100% recall?

I hear a lot of dog trainers, dog walkers and dog owners talk about a dog having ‘100% recall’.

I don’t agree that there is such a thing, and I don’t agree that it’s something every dog owner should aim for.

When we were dog walkers, 90% of the dogs we walked were walked off lead.

Some of them had exemplary recall, and it was exceedingly rare they would blow it off. Others had good recall as long as there weren’t certain distractions nearby (eg. sheep), and so with careful management they could easily be walked off lead.

I don’t think a dog can ever have 100% guaranteed recall, in *every* circumstance. Dogs are not robots, they are individuals. We make mistakes, they make mistakes, they get distracted.

I also don’t think 100% recall is necessary, but I’ll talk more about that in a bit 😉

My Aunt and Uncle inherited a Collie cross, Ellie, when I was about 11 years old. Ellie was about three years old at the time.

Ellie was the most superb dog on the planet, and I loved her with all my heart and wished that she was mine.

She passed when I was 21 years old (in fact the day she passed was the day we went to view Kasper), and if my Uncle had inherited her when I was 21, I would have taken her as my first dog in a heartbeat.

Ellie was everything you could want in a dog, and I made sure to walk her at least a few times a week from the ages of 13-18.

She was sweet, loving, energetic, and overflowed with joy.

Ellie had a shit time with my family; they didn’t let her anywhere in the house (including the family room) but shut her away in the kitchen. She didn’t get attention other than to be shouted at, and she got two crappy on lead walks round the block a day.

My Nana and myself would walk her when we were free; Ellie was great off lead and there was nothing more she loved than tearing around the fields and woods, and joyfully bringing sticks to us.

I loved that dog so much; family events (birthdays and such) would be held at my Uncle’s house, and as a teen instead of spending time with the family I would sit in the kitchen with Ellie or take her for a walk.

When I was 20 and at university Ellie had a stroke, and myself and partner left uni to come back and care for her, as my family were going on holiday and she was too ill to go to kennels.

We stayed for a few weeks and spent almost every hour of every day with her – she went from strength to strength. By the time we left she was eating again, and could even go for short (slow) 15 minute walks 🙂

So where am I going with this sentimental rambling?

Well, it was my Uncle’s dad who trained Ellie (no idea with what methods).

Ellie lived with my Uncle for close to ten years, and they never once did any training with her…yet she remembered everything she had been previously taught, and her recall was always incredible.


Ellie as a puppy

She would come every single time I called her, without fail, no matter what distractions were about.

In fact I used to walk her off lead around the village, by roads, across roads, past gardens and fields of sheep and all sorts. She was so reliable and I knew no better at the time.

However there was ONE time she blew off her recall, in the seven-ish years that I walked her.

We were on a quiet country walk, one we did fairy reguarly, and some deer took off fairly close by. Ellie was reliable around cows, horses, deer etc – yet she took after these deer and was deaf to my calls. This had NEVER happened before.

I hung about for ten minutes before she reappeared. I didn’t reprimand her at all (I could have never, ever been angry with that dog), but I did laugh in relief and tell her never to do that again 😛

Point being, Ellie was a dream dog, and she blew off recall only once in the almost 10 years that I knew her – she had the closest thing to 100% recall I’ve known in any dog, but it still wasn’t 100%.

Going on a tangent here, but it is thanks to Ellie that I wanted a Collie cross, and we ended up with Kasper. As much as I adore my dogs now, Ellie will always hold a special place in my heart ❤

Okay so I thought this was going to be a training post, and instead I’ve talked a lot about a very special dog…but that’s okay right?!

To finish up, I think recall should be something that dog owners work very hard on.

It should be an ongoing process, but 100% recall shouldn’t be expected.

I also think with careful management, off lead walks can be enjoyed with far less recall.

For example Raiden has the best recall of all our dogs – when there are no-mild distractions nearby. He will come from smells he finds extremely interesting, and he will come from chasing birds etc, but I know if there was a dog nearby he would most likely blow his recall.

For this reason we only let him off lead in areas where we can see all around us, and where we can see any dogs in the distance before he can.

Recall is something we are continuously working on and rewarding him for, but he doesn’t need to be kept on lead until it’s 98% when we use such careful management.


I’m sure there will be slip ups somewhere down the line, but that’s to be expected. In the almost year we have been walking Rey off lead, we have NEVER had him run up to a dog / person.

We will be working on recall with our dogs all their lives, and never take it for granted…but no matter how good a dog’s recall will be, I’ll never expect perfection.

So there you go. My thoughts on recall 🙂


3 thoughts on “100% recall?

  1. You’ll always find the odd gem here and there that absolutely guarantee their dog is 100% or say they can train any dog to be the same and generally speaking, I distrust anyone willing to make that type of promise or guarantee.

    Nothing is guaranteed.

    With Collies you always need to be on your toes to some extent because most will find every last one of their natural instincts kicking in at some point and that’s likely far stronger than any degree of training. Yes you can train them to be safe, reliable and responsive most of the time but there will always be a deer or a bird or even a rogue leaf / carrier bag that suddenly catches their eye and that’s it – gone.

    I have a youngster and 80% of the time she’s spot on. It’s the odd time a squirrel appears from nowhere or she’s surprised by a couple of ducks at the river that she forgets herself and kicks into “OH MY GOD I NEED TO CHASE AND BRING THAT BACK!!!” mode. As you rightly say it’s what they do and totally unreasonable to expect them not to do what we’ve bred into them over hundreds of years.

    Ellie is a beautiful dog by the way. Looks like a real kind old soul.

    • I’ve heard a lot of people claim their dog has 100% recall, and trainers say that’s what you should aim for…seems so unrealistic to me. I don’t expect my partner to respond every time I call to him, never mind my dogs XD

      Oh Kasper used to go wild for rabbits, squirrels and ducks. He was such a nightmare to walk off lead when he was younger 😀

      Thank you. Ellie was an incredible girl, I loved her to bits. She is the entire reason I opted for a Collie cross for my first dog 🙂

      • That’s just it though – the more they’re geared up as working dogs the harder it is to do anything about the “SQUIRREL!!!!!!!!!!!” instinct. It’s just in them so like it or not you’re saddled with it I’m afraid and need to find a way to work with it rather than against it. You’d be fighting a losing battle anyway. Look forward to reading more from you anyway. Take care x

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