Total Recall

Not coming back when called is most likely the most common problem that pet owners have with their dogs. There is nothing more frustrating than having a dog who dashes off when given half a chance and then refuses to come back no matter how much you shout and scream.  This problem is not only preventable it is completely fixable too. All you will need is patience, commitment and consistency! Equipment required:

  • An ordinary buckle collar tight enough that your dog can’t slip his head out


  • A dog halter or halti  (recommended)

  • A regular 1.2 m webbing training lead

  • A 3 – 5 meter soft webbing lead

  • Delicious pea sized treats e.g. cooked chicken, dried liver or biltong. Prepare in advance and freeze in sandwich bags.


  • A tug toy for toy crazy dogs or dogs that are not too food motivated. Allow your dog to tug on the toy when ever the programme tells you to give your dog a treat.

  Tips to follow while working on the Total Recall Programme 

  • Keep your dog on the lead whenever you leave your property.

  • Keep your dog on the lead or locked away whenever you open your front gate.

  • Never ever punish your dog for coming back to you even if he takes half and hour!

  • Do not shout at your dog to get him to come to you at home or outside.

  • Do not call your dog more than once when at home. i.e.  call once then go and fetch him.

  • Do not chase your dog if he is running away from you, rather run away from him.

  • Reduce his meals by 1/3. Hungry dogs are loads keener when the treats come out.

  • Do not give treats e.g. biscuits or titbits except when training.

  • Reinforce your basic pack leadership rules i.e. who eats when, who owns what, who greets who and who has right of way.

The principals behind teaching your dog to come back to you consistently is to teach him that not coming when called has grave consequences and coming when called has fabulous ones.  It is also vital that your dog regards you as worthy of giving instruction – that is where your basic pack leadership rules come in. If your dog is sleeping on your bed, barking at you to make you feed him and jumping on you when you walk in the door, chances are he is not going to take you too seriously when you try to call him away from a fleeing cat or a great game with another dog. Here are some reasons why your dog may choose not to come back to you when called.

  • At the park, he knows that he will be put back on the lead if he comes back to you.

  • He has been punished for returning after running off.

  • He is following his hormones (neutering and spaying are the solution for this).

  • He doesn’t think you worthy of giving instruction.

  • It is fun to get to do your own thing!

The Total recall Training Programme Take your dog out every day to an open area where are there are no distractions, Have him on a collar or halti with both his training lead and the long lead attached. When you arrive at your training area, tell your dog to sit then with a firm hold on the long lead, unclip his regular lead and give the release command, “Okay” in an excited voice. Allow your dog to go out to the full length of the lead. Some dogs will bolt off giving you a whip lash; others might sniff around or even hang around you. (It doesn’t matter which he chooses). Call your dog to you by calling his name and the command “Come!” in an excited voice. If your dog immediately turns and runs back to you, reward him with a small treat and a big fuss. If your dog does not come back to you, tug firmly on the lead with a sharp, “No” and start walking or running backwards away from your dog drawing him towards you. As he starts towards you, reel in the lead and when he gets to you, reward him with a treat and a big fuss. If he bounds towards you and runs straight past you, reel him in as above and reward. Do not repeat the command, “Come”. Say it only once. Do not shout, nag or beg. Which ever way you got your dog back to you, immediately after he has eaten the treat, give a clear release command, “Okay” in an enthusiastic tone and with a firm grip on the handle of your long lead, allow your dog to go out to the end of the lead again. After a few second, repeat the exercise as described above. It is important that your dog works out quickly that:

  1. Coming to you results in a treat and loads of praise.

  2. Not coming when called results in a reprimand and a yank (plus you end up having to listen anyway).

  3. Coming when called always results in being allowed to go off again. It is not the end of the fun.

  4. The sound of the lead unclipping is not a signal to run off.

After 10 repetitions, end the session with extra praise and then take your dog home or continue on your walk. It is essential that your dog stays on the lead until you get home. Repeat these sessions every day and after one week you should find that your dog is quick to return when called. If he is still not keen, reduce his meals further and use even tastier treats. The next stage is to introduce some distractions. Take you dog to an area where there are other dogs and activity. Repeat the exact same training session of the previous week in the new location. In the third week, take your show on the road looking for a whole variety of challenging locations to practice your recall. Good ideas could be your local school, in your driveway when visitors are arriving or during off lead socialising at the club. If by the end of the third week, your dog is turning on a dime and you never need to give any reprimand, you are ready for the next stage. If your dog is still distracted, takes his time or bolts out to the end of the lead, go back a stage and do some sessions without distractions. The next stage involves starting to drop the lead. Choose a setting without distractions and start your session exactly as before i.e.  Getting your dog to sit and unclipping the training lead. Give your release command and allow your dog to go off, before he gets to the end of the lead, call him back and reward. Do at least 3 or 4 of these until your dog is quite focused on you. Then drop your long lead handle and release your dog.  Before he gets to the end of the lead, call him as before. If he turns and comes to you praise and release as normal. If he looks like he about to make a run for it, stand on the lead, grab the handle and run backwards away from him reeling him in as you did at the beginning of the programme. If he managed the exercise without trying to run off, repeat about 10 more times and end your session for the day. If your dog tried to run off, go back to a further week of using the lead with distractions. The next stage is to take your dog back to the distracting environment and repeat exactly as last week i.e. using the lead for a few repetitions then dropping it and doing a few more. Once your dog is responding reliably, start reducing the length of the lead. If you don’t feel like destroying your lead, exchange it for a similar length of washing line rope. This needs to be gradually reduced over 3 to 4 weeks until it is about 30cm long after which it can be removed completely. Each time you reduce the length of the lead, practice first in a distraction free environment, then in one with distractions then in a variety of locations. Do not be too keen and move too fast as your dog shouldn’t even think there is any chance he will get away with running away. If by chance your dog does take off, do not panic, call his name in an excited voice and run away from him calling. Chances are he will run after you. Be sure not to punish him at all when he comes back to you. So there you have it, an easy to follow programme to train even the most stubborn dogs to return when called. All it takes is some work on your part. Before you know it, you too will have “Total Recall!”

4 Responses to “Total Recall”

  • Wendy says:

    hello – just love your website 🙂 – pls could you recommend a trainer/puppy school for my hunting hound – he has been a working hound for 2 yrs and is now homed with us – total recall so not working 🙁 – we live in melkbosstrand – he also tends to wee in the house 🙁 – help ! lol x x kind regards, wendy

    • julie says:

      Hi Wendy

      I suggest you contact Lynda Montignies 0848701002. She can steer you in the right direction.

  • Ariel says:


    My dog is 3 years old and very well trained. I would like to improve his recall and general walking obedience and take his training to the next level. He’s an extremely fast learner and very dog friendly.

    Please advise on way forward.



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