ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Addressing the game of ‘keep-away’

Updated on June 7, 2013

I frequently receive calls from frustrated clients, asking for help with their pet dog’s off-leash recall. “MY DOG WON’T COME WHEN I CALL HIM!” they holler…”How do I fix this problem!?” they plead.

Unfortunately there is no ‘magic’ cure for poor recall, especially if your dog has learned ‘the game’ of ‘keep-away’ and has been able to play ‘the game’ over and over again. Training reliable off-leash recall is one of the most difficult tasks that a dog owner can teach their dog. Dogs, by nature, have a roaming instinct and they learn at a very early age to ‘follow their nose’. Even young puppies can quickly learn to ignore a ‘come’ command because the handler cannot re-enforce the command and insist on proper recall response. Compounding the problem, dogs absolutely LOVE the game of chase. Even wolves in the wild chase each other with joyful enthusiasm. Every time you try to catch your errant dog, you are playing the ‘chase’ game and perpetuating the problem. I offer here some tools to help prevent recall issues and address chronic poor recall habits.

Prevention: It is best to establish good recall behavior early, during puppy-hood. This is done primarily through preventive techniques and positive reinforcement when the puppy comes to the handler. Puppies must earn off leash privileges and the handler should be slow and systematic about when they begin offering off leash opportunities. This is a good strategy, as we all know it’s more challenging to break bad habits than it is to prevent bad habits from developing. Off leash opportunities should begin in small, confined areas, with minimal distractions. The handler should play daily recall games with the puppy---teaching him that coming to the handler earns big rewards---toys or food. The puppy should gradually be introduced to larger, enclosed areas, with more distractions that may tempt the puppy to avoid coming when called. The puppy continues to be reinforced for coming, each time he’s called. He should never be punished for not coming. This only encourages the puppy to avoid coming at all.

If you’ve recently adopted an older pet dog, and aren’t sure of his recall behavior, don’t make the common mistake of offering off-leash freedom until you know how your dog responds reliably to the come command! Keep the dog on leash or tie-down until you are certain that the dog has established consistent relieving habits and has demonstrated responsive recall and good house manners. When you start to allow some freedom, have your dog drag around a long leash for a while or offer freedom in a very small room and then gradually allow more freedom as your dog earns it. Always keep kibble handy and offer your dog a kibble EVERY TIME he comes to you, whether you call him or not, so he associates coming to you as VERY positive. Practice the recall command during Obedience and move further away from dog during the recall command. Do obedience just before you allow the dog off leash so your dog is in an ‘obedient’ state of mind when he’s let off leash. Never correct your dog if he doesn’t come to you. This will only teach him that coming to you is bad. Coming should ALWAYS be rewarded, whether he came of his own volition or not. Use of a Flexi-leash (retractable long line) is an excellent tool to use to re-enforce good recall and to allow dogs more room to run and play. Do not be deceived, however! Just because your dog comes promptly on the Flexi does NOT guarantee he will come off leash. He feels the taunt line and knows he is on a leash so he won’t play the game.

I would like to offer a strong word of caution about letting dogs off leash in un-fenced areas. Even if you believe your dog has a solid recall response, it only takes one incident of the dog being attracted to an environmental stimuli (i.e. squirrel or another dog), and taking off after it. I can tell you horror stories of clients who ‘thought’ their dog was reliable off leash, and then one day, the dog took off after a critter and was hit by a car. I strongly believe it is not worth the risk. It is worth the time to identify safe, fenced or secured areas for your dog to run and play.

Fixing the problem: So what do you do if you’ve made the mistake of allowing off leash freedom to a dog that has strong ‘keep away’ tendencies? As I stated earlier, it’s not an easy problem to fix and unfortunately, some dogs are so habitual with playing the keep-away game, they may never be reliable off leash. I often use the analogy of ‘heroin addiction’ to emphasize just how strong some dogs enjoy the game of keep-away. Even if a dog is not allowed off leash for years and is trained to improve recall, the same dog will immediately revert to keep-away behavior (or taking that hit of heroin) if given the opportunity.

The most humane way to address poor recall is through use of a long line and food reward. These two tools do the following: The long line allows the handler to always be able to catch the dog and re-enforce the ‘come’ command and the food reward is used to improve the dog’s willingness toward coming to the handler. A ‘long line’ is a long cotton lead with a snap on one end that is often used to lunge horses. It can be purchased in different lengths: 15-25 feet long and can be found in most pet stores. The dog wears the long line at all times, indoors and out. The handler gives the recall command only once. If the dog comes, the dog is rewarded with food. If the dog does not come, the handler picks up the end of the long line and pulls the dog toward him. Once the dog is in front of the handler, the handler rewards dog with praise and food reward. Remember, even though the dog didn’t come, we want to be consistent with rewarding the dog whenever he comes up to the handler, willingly or not. Over time and consistent use of long line and food reward, the dog should show improved responses to the recall command.

At this point, many handlers make the mistake of ‘assuming’ the dog’s recall is ‘fixed’ and they let the dog off the long line. BIG MISTAKE! For the habitual keep-away dog, you are feeding the ‘heroin addiction’! By offering off leash opportunity without a way to capture your dog, he’ll quickly revert back to playing the keep-away game. The dog is weaned off of the long line by gradually shortening the length of the long line over many months. In this situation we are ‘tricking’ the dog into believing he is still attached to a long line, even if he is just dragging around a 1-2 foot line. If the dog thinks he can’t play keep-away, he won’t try. The psychological aspect of feeling weight on the collar (the long line) is enough to prevent some dogs from playing keep-away. There may be some dogs who must wear a short weighted ‘tag’ (shortened long line) on their collars at all times for the remainder of their lives as a psychological tool to continue consistent recall.

A note about remote electric collars. Some professional pet trainers advocate use of a remote electric or shock collar to resolve off leash recall issues. I do not advise using this type of collar for recall issues. If the collar is used incorrectly or the dog is not trained to understand what the ‘shock’ means, the consequences can be very detrimental and even dangerous to your dog.

As always, if you feel overwhelmed or frustrated, please consult a professional dog trainer. The most important thing to remember is that prevention is far more effective than feeding the addiction!!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      5 years ago from USA

      Loved the advice given and am happy you share my thoughts about remote collars! Looking forward to reading more valuable content from you.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I find your information very useful! Thanks for sharing it with us! : ) Welcome to the hubs!! I look forward to reading more of your articles.

      Voted it up!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)