How to Get Your Dog to Come When Called

You and your dog are enjoying a lovely afternoon at the dog park.

You glance at your watch and realize it’s time to go. You call your dog. What happens next? Does your pup stop playing and rush on over to you, or does your dog glance over his shoulder and decide to keep on playing? Or, let’s say you’re out for a walk, and you accidentally drop the leash. As your dog follows her nose away, you call her back. Does she dash to your side or keep on sniffing?

Getting your dog to come to you when called is a critical behavior for both convenience and safety. But, how do you teach a reliable come, especially if your dog already chooses not to respond when you call?

Pick a Cue

This critical behavior can become reliable with work and patience. First, ask yourself if your dog consistently, reliably ignores you when you call her to come. If so, before you start training, you need to come up with a new recall work because “come” is, in her mind, okay to ignore. If you haven’t expressly taught a recall to your dog, you can use “come” or any other word of your choosing. Also, consider adding a hand signal, like an up-stretched arm, so that you can use the cue if your dog gets too far to hear you call.

Set the Stage

Once you have your cue word determined, pick the quietest spot in the house during the calmest point in the day. Before breakfast works great because it’s typically quiet and your dog is usually hungry. Grab some treats or bits of food. Stand a few steps away, and call your dog, “Sadie, come,” as you skip backwards a couple steps. This will seem exciting, and she’ll rush over to you. Reward her with a treat. In no time, after a few repetitions, your dog will realize that coming when called is actually a pretty fun game—with prizes!

Practice

After you’ve done this in the quiet calm of your home and your dog is responding reliably, a common mistake is to assume your dog will now come to you when out at the park. Instead, you need to develop that basic skill further. First, move the practice to your yard. It’s far more distracting than your home, but not as distracting as the park. Keep your dog on leash to keep the practice time focused, and only work on “come” in short bursts. Always end the training session with something fun and simple, like chasing a ball or practicing her favorite tricks.

Once she has it down on leash in the backyard, move to the front yard where there are even more distractions. Consider switching from her leash to a long line to safely increase the distance between the two of you. When you do move the practice to the park, at first go back to her regular leash, then after some reliable practice sessions, switch to the long line. Continue to increase the distance between the two of you and the distractions in the practice area until she’s responding reliably. Only then should you move the practice to a zone like the dog park.

Tips and Tricks

To increase your effectiveness as her trainer, here are a few key tips to remember. First, only give the command a single time. If she doesn’t respond, you’re not making yourself exciting enough. Skip, dance, use a sing-song voice, whatever it takes. Second, once she’s responding to “come,” be sure you don’t only use her recall to leave the park or to end play. Instead, alternate; sometimes call her to you, throw her a reward party, then release her back to the game. Third, even if she’s gone on a “freedom run,” when she does return, never scold your dog. Even if she was badly behaving prior to returning to you, she still earns her reward for returning. Finally, if you find your dog takes off again immediately after receiving her treat reward, give several treats for a prolonged period—but sporadically. She’ll stick around to see if she’s about to earn a jackpot. Then, consider training a “sit” immediately after she comes to you.

Meet the Author: Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.

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