At What Age Should A Dog Come When Called?

Teaching a dog to come when called is one of the most important obedience skills an owner can train. Having a reliable recall is essential for a dog’s safety since recalling your dog prevents him from running into dangerous situations. Recall also makes the overall owner-dog relationship easier, enabling activities like off-leash hikes, trips to the dog park, and allowing the owner to call the dog back if they are distracted or chasing something inappropriate.

According to the AKC, “Reliable recall means that when you call your dog to come, you are 99.99% sure they are going to enthusiastically respond.” Achieving this level of response takes dedicated training and proofing of the behavior over time and in various contexts. The effort is well worth it for both the owner’s peace of mind and the enrichment and freedom it provides the dog when they can be let off-leash without fear of them running away.

When to Start

Recall training can begin as early as 8 weeks old when getting a new puppy. This early period from 8-16 weeks is an important socialization window where puppies are most receptive to learning new experiences and skills. Introducing recall cues and training during this time allows the behavior to develop most naturally.

Starting recall training with an 8 week old puppy capitalizes on their curiosity and energy during this developmental phase. Puppies have a short attention span at this young age, so training sessions should be short, positive, and reward-driven.

According to experts, by beginning structured recall training between 8-12 weeks old, puppies can reliably learn this critical skill as they grow. Consistent daily practice is key for puppies to generalize recall in different environments and distractions. Setting the foundation during early puppyhood leads to better recall as adult dogs.

Training Techniques

Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective methods to train a dog to come when called. Techniques involve rewarding the dog with treats, praise, or play when they respond to the recall cue (the word you want to use for “come”). Source.

To reinforce coming when called, reward your dog immediately after they return to you. Additionally, make the reward really enticing by being extra happy, excited and giving high-value treats. This builds a positive association and motivates your dog to want to come back next time. Avoid scolding or punishing your dog after a recall, as this can make them less likely to want to come when called in the future.

Clicker training can also help mark the precise moment your dog performed the desired behavior, so they know when they did something right. The click sound means a treat is coming. Just be sure to click the instant they start returning to you, not once they’ve reached your side.

Overall, focus on making coming to you a fun, rewarding and positive experience. This builds trust and enthusiasm for recall training. If you need to bring your dog in from play for something unpleasant like a bath or nail trim, try to avoid using the recall command, so it doesn’t get associated with ending fun activities.

Proofing the Behavior

After your dog consistently demonstrates a reliable recall at home without distractions, it’s time to proof the behavior by practicing in more challenging, distracting environments outside of the home. As with initial training, start by proofing recall in minimally distracting environments before working up to high distraction areas.

Good initial proofing locations include a friend’s fenced backyard, tennis courts, or enclosed dog park during off-peak hours when few other dogs are around. Focus on continuing to reward your dog for recalling while slowly adding distractions. Once your dog is reliably recalling in those environments, gradually increase the difficulty by proofing at busier locations like trails, pet stores, or dog parks during peak hours.

Always reward successful recalls during proofing – this shows your dog that coming when called is rewarding even with environmental distractions. If your dog does not respond right away, do not repeat the recall command, as this teaches them they can ignore it. Remain patient and encourage them to return, then reward as soon as they do. With continued proofing, your dog will generalize recall as a rewarding behavior regardless of any outside distractions.

Some key public spaces to practice proofing recall include:

  • Dog parks or dog beaches during peak hours (cite: How To Teach Your Dog Recall With Distractions)
  • Trails and hiking paths with other people or dogs around
  • Pet stores and pet supply shops where there are sights, smells and sounds
  • Public parks where games or sports are happening
  • Troubleshooting Common Problems

    Some common problems owners face when training recall include selective hearing, greeting people on walks, and chasing squirrels or cats. Dogs may seem to obey most of the time, but then ignore you when something more exciting comes along.

    To address selective hearing, make sure you are using a unique and clear recall cue that stands out from other commands. Say it in an upbeat, encouraging tone. Reward your dog immediately when they do return so they associate coming with something positive. Practice recall frequently in low distraction areas before trying it with real-world distractions around.

    If your dog tends to pull towards people or dogs during walks, work on building a solid heel. Keep them focused on you with praise and treats when they walk politely beside you. If needed, cross the street or create more space from the distraction. Teach them “leave it” if they fixate on something, then reward when they re-engage with you.

    For chasing dogs or critters, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise or call their name. Place yourself between them and the distraction. Practice impulse control like “wait” around tempting stimuli. Do not punish them for chasing – it can make things worse. Stay calm and redirect their energy back to training with you. Management like leashes and fences can also help prevent the chasing behavior while training.

    With consistency, patience and smart management, you can curb your dog’s desire to bolt. Keep sessions upbeat and rewarding to rebuild their recall reliability.

