Really Reliable Recall

Posted on November 16, 2012


Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant

Really Reliable Recall


The Really Reliable Recall is a trade marked training format, designed by Leslie Nelson to condition an emergency (safety) recall, as opposed to your every day recall.  Implemented correctly, you will not only condition your dog to respond under any circumstances, but you will begin building a trusting and cooperative relationship with your dog.

Before one can begin, you must have the following elements firmly in place.


Three Elements


(1) Management


  • Plan Ahead for Success


  1. Make sure your dog gets plenty of physical and mental exercise – games including retrieving are wonderful ways to build a cooperative relationship
  2. Make sure your dog gets as much off leash activity as possible – this is easiest to accomplish with young puppies – I recommend only using safe fenced areas – if you choose unfenced areas make sure they are away from traffic – suggestions could include borrowing yards;  find other enclosed areas; use drag lines or long lines – designed to remind your dog he’s with you – make sure they are heavy enough for the dog to realize the line is there, handlers need to use caution around these lines as they can be dangerous
  3. Never call your dog for anything he/she perceives as a negative – in other words, don’t pair things your dog doesn’t like – just go get him/her
  4. Anytime your dog “checks in” whether you call him or not, reward him, especially any independent type dogs
  5. Don’t ever call your dog if you don’t think he will come to you 100%!  Just go get him.  You don’t want to poison your cue!
  6. Play many recall games – this shifts the responsibility to the dog for keeping track of you and not you keeping track of him – heavily reward them for doing their part!


Some suggested games


  • Puppy in the middle – is a great game and requires at least two players – to play this game, everyone needs to have GREAT treats or a toy the dog loves!  Simply begin by calling the dog back and forth and heavily rewarding him/her every time they respond.
  • Hide and seek – when your dog isn’t expecting it, go hide somewhere, then call his/her name, don’t make it too easy, when he/she finds you throw a party!
  • Disappear and see how long it takes the dog to find you.  If he takes his/her time, you’re not ready – remember it’s your dog’s responsibility to keep track of you!


This is only a sample of games we can play with dogs; if you need any more suggestions just ask your training professional, she will be glad to come up with some more suggestions.


(2) Relationship


  • Built on Trust and Cooperation


  1. Use positive reinforcement – using anything your dog likes as reinforcement – in the beginning, it’s best to use highly reinforcing food treats, then later add other rewards as your training progresses
  2. A dog’s job is to keep track of us, our job is rewarding our dogs for their good behavior – this is what builds the relationship, you are conditioning your dog’s good behavior with good consequences, a truly rewarding experience for your dog!
  3. Introducing the Name Game – use the tone of voice you want your dog to respond to when you want his/her attention, then mark with a click or verbal marker the exact time the dog responds
  4. If you are using a clicker – charging the clicker first will be necessary unless your dog is already familiar with this concept.  The click becomes the conditioned reinforcer or reward marker


To start we use 25 tiny treats.  Because you always have your voice, you may want to skip this step and simply move on using a verbal reward marker – yes or good are short and easy and said quickly!  Begin by calling their name, and then mark the correct response and treat, using anything your dog likes.


Before proceeding to the next steps make sure, you have gotten 100 correct responses.  This is not done all at once, but rather in small increments and with no distractionsTherefore, the best place to begin is in your house, then moved to a secure yard, then gradually add other locations only when your dog is responding to this cue 100% of the time.  You can’t afford for him/her to make any mistakes, the cue then becomes ambiguous.


  1. If you mess up, have a back up plan, perhaps run out of the room, and do something crazy to get their attention.  If your dog responds and runs after you, turn and treat as usual.  Do not repeat his/her name!  What you are doing is creating a conditioned response to their name!  Repeating will only ruin this expected response.


(3) Training


  • The Easy Part – If Management and Relationship are in place


As with any training program, there are usually rules we follow.  We must respect these rules, without following these rules your training goal will likely not meet your expectations.


Rule # 1


The Really Reliable Recall Signal (emergency) – can even include multiple dogs using different signals – a physical whistle is an excellent tool as an alternative to using a verbal reward marker.  One must keep in mind; the signal needs to be heard by your dog over long distances including background noise.  Using a whistle generated by your mouth may not be reliable; one cannot always expect not having a dry mouth and ability to generate the whistle sound.


