Like many other dogs around the world, your sweet pooch doesn’t always listen.
He’s usually confined to the fenced-in yard and walked on a leash, so really he doesn’t need to come every time he’s called, does he? Let’s discuss some potential scenarios and then you can decide for yourself.
- The doorbell rings and when you open the door to answer it, your dog slips outside, making straight for the street. You immediately yell for your dog to come. Will she listen?
- While walking with your dog in the park, a loose dog runs up behind you, trying to initiate a game of chase. Your dog pulls free of the leash and bolts across the park after the loose dog. You issue a sharp command for your dog to come back. Will he respond?
- You’re driving your dog to the vet, and when you arrive, instead of waiting to be leashed, your dog hops out of the car and heads in the opposite direction. Sure, she hates the vet, but she’ll come when your call, right?
Maybe these scenarios will never happen to you, but there’s a good chance that you will find yourself in a situation with your dog when coming when called is crucial.
This article will teach you to train your dog to come reliably when called. Whether you’re working with a new puppy, training an older dog, or just hoping to solidify a rusty recall, we can help!
Why Come is the Most Important Command Your Dog will Ever Learn
Teaching your dog to come when called can be a lifesaver!
A solid recall will ensure that no matter what situation you find yourself in with your dog, they will come to you when you call. You will worry less about traffic and other dangerous situations, knowing that your dog will respond to†you when it matters most.
Teaching a good, dependable recall will also build trust between you and your dog. It will enable you to adventure together and rely on each other. While all training is important, the come command will help you and your dog navigate a world of people, wildlife, pets, and traffic with ease.
Training Your Dog to Come When Called
Not only is training your dog to come critical for a safe and happy dog, it’s also one of the most difficult commands to master, for both you and your pup.
Why? Because a good recall needs a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of trust. There are also a lot of variables to consider that may affect the outcome of your recall.
Before we get into step-by-step instructions, it’s important to remember that every single time your dog comes to you, they are giving up their freedom for you. When your dog responds to the come command, you must always honor their trust by making each and every recall a positive experience. Give them a party with treats, praise, and loving, and they won’t soon forget it.
Positive Reinforcement Training
There are many methods for training dogs, but in this article we’re going to focus on training your dog to come using positive reinforcement training.
With positive reinforcement training, you reward the behaviors you want to see with something your†dog wants. Treats are often used as a reward, especially for food-motivated breeds like labs or golden retrievers, but you can also reward your dog with petting, praise, or playtime.
The key to successful reinforcement training is timing and consistency. The reward should come immediately after your dog has done what you’ve asked, and it should happen every single time.
When your dog obeys a command, follow up with a marker word, such as “yes” or “good” and give them their reward. You can also use a clicker to mark their success. For more about clicker training and how it is used with positive reinforcement training, check out Karen Pryor Clicker Training.
Training Your Puppy to Come When Called
Working with a puppy has plenty of advantages over working with an older dog. First of all, puppies are born with an instinct to stick close to their pack to keep them safe. This means that they will always want to be by your side, and even the most interesting smells and distractions will not lure them away.
You can definitely use this to your advantage!
First Step: Name Recognition
You will use your dog’s name before just about every command, so when working with a new puppy, their name is the first thing you should teach them. Before you can start using the come command, you need to make sure that your puppy knows you are talking to them!
Teaching your pup their name will ensure that you have their attention before you issue a command. Their name should never be used for anything, except to get their attention.
Choose a time to practice this when your dog is not distracted – perhaps when you are playing together. Say your dog’s name, and when they look to you, use your chosen marker word combined with treats and praise.
If your pup doesn’t look at you, it’s okay to clap your hands, snap your fingers, or make some sort of noise to get their attention, but as soon as they look at you – big rewards!
When teaching name recognition, it’s important to repeat these steps many times each day – say their name, get a response, give a reward. Do not repeat their name over and over and over, though. Instead say it once and wait for a response, and use it only when you want their attention, never to punish or scold.