    Recall Cues

    Teaching your dog multiple types of recall signals has benefits:

    • Verbal cues like a name or “here” command are easy and natural for many owners, especially for everyday use around the home. Studies show dogs can learn to associate up to 10 words with actions or objects (Source 1).
    • Whistles allow nearly instant signal transmission and are excellent for range or when verbal cues may be hard to hear, like during field training. Make sure to teach the whistle cue separately from verbal cues (Source 2).
    • Visual hand signals are helpful when you need silent cues, which is common when hunting. They also provide a clear physical gesture the dog can focus on. Using an upraised hand or arm sweeping toward you are common hand signals for recall (Source 3).

    Giving the dog a choice of recall cues allows you to use what works best in each unique situation, while reinforcing the core meaning of returning to you when called. Just be sure to train each cue method separately at first.

    Off Leash Considerations

    While it may be tempting to let your dog off leash to run and play, it’s crucial to exercise caution until you’re certain your dog has a reliable recall. Letting a dog off leash prematurely can put them in danger if they run off or don’t respond promptly to your recall cue.

    Many public spaces legally require dogs to be leashed, except in designated off leash areas. For example, according to the rules at DOGPAW off leash parks, dogs should only be off leash if they have decent recall skills and will come when called. Otherwise, they recommend keeping your dog leashed for their own safety.

    Even once your dog has a solid recall, it’s wise to be cautious in unfamiliar areas. As noted in a Reddit discussion, off leash dog parks can be unpredictable, with many factors that can break a dog’s focus. Take things slowly and assess how your dog responds before trusting them off leash. Work up to more challenging environments after solidifying recall skills at home.

    Essentially, a dog is ready for off leash freedom when they will reliably come immediately when called, regardless of distractions. Achieving this level of recall takes significant training and proofing under distraction. Don’t take risks until you’re fully confident in your dog’s focus and impulse control around exciting stimuli.

    Maturity and Breed Factors

    A dog’s maturity level and breed can influence how easy or challenging it is to train a reliable recall. Puppies tend to be more receptive to training between 3-6 months, before adolescent stubbornness sets in. Adolescence can cause setbacks in recall training between 6 months to 2 years as pups push boundaries and become more easily distracted.

    Some breeds like hounds, terriers, and northern breeds are more independent and can require more patience and consistency in recall training. Their instincts for tracking scents or chasing prey may override obedience. Starting early and being persistent is key.

    Best practices are to begin basic recall training with a puppy as young as 8 weeks using positive reinforcement. But expect adolescence to test those skills between 6 months to 2 years, requiring extra diligence. Maturity level impacts recall readiness, so start training early but don’t expect perfection until full maturity after age 2.

    Certain breeds will require more advanced training techniques, higher value rewards, and lifelong proofing of recall skills. Know your breed’s traits and train accordingly by starting early, keeping sessions short and rewarding, and never giving up.

    Lifelong Training

    It’s crucial to continue reinforcing recall training throughout a dog’s life, from puppyhood through adulthood and into their senior years. Consistency is key to maintaining a reliable recall. As the experts at McConnell Behavior Consulting explain, “Here’s a summary of the steps I use to teach a recall, and to maintain it” (Recalling the Recall).

    Reinforcement prevents backsliding and keeps the recall response strong. Continue rewarding your dog intermittently for successful recalls using their favorite treats, praise, playtime, and anything else they find rewarding. Varying the rewards keeps your dog engaged and motivated. Practice recall regularly in different environments and with distractions to proof the behavior. Increase difficulty gradually as your dog becomes reliable in easier settings.

    Adolescence can be a challenging time for recall training as dogs become more independent and interested in exploring. Be patient and persist with recall reinforcement. Avoid punishing for failed recalls, as this can damage the behavior. Remain consistent and don’t allow your dog to ignore the recall cue. With maturity and ongoing training, most dogs will regain focus.

    Recall skills may decline in senior dogs due to cognitive changes. Make adaptations to keep training engaging and minimize frustration. For example, move more slowly, use additional cues like clapping, and keep sessions short. While recall reliability may decrease, continuing reinforcement will help senior dogs retain this important skill for as long as possible.


    As we’ve explored, teaching your dog to consistently come when called is an essential skill for any pet owner. While the ideal age to start training recall is 8-16 weeks, it’s never too late to begin reinforcing this behavior. Use high-value rewards, be patient and consistent, and proof the behavior in various environments to ensure your dog listens regardless of distractions.

    Reliable recall skills help keep your dog safe, prevent chasing behaviors, and build a bond of trust and communication. Keep training sessions positive, never punish your dog for coming to you, and practice recall cues daily. With time and consistency, you can achieve off-leash reliability and responsive recall even among exciting stimuli.

    Start laying the recall foundation early, be patient through adolescent stubbornness, and keep reinforcing through your dog’s senior years. An obedient, enthusiastic response to your call is one of the most important skills your dog can learn. With dedication and creativity in training, you can enjoy years of rewarding recall responsiveness and the peace of mind it brings.

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