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How to teach reliable gundog recall

David Tomlinson shows how a gundog owner can master this crucial command.

Heel work and quartering

At first Neil tapped his leg to encourage Remy to walk to heel, but then the puppy started to jump up and down

The mark of a professional gundog trainer is the ability to teach reliable dog recall. You might not be an expert, but teaching excellent dog recall is something that you can master if you are patient and use careful and consistent training with your youngster.

Perfect dog recall means getting the dog to stop whatever it is doing and come back to you at once. (Read our tips on how to use a slip lead correctly.)

Teaching reliable dog recall

  1. Firstly your puppy needs to know his or her name. You can teach them this by having them close to you, saying their name and giving them a high value treat every time they respond. Keep these sessions v short.
  2. Once your puppy reliably responds to having their name called you can move things on. Take the puppy outside to your garden or a small field with some treats in your pocket.  Let the dog find some interesting smells but don’t let them wander more than a few yards. Call them and when they return, give them a treat. Again keep these sessions short.
  3. Gradually allow the dog to wander a little further and increase the distance between you before calling them. Give a treat every time but never approach the dog and then reward.
  4. Always use a happy voice when the dog comes back and reward with plenty of praise as well as the treat. (Read our tips on getting a gundog puppy.)

What is a high value treat?

If your dog knows that you have 
a pocketful of bacon cubes or pieces 
of chicken, running off might not be quite so alluring after all. You will need something delicious though, crumbled dog biscuits won’t cut it. The video below has some useful tips.

Unreliable dog recall – embarassing and potentially dangerous

Several owners of working dogs have had the excruciating experience of their dog ignoring a command in the field or racing off in pursuit of an interesting smell whilst smug Guns, their labs and spaniels beautifully to heel, watch.

That’s something you want to avoid – particularly if you want to be asked back to shoot.

Reliable dog recall is important for a dog’s safety too. Knowing that you can stop a dog running across a busy road or chasing stock could save the dog’s life. Your dog cannot spend its life on a slip lead, so you need to be confident that you can let the dog go and that it will come back.

teaching dog recall

Excellent dog recall is the difference between a professional and an amateur

Deaf to entreaties

My spaniel, Rowan had excellent recall until she was a teenager and realised she could run faster than I could. I remember a morning when she had just had a good walk, off the lead, and was almost back at my house, when she decided to take off. For the next 20 minutes she led me on a merry dance as she chased pheasants, partridges, hares and muntjac. We live in a game-rich area, so nothing was pursued for very long before she switched quarry.

Whenever I did whistle she ignored it and looked past me as if I didn’t exist. The chase finally ended when the errant spaniel overheated, and waded into a pond to cool off. She made no attempt to resist capture. I felt like murdering her, but punishment after such an escapade 
is tricky, as you don’t want to make the dog think it is being punished 
for eventually giving itself up.

Reward the good

You need to reinforce the belief in your runaway dog that it is more rewarding and fun to be with you than running off.  Most dogs are food orientated and a delicious treat to reward good behaviour will be remembered.

feeding dog delicious treat

Hot gammon – the ultimate way to get your gundog to return to you?

In her excellent book, The Pet Gundog Puppy, Lez Graham describes taking her Labrador puppy to feed the ducks “because I wanted him calm around birds that were moving… I’d put him in a sit and feed the ducks; a biscuit for Ziggy, a biscuit for the ducks, a biscuit for Ziggy, a biscuit for the ducks…”

In her first book, The Pet Gundog: a Common Sense Approach to Dog Training, she advises “always use high-value treats. When you give your dog a food reward, give a treat with one hand and stroke him with the other.”

This article was first published in 2017 and has been updated.