Recall is a relationship-based behavior
It bears repeating: Recall is a relationship-based behavior. Your dog’s willingness to do it depends entirely on how much he trusts that returning to you will be worth his while. If your dog is ambivalent about his relationship with you, his response to a recall cue is likely to be ambivalent, too. If you are not in the habit of reinforcing your dog for the behaviors you’ve asked him for (or, worse, if you’ve meted out some aversive consequences to him), he may choose to ignore your cues, avoid you, or just take time after hearing your cue to “read the room” – to try to gauge whether you are likely to administer an aversive or a reinforcement.
This isn’t a judgment on any dog who does this; the fact is, it’s natural and normal for dogs to consider the consequences of any options in front of them and to choose whichever option is the most enjoyable (a.k.a., the least aversive). It’s poetic to think our dogs live to please us, but that’s just not true; they consider “What’s in it for me right now?” and do what works best for them. The sooner we accept this fact – and use our intelligence to set up training sessions so that our dog’s most enjoyable choice is to do what we want him to do, the sooner we become good dog trainers!
If you’re having trouble with recall, I urge you to think about your relationship and training style with your dog. The more enjoyable and interesting you are to your dog – and the more you’ve shown him that you can be counted on to provide good things, the more motivated your dog will be to come to you when you call him. In contrast, if you’ve been physically or verbally harsh or scary with him, he’s naturally going to think twice before coming to you. But in any sort of emergency, you don’t want your dog to hesitate to come to you; you want him to know, instantly and unequivocally, that racing to you immediately will result in all the things he likes best: food, fun, praise, attention, and affection.