Most dog trainer who teach the recall will teach the recall to succeed, but don’t teach what if the recall fails. This may sound rather odd given the aim is to train a successful recall for your dog so he learns not to ignore you. 

I have said this before that is it not the successes when considering recall which are important.  It is the times you have managed to stop a potential ‘dog ignores you’ scenario.

You only have seconds in which to implement the Failed Recall procedure. Outside of this time it will be a lost cause depending on what the distraction was. 

What is a Failed Recall?

When you give a command, either through verbal or non-verbal communication,  that you now require your dog to return to you it can go one of two ways.  If you are reading this then you are perhaps amongst the majority of the population who have suffered the frustration when their dog decides to ignore you and do their own thing. 

Basically a failed recall is the dog has something more interesting to do at that moment and you cannot compete.  This can be a new behaviour it is learning as it ignores you and there is no consequence to that action.  It can also be a deep entrenched behaviour where the dog ignores you every time regardless of what you do.  

The dog has not learnt to come back to you because it was never taught to come back.  The reality here is the dog is doing nothing wrong, we make the assumption it must be the dog’s fault; when in fact it is ours. 

Many of my clients say they have a recall and when tested they do.  The problem is the recall is in the house or the garden.  These environments hold little distraction for the dog so it is easy for the owner to be come interesting and get the dog to return. Off they go out into the park and the recall goes out the window and the dog fails to come back…..why?

The common mistake owners make when training their dog is they do not proof the training.  That is do the same training, the same way but in different environments, situations and distractions being persistent and consistent. 

Some clients think it is a case of when we show the dog a new training skill that is the job done and move onto the next. Sadly that is not the case.  I know from my own experience of the many many hours of teaching, practice, proofing and maintaining I need to do with Henry’s skill set. 

There is no quick fix to teaching a recall.  Yes the basics can be taught, but then it needs many repetitions which are done correctly.  Remember that whilst practice makes perfect we need to perfectly practice or we will just be teaching bad habits. Many times we cannot see the little mistakes we make when training our dogs and I am as guilty as the rest.

How to cope when a recall fails

Here is a perfect example of one of my clients working at my gun dog training facility doing some retrieve work.  This is a very high distraction environment so I need to be confident the client has control of her dog. Hundreds of game birds are being reared in the field next door so lots of birds in my field. 

The dog and owner are in the early days of retrieving.  She sends the dog out, but as you see as it gets to where the retrieve is it is easily distracted and thinks about exploring. 

The owners has been proactive, acknowledged there could be an issue and has implemented the failed recall procedure perfectly.  You can see the dog thinks about ignoring again, but then picks up the dummy and heads back.  This was more important than if the dog had just come back on the first recall.  An excellent example of where the owner was proactive and turned events back into her favour. 

This is not a guaranteed method which will get your dog back every time, but I have seen many instances where it has turned around the odds back into your favour.  

Failed Recall Protocol

One of the concerns I have with dog training is some people are looking for the quick fix and when it doesn’t happen like that they are quick to blame. They will look at stuff on the net as we all do and try to implement it.  

Many times it will work, but other times you need the guidance of an expert to ensure it is being practised correctly and issues are addressed immediately. There are two parts to my failed recall protocol. The first is the immediate action you take the dog ignores you the first time. The second is what to do when the the first part fails and the dog runs off, usually on a chase. I have gone into some depth here.

I am not going to into depth here about teaching the first part of the Failed Recall Protocol because we get one chance at bringing all the elements together or we teach the dog to ignore us.  If you are a client of mine at the gun dog training centre, a client having private dog training or on the recall training course then you will spend a lot of time perfecting the this technique. Acting before your dog ignores you could save you having a Fenton moment.

What to do if the recall does fail and your dog runs off?

Will having a recall failure plan in place stop the dog running off into the distance? No of course it won’t. It might work lots of times, but there will be a time when anything you do will fail if your dog is so inclined to chase a deer or a rabbit and ignore you.  