Next, Teach Come When Your Puppy is Coming
As I mentioned above, your new puppy will spend a lot of time near you in the first few months. If you see your puppy coming toward you, say their name and “come.” Use an upbeat voice and positive body language and treat them lavishly when they get to you.
Yes, they were coming to you anyway, but it’s important to reinforce the command while they’re young. They will associate coming with the voice command and your happy demeanor. Repeat this until you think your dog understands the word “come”.
Puppy Ping Pong
Before long, your puppy will understand that every time you use the word “come,” good things happen. Now you’re ready to reinforce this thinking with some fun and games.
Puppy ping pong does not involve a ping pong ball. You’ll need a partner to help you with training and some treats to use as rewards. Sit on the floor with your dog and have your partner sit a few feet away. Your partner should say your dog’s name and “come” in a very excited voice. They can use hand gestures or other noises as well to get your pup to come to them. When your pup comes, your partner should say “yes” and offer lots of treats and praise, then grab the pup’s collar so they stay.
Now it’s your turn.
Have your partner release the pup’s collar and use a release word such as “free”. Say your dog’s name and “come”. When your pup comes to you, give lots of rewards!
Continue like this until your dog has the hang of it, but don’t play for so long that it becomes boring. Repeat a few times each day. Once your pup has mastered coming a few feet, you can increase the distance between you and your partner, even sitting in different rooms so your puppy has to find you! Puppy ping pong really enforces the recall, making it fun and rewarding.
Puppy Hide and Seek
Here’s another fun game for reinforcing the come command. You’ll need another partner for this one, unless your dog has a really good stay.
Have your partner hold your dog’s collar while you go and hide somewhere in the house (start easy!). When you’ve hidden, say your dog’s name and “come”. It may take a minute or two for your pup to find you, but when they do, reward and praise!
Hide and seek can be played with young pups and older dogs, and it’s especially fun on rainy days when outside time may be limited. If your dog can maintain a good stay, then you can put them in a stay while you hide, working on two critical skills at once.
A Step-by-Step Guide for Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called
Your dog doesn’t have to be a puppy to learn how to come when called. Even older dogs can develop a solid recall, provided you teach it with patience and consistency. Here’s are step-by-step instructions for teaching come using positive reinforcement.
Step 1: Start indoors, in a space that provides minimal distractions for your dog. When your dog is nearby, say their name and “come”. You want to be very upbeat and very exciting.
Step 2: Your dog, who wasn’t doing much anyway, will almost certainly come to you. This calls for a party!! Offer treats and praise and then use a release word, such as “free” to end the experience. Do this several times throughout the day.
Step 3: Now that you’ve worked the command inside, it’s time to try it outside with a leash. This will work better if you have a long leash, but even a short one will work in a pinch. Take your dog out on the leash, wait for them to walk to the end of it. Say their name and “come”. If they come, throw them another party with lots of treats. If they don’t come, walk around a bit and then try again.
The video below goes into more detail as well as more challenges you can add to reliably proof your dog’s recall.
Proofing Your Dog’s Come Response
The step-by-step instructions for training your dog to come are easy, but there’s a lot more to it than working through the steps. Once you’re sure your dog understands what they’re supposed to do when you call them, you have to proof the behavior.
Proofing is important for all training exercises, but especially when teaching your dog to come when called. If you’ve never heard of proofing, take a few minutes to read about it here.
Basically, you want to ensure that your dog comes in every single situation – in the park, when there are other dogs around, or on a busy street corner. Your dog’s come response is only as good as its practical usefulness. If you can only get your dog to come in your fenced-in yard on a sunny day in May, then you won’t get much use from it.
Using The Three Ds
In order to proof your dog’s come response, you will have to work in many different situations. Do not move on to more challenging situations until your dog will reliably come to you in easy situations without distractions. The three Ds are distance, duration, and distraction. Using them will help you gage how well your dog is doing in every situation.
Here’s an example:
Your dog has developed a solid recall in the house, on a long leash, and in your yard. Now it’s time to work in a new setting. How about a quiet dog park or a neighbor’s yard with a few more distractions? Let your dog explore the new environment for a few minutes before beginning your training. If you are in a safe place, feel free to let your dog explore off leash.
