavioural problem and what we should do?

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lindsey,
    I don’t usually like to diagnose problem behaviour by internet, because there frequently isn’t enough information on the page, but in your case I think there probably is. Excuse me if I don’t have all the facts but this would be my interpretation given what you’ve written:
    • Your dog is left alone in a kennel during the day Monday to Friday.
    • His chance for some fun is when your dog walker takes him out to run with other dogs.
    • He has been fine with this for five months until the age of two.
    • He continues to be fine with you.
    • He now does not come back at the end of his 45minute off-lead walk with the dog walker.

    Most probably your dog is bored in his kennel but happy when playing with other dogs. He knows that when the walk ends he is going back into his kennel, so he tries to prolong the walk and his happiness by refusing to come back. He used to be more compliant, but now he’s two he has grown up and is making his own decisions. He is fine with you because either you have more control over him or he is not going back into his kennel at the end of your walks.
    The solution is either to increase his joy at going back into the kennel, or the dog walker must build a relationship with him that allows her more control. Preferably both. The ways of doing both those things will depend upon individual circumstances, so I’m afraid I can’t be more specific.

    If you need more help with devising a solution you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html


  • Caroline said:

    I have a 9 month old Cocker Spaniel, Bella. She is a lovely natured dog. Loves playing and a lot off attention. 1-1 on a walk she walks nicely but out with more than one person she gets very excited and starts to pull on the lead. We let her of in an enclosed field which is good but want to venture further. She LOVES meeting new people (probably more than meeting other dogs) so we worry she will take off as soon as she sees another person. My worry is she runs off to someone walking their dog on a lead and that dog on the lead isnt a fan of other dogs and she may get bitten. Any advice on how we can slowly ease her into being let of the lead and making sure she comes back?


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Caroline,
    this is a two pronged approach. You need to make yourself more attractive than anyone else (treats and games) and at the same time keep control of her with a long line. I use thirty feet of para-chord. Attach it to her and let it drag. If she takes off you only need to catch the line, not her. Gently reel her in and reward her for coming back. She is at an age where she still finds other people and dogs attractive. This will diminish as she gets older and controlling/attracting her will hasten it. There are other ways you can maintain control generally, found in my book Guide and Control https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/out-now-guide-control-your-pet-dogs-behaviour/ but if you are struggling you can find your nearest qualified behaviour counsellor at http://www.apbc.org.uk and trainers/behaviourists at http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/find-a-trainer-behaviourist.html
    Good luck,

  • Deva said:

    Hi david,

    We have a 10 month old working cocker spaniel bitch (who isnt a working dog,but a pet). Shes well behaved in the house and takes orders well, her recall in the house is very good. However, when we take her for a walk and let her off the lead she begins to sniff the ground incessantly and ignores us completely running madly round the playing field. We have tried many of the things you have listed,but nothing seems to get her attention. We hope this is something she will grow out of but we are willing to try anything to stop this behaviour as she needs to be able to run about and expell some energy.


  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Deva,
    She’s a working dog. She’s been bred to behave exactly as you describe. Working dogs have a need to behave in the ways for which they were bred. They find the behaviour extremely fulfilling. In order to control her you have to find something more or equally fulfilling for her. Usually this will be some sort of searching/retrieving game that you can control. Have a look at my Chase article and substitute the word “chase” for “sniffing and running about”. https://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/how-do-i-stop-my-dog-chasing/ It should give you some ideas on how to get her interested in toys so that you have a high value game which you can use as a way of controlling her.

  • Verity said:

    Hi David. We have just rescued a 2/3 yr old Romanian dog. She is quite good on recall but when she gets a scent she just carries on following her nose. We have tried high pitched whistle, running away from her, clapping, shaking a box of treats. She just totally ignores us. We are really concerned for her safety. Any tops would be great.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Verity,
    If you’ve just rescued her it will take some time for you to build a relationship together. If you don’t have verbal control over her you must have physical control, so I would suggest she stays on a long line until you do. It can be difficult for street dogs to form relationships with people when they have been used to fending for themselves – she is just doing what she has always done – so it will take patience and time to mould her from a Romanian street dog into a UK family pet.

  • sam said:

    Hi David,
    My 2yr old cavipoo is also a rescue. I have now had him for 3 months. He has really good recall when we play etc, unless there is another dog around :(. He is so happy to see them, that he just goes running off to play with them, and is too focused for me to get his attention. I am not sure how any treats etc, would ever be good enough for him to enjoy more than the potential play with others. Not sure if I should stick to the long lead when other dogs are around, but I hate to restrict his happiness. Any tips would be appreciated.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Sam,
    Three months is a relatively short time, so you’ve still got some way to go. You’ve identified that your dog is looking for the experience of play with other dogs and you’ve been trying to counter it with treats. You’re right, treats often aren’t enough as a substitute for play. You need to persuade him that playing with you is more fun, so he prefers to stay with you.
    Retrieving, or tugging/ragging games with you are therefore the way forward (or any game, to be fair). Teach games out of context and then introduce them at a distance from other dogs. Then bring them out every time another dog appears – if there’s a dog over there it is playtime with you.
    You can use a long line in the short term to gently show him your alternative is best.
    If you are struggling with teaching games there are some suggestions in my leaflet Guide & Control.
    Good luck,

  • denise said:

    I am going to put all of your suggestions into practice starting today, I am having so much difficulty getting my 10month old staffy x boxer to return when called. She runs around like crazy and becomes fixated on chasing birds or anything for that matter. When she sees other dogs she wants to play fight them. Some respond and love it, but others don’t and owners get annoyed with her and me. I also have a collie x and she is just a lot calmer and was so easy to train. Thank you for your advice..x

  • lilian currie said:

    i have a 7mth old malumute cross who in general is a good boy but when out in park he can be playing and coming back fine then see a dog the park length away and he is off he never fights he only wants to play but i have no control in stopping him, he does have ‘friends’ he is allowed to play with but some people understandably do not want a large dog running at their dog they automatically think there is going to be trouble. He needs to run off his energy but i need to get control of him

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Lilian,
    Yes, and at 7 months he won’t get better on his own. You could start with a long line and heavily reward coming back when you call him. But if you are having difficulty find a local dog trainer through http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/register-of-instructors.html

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