  1. The signal you choose must be different from your everyday recall – suggestions are Here or Here Now!
  2. It must be something you don’t use for anything else
  3. It must carry long distances
  4. It must be easy to remember in an emergency situation


Rule # 2


  1. Begin using your Really Reliable Recall signal three times per day only when you are 100% certain they are going to respond to you.  You may even use your signal when he is already on his way to you even though you didn’t give the signal.  However, you must be certain he is going to respond 100% before using your emergency recall signal!


Rule # 3


  1. Only say it ONCE!  It will only work if you say it once.  If you mess up remember do something unexpected like running excitedly in the opposite direction.  If necessary return to your dog, without repeating the signal.


Rule # 4


  1. Reinforce every step they take toward you – clapping, cheering, act like a fool!  Who cares how you look, the idea is you might save your dog’s life someday using this signal; you want it working 100% of the time.


Rule #5


  1. Add reinforcementpositive reinforcement is anything that increases behavior
  2. Use reinforcement they don’t get on a daily basis – meat – different types such as left over steak, chicken, ham or his/her favorite toy reserved for this special occasion
  3. Hand feeding – first two weeks – use throughout the day – reinforce all good behavior
  4. You are reinforcing to your dog; especially if you have done your job in establishing a trusting relationship
  5. Free feeding is a really boring way to feed your dog and doesn’t lend itself to reinforcement training – I personally encourage everyone to avoid this practice.  You are literally throwing away reinforcement opportunities!
  6. Quantity of food is not as important as quality!
  7. Fine dining vs. Fast food – 30 seconds of reinforcement = fine dining – also commonly referred to as jackpotting
  8. Figure out what your dog likes – handling exercises – butt scratches, rubbing his/her ears or belly
  9. We aren’t concerned about getting the dog to sit when he reaches you – we are only concerned about him coming


Why it won’t work


  1. You are repeating your signal!
  2. You are not practicing!
  3. You are using bad treats! – remember it is necessary to establish a reliable signal that no matter what your dog is doing, they will turn on a dime and run to you!  The quality of treat you are using must be more reinforcing than distractions such as squirrels, children on bikes, joggers, other dogs and anything else your dog finds interesting in the environment.


Keep in mind healthy treats are necessary – look at labels, avoid sugar, artificial coloring and flavoring, salt and anything you don’t understand or can’t pronounce.  Also, remember if you are not free feeding; instead measuring out your dog’s food proportions, it will be easy for you to regulate his intake depending on your training and use of food treats.


If you haven’t given any thought to how scary it might be to witness your beloved dog running toward a busy road, then try forming that picture in your mind.  When you can envision your possible loss, you will understand how important having a truly Really Reliable Recall will be.


A Really Big Challenge – Certain Breeds


According to Leslie Nelson, the following breeds may be more challenging than others may.  However, I tend to feel not only genetics, breeding practices and selection as factors, but also the dogs’ early environment can either provide challenging or rewarding situations to the training environment.


  1. Hounds
  2. Terriers
  3. Northern Breeds

Why are they so challenging?


  • Bred to be independent, freethinking, working at distances, they are not meant to come when called
  • They need freedom, this is how they were bred to work
  • You may need to spend more time conditioning your RRR, more time spent the stronger it will become
  • Being in a large fenced area, using your drag line (tie knots so when you step on it  you can stop them)
  • Allow them to run free and when they check in – reward heavily – when you release them to run again, this is their reward
  • Without even giving a signal – mark the moment they turn toward you!!!!
  • Be patient – strong relationships built on trust and cooperation take time
  • Hand feed – hand feed – hand feed


Responsible Dog & Cat

The Art & Science of Teaching Your Dog and Cat Responsibly

Joyce D. Kesling, CDBC, ACCBC, Professional Dog Trainer

P.O. Box 15992

Sarasota, FL34277



“If physical or behavior problems develop, owners should take on the responsibility to care for the dog “as a family member,” and not treat it as an object.”  John C. Wright


The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.  Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948


Copyright Responsible Dog Ownership 2005-2013

Posted in: Training dogs