Now, ask for a come by saying your dog’s name and “come” loud and clear. If your dog comes to you, give your marker word and a reward. Remember that new environments will often be challenging for your dog. If your dog follows through, offer extra praise and rewards.
If your dog doesn’t come, you need to ask yourself why and adjust one of the three Ds.
- Distance – Your dog didn’t come because you were too far away. Next time, move closer to your dog before calling them.
- Duration – Your dog may have had too much time to explore and was disconnecting from you. Try giving the command at closer intervals.
- Distraction – Too many distractions may make it hard for your dog to concentrate. Move your dog further away from distractions and try again.
Tips for Teaching a Successful Come
Teaching a good recall requires patience and consistency. Here are a few strategies to help you succeed:
- Use high-value rewards – Reserve special training treats just for teaching your dog to come. You want this recall to be foolproof, so don’t skimp! If your dog goes crazy for hot dogs, chop some up and add them to your treat pouch.
- Don’t repeat yourself – Each time you have to repeat yourself when calling your dog, it diminishes your command and makes it that much easier to ignore. It’s not, “Rover, come come – I said, come!” Say your dog’s name and the command, once.
- Do repeat yourself – While you should NOT use the come command over and over, you should definitely practice a lot. Call your dog, give lots of rewards when they respond, and release them. Now do it all over again so your pup knows what to expect. Practice several times each day until your dog comes running whenever you ask.
- Make yourself fun and exciting – Especially at the beginning, you want your dog to want to come to you . Be cheerful, bounce up and down, act really goofy – whatever you have to do to make your dog want to be right where you are.
- Make sure everyone is on board – If your dog spends time with more than one person, than everyone has to agree to work on this command together. They should know how to do it and how important it is. Your dog’s life may depend on it.
- Set your dog up for success – If you aren’t sure your dog will come to you, don’t risk calling them. The more times you call your distracted dog and they fail to come, the more they will learn to ignore you. If you really don’t think your dog will come, go get them instead of calling them.
- Build trust in your relationship – Teaching a solid recall takes time. A strong bond between trainer and dog is always the most important role in training any command.
Troubleshooting Your Dog’s Recall
Does your dog ignore you when you call? Does he sometimes act like he’s forgotten his name? Here are some explanations for why your recall isn’t working and what you can do about it.
- You’re moving too fast – Ideally, each training session should build on the one before it. Before you move outside, make sure your dog comes reliably in the house. Before you practice in the park, be sure that your dog comes to you in your yard. If you try to get your dog to come in a situation they aren’t ready for, you’ll totally diminish your command.
- Your dog is too distracted – What is your dog doing when she ignores a recall? Playing with other dogs? Barking at the neighbors? Chewing a bone? Your dog may be too distracted to listen. If you think this is the case, only call your dog when they are already paying attention to you.
- You’re repeating yourself – We touched on this earlier, but if your dog is ignoring you completely, it may be because they’ve simply stopped listening to you. If your dog does not come on the first try, go get them.
- You’re boring – Your dog needs a reason to come to you. Building a strong bond is the first step. The second is making it worth their while. Whatever you’re offering has to be more interesting than the dog barking next door, the fire hydrant on the corner, and the squirrel in the nearby tree. If you have to throw a party to get your dog to come, do it.
- You’re punishing your dog for coming – Want to ruin a decent recall? Call your dog to you for a scolding, bath time, medications, and nail clippings. As a general rule, don’t call your dog to you when you’re going to do something they don’t like. Either go and get them, or call them to you and engage is a fun activity together before getting down to business.
Final Thoughts on Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called
Teaching your dog to come is one of the most important things you will ever teach them. You want your dog’s recall to be rock solid, but can you expect 100% success? The answer is – maybe.
Your dog is not a robot and just like you, they’ll have days when they’re not on top of their game. The best you can do is your very best. Strive for a reliable recall, keep practicing, and be patient with yourself and your dog. Before long, you and your dog will have developed a recall you can both be proud of!