3. Come Back When Called

Exercise 3.1- Loading the Whistle

Coming back when called reliably is one of the most important behaviours you need to teach your pup!


I highly recommend you train recall three ways:

  • a clear hand signal (which can be seen from a distance),
  • a verbal cue, 
  • and a working dog whistle.

But why would my dog, who is a family pet need a whistle?  

  • Unlike you, whistles have no feelings. They sound the same to your dog, no matter how you are feeling – does this sound familiar, it should do as it applies to clickers too – Exercise 1.2!
  • Training a dog requires repetitive actions and whistle commands are easy for a dog to learn and recognise, as you can make a consistent tone on a whistle.
  • Whistles help to ensure your dog’s safety off the lead, whilst allowing them to let off some steam and explore.
  • It’s a simple tool that you and your family members can use time and time again with multiple dogs and future dogs.
  • Whistles can transmit sounds much further than we can shout and so there are no croaky throats from using a whistle too much.
  • On a more fun note, you can show off to your walking companions that your dog comes back each and every time!

As always we’re going to train this response in a step-by-step fashion.  Let’s look at loading the whistle first.


For the first week we just associate the sound of the whistle with an amazing new food your dog has never had before and that tastes absolutely amazing!  Pip the whistle and find that whiskery chops with the food that’s all there is to it.


Dogs that are fed mainly dry food will go bonkers for a premium brand wet dog food so that’s my top tip.  Do this at least once a day for a week.


While we’re doing this we can also start teaching the hand signal, there are a couple of important points to notice.


Make your arms outstretched very clear hand signal first then say your verbal cue, in my case “Jim, Here!” and then drop your hands down.  You dog is getting used to moving towards your hands with the other exercises in Week 1 so should readily come towards you, feed several treats with one hand while you hold your dogs collar with the other hand.  


Holding the collar like this is really important so your pup learns to accept restraint as part of the recall cue. 


Dogs often don't like feeling restrained but they need to be very comfortable being held by the collar, or the harness.  This is really important because you might need to grab your dog in a hurry and if they are nervous of being held or grabbed then they could shy away from you and get themselves into trouble.  So, we hold the collar nice and gently and feed the food and this gets the dog used to being restrained.


Recall is about keeping your dogs safe so you don’t want your pup to bounce back grab a treat and then run off again!

Exercise 3.2 Classical Conditioning

This is the last exercise for Week 2 and the good news is Exercise 3.2 is exactly the same as Exercise 3.1!  That’s right, I’d like you to do a second week loading the whistle!


With recall training in particular we’re not aiming for a rational, well thought out decision from your dog.  We don’t expect him to make a moral choice about coming back when he’s called - what we want from the dog is an unthinking reaction to a cue, in all manner of situations.


Getting that reaction takes some time and effort and the finished product is an automatic trained response and that’s why we’re going to condition the whistle for another week to really embed the sound of the whistle in our dog’s mind as being associated with the best food in town!


We’re making use of a type of learning known as classical conditioning or associative learning but by any name quite simply, it is learning by association.  Classical conditioning is not used to train a dog to consciously act or behave in a certain way, but rather conditions them to unconsciously react in a certain way.  


Classical conditioning happens everywhere all the time, without our help.  One of the most obvious examples of classical conditioning is the dog that goes crazy every time he hears the jingle of the car keys.  A set of keys by itself has no special meaning for dogs but when those keys are linked with going for a walk, they can trigger as much excitement as the walk itself. 


While classical conditioning occurs naturally, we can also consciously use it as part of training and it’s one of the most powerful training tools available. Classical Conditioning does not focus on what the dog does or how he behaves instead classical conditioning focuses on how the dog feels and that’s why it’s so powerful.