Buy a good recall
A good recall is important and very achievable.
What is important to remember is that dogs don’t just do as they’re told because you’re the boss. See Dominance theory is outdated for more details.
Dogs, like most animals, only do what’s in their best interests. Things that they find rewarding. Because they don’t think like us they don’t understand long term gratification like we do. I work for a whole month before I get paid but I doubt my dog would keep working for very long at all (doing the things I want him to do) if I stopped paying him.
I pay him with ball throws, food, praise, freedom, water, opportunities to hunt, bite and all the other things he loves to do. If he likes it, it is a possible reward for doing something I want, when I want.
I am always looking for new analogies to help people understand why positive reinforcement training is so effective and should be top of your list of training tools.
If you give a command and your dog doesn’t carry it out then it either doesn’t understand the command or has a more rewarding alternative. Either way, you need to look at your training and adjust things accordingly.
If you know for a fact that you did your groundwork and made the correct associations between command and action ie said come AS your dog was in the act of coming, and later were able to get the dog to come by using your command then your problem lies in your rewards.
You need to ensure that you are rewarding sufficiently. If your dog is happily playing with another dog and you call it to you and put it on the lead and take it home, you have effectively punished the act of coming and made it less likely it will come back in the same situation. If however you gave it a big chunk of sausage and then let it go and play again, you will probably find the dog just as likely to return next time.
Easy recalls with little or no distraction need to be given high level rewards initially. This gets the dog into the habit of coming back and creates a mentality that coming when called is a good thing and more rewarding than what the dog would have been doing.
The rewards can then be mixed and matched as the distraction gets harder. Don’t just make the recalls harder and harder though as you will eventually reach failure. Instead adopt a two steps forward, one step back approach. Chuck in a really easy recall with a really high level reward every now and again to keep the dog sweet.
If you think of it in terms of payment, the big rewards for easy recalls are money in the bank. Each reward you give is a deposit and each recall a withdrawal. Difficult recalls are a big withdrawal and should be balanced by smaller deposits. Keep a rough mental tally of how much money you have in the bank.
The first signs of failure should indicate that you have gone overdrawn, either by making too big a withdrawal early on or by making too many withdrawals and not enough deposits.
With this mentality and approach to training, you accept responsibility for your dogs training and recognize failures as warnings that YOU have not done your job properly. This avoids frustration and blame towards the dog who at the end of the day is just doing what he finds rewarding.
If you want your dog to do something at a certain time and place in response to a given command then YOU and YOU alone are responsible for ensuring he has the skills and motivation to do so.