My dog has an excellent recall, but I always say he is only as good as his last recall!!  If you have a dog with no recall or it is poor then the following is going to be more difficult, but still worth a try. 

So what do you do when your dog heads off into the distance in open land or woodland. Easy to say, but don’t panic. If ever your dog needs you calm it is now. You mustn’t start shouting and getting angry as this will reduce your chances of the dog returning. 

Depending on the environment you are in will determine your plan of action. For a moment we are going to pause and look at this from the dog’s perspective then we will be better armed to act in the right manner to get a positive outcome.  

Failed recall from the dog’s point of view

If you normally have a good recall and are confident in your ability of implementing a failed recall protocol then your dog has laid all their training to one side and is acting on pure instinct. 

Experience tells me this is usually to do with the chase.  Another animal is running and instinct tells your dog to chase it. This has usually happened close to your dog and before you can get into action your dog is off. 

From your dog’s point of view this is fantastic fun.  This is what he is meant to do and their whole body is geared for the chase/the kill. Unless you have an amazingly well trained dog where you practice calling them off running prey you are going to struggle with this one. 

Your dog will be running on adrenaline and you will be the last consideration. It might be a short distance away from you that the chase ends.  It could be a long way depending what was being chased.  Remember being lost is a human concept and this will not be a consideration for the dog when the chase finally stops. 

Once it quietens down the dog will the realise you are not around and they may start to get anxious.  They will not think it was them who ran away and left you!! The dog is very well equipped to find you again and if we are not panicking and running around like a headless chicken we can help the dog. 

Sadly there are posters in forest car parks of owners who lost their dog on a walk.  If the owners had followed some simple rules then they could have increased the chances of the dog finding them. 

How to increase the odds of the dog finding you after a failed recall.

  • DO NOT chase the dog when it runs off if you are on your own. If you are on open land and you can see the dog in the distance then go towards that direction. As soon as you lose sight of the dog stop walking. If its a forest do not run after the dog at all. Remember, the chase will not have gone in a straight line so your dog could be anywhere.
  • If there are two of you then one stays where the dog ran off from and the other walks towards where the dog was last seen. Both calling or using the whistle in turns.  
  • Staying put is very important because the dog can find his way back.  However, if you run off blindly and the dog comes back then it will be pure luck if you run into each other again in a forest. 
  • It is difficult to stand still and whistle or call, but the dog stands a far better chance of finding you than you finding them
  • Hopefully your dog is whistle trained.  If so start blowing 3 whistles every 5 seconds.  This allows the dog to hear the whistle in the distance and home in on the sound. 
  • DO NOT start shouting in a distressed and angry voice the dog’s name.  If you must call the name just repeat every 5 seconds and sound happy!!!
  • Note which way the wind is blowing. If it is blowing from you towards the dog then they will find you if you stay put. They have 250 million smell receptors, we have 5 million!!
  • Most dogs get lost because the owners are not where the dog expected them to be when they returned. The owner has gone off looking for the dog. 
  • If you implement the above and the dog comes back give them a big fuss, don’t tell them off as you will be telling them off for coming back.  Give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the fact you are back with your dog.
  • This does work because I had to use it in anger in a forest.  It was very difficult to do nothing and just blow the whistle. After about 10 minutes my dog came back looking mighty pleased with himself and totally unaware of the stress I was suffering. He came from a totally different direction than the one he took when he left me!!!!!
  • How long do you stay there for? Personally after 30 minutes I would start to think there was a bigger issue. Was my dog injured or has someone got him? If this was a straightforward ‘dog run off’ then they would be back with you within 30 minutes if you were blowing the whistle or calling their name.  If this was a one off event then your dog would find you if you remained in that location. After 30 minutes I would get back up and spread out in the direction the dog was heading blowing the whistle. Hopefully you never have to use this advice, but good to know if you do.
  • DO NOT RUN AFTER YOUR DOG IF YOU HAVE NO CHANCE OF CATCHING THEM UP. BLOW THE WHISTLE, CALL THEIR NAME EVERY 5 SECONDS AND WAIT.