3. Come Back When Called

Exercise 3.8 - Recall to Heel / Side

Recall to heel is one of my favourite exercises particularly in group classes where there are so many distractions.  It's also a critical foundation exercise for agility training if you think you might like to try that when your dog is old enough (over 1year old).


Not only does it improve your recall practice, it teaches:

  • Collection/rear end awareness
  • Coming to the handlers side
  • Head, arm and eye contact cues
  • The 'power' of the hand!

In classes I often encourage handlers to give their recall cue and then walk away. Why?


Because walking away encourages your dog to come to you.


Applied animal behaviourist and dog trainer Patricia McConnell, in the book "The Other End of the Leash" explains that the best way to get a dog to come to you is by turning away from him in the opposite direction.


If you are calling your dog and moving towards your dog your voice is saying "come over here" while your body is saying "stay there."


Indeed, dogs use body blocks a lot. Think how a herding dog keeps sheep from moving forward by placing their body in their direction. If you move yourself into your dog's space, even just by bending your body forward, from a doggie perspective you are asking him to stop in his tracks; the total opposite of a recall!


By moving your body away you are, therefore, encouraging your dog to follow you. If you watch dogs playing, you will notice dogs encourage chasing by moving away.


From an agility foundation perspective, this exercise:

  • Builds body awareness / collection skills. To come running up and stop at your side your dog learns to change from extension to collection.
  • Reinforces your dog coming to the indicated side without cutting behind you or in front of you.
  • Reinforces all body cues, especially motion (including de/acceleration), shoulders, arms and eye contact. You are presenting your rotated shoulders, arm, eye contact and rewarding your dog for coming to the correct side. Each rep of the drill reinforces those cues - the same cues all agility handling systems use when running a course.


Teaching Recall to Heel / Side

  • Start with a very small step forward.
  • Your goal is for your dog to remain standing with his body straight forward next to your knee.
  • Gradually move further away.
  • To help your dog learn to better control his rear end and stop straight, you can work up against a wall.
  • Vary your practice recalling to heel while you’re stationary, moving away and from different angles.

Once you can do all this on the flat, you can have a pole / broom handle on the ground as an obstacle between you and the dog. (Note: puppies under 1 year old should not be asked to jump anything as it can damage their joints which are still developing.  This is why you shouldn’t start proper agility training until your dog is over 1 year old, 18 months for large breeds).


Work in short sessions, always work both sides and have fun!