What No One Tells You about Teaching Your Dog To Come

The world is full of interesting distractions and fun things to see. This is true for people and it’s true for dogs! I think this is one of the reasons I often get emails from frustrated pet parents who want to know how to get their dog to come to them. So in a world full of distractions here are some things no one tells you about teaching your dog to come.

First, remember your dog isn’t ignoring you because he doesn’t love you. Even if you have a strong relationship with your dog, there may be times when your dog will get involved with something really interesting and might need a moment before paying attention to you (it’s the same thing that happens when we don’t hear our kids or significant other talking to us while we are engrossed in a T.V. show, sports event, or website). I’m not saying this is necessarily good, just that it’s reality. Your dog loves you even if he might not be paying attention to you.

Second, you need to train your dog to understand the come cue. Too often I see folks who assume their dog knows what “come” means because sometimes when they ask the dog to come, the dog does it. But if you haven’t been intentional about teaching the word “come” to your dog, then it’s likely he is only coming because he is a social animal that likes to be near you. When nothing else is going on and you encourage him to come to you, he is very likely to head your direction. He’s doing this because you seem friendly…not necessarily because you’ve taught him to come.

For puppies this is especially true. Puppies under 4 months tend to stay close to people (and return to them quickly) because they are a bit wary of the world. This often leads the family to believe their dog has a beautifully trained recall. Then at 5 months of age when the puppy isn’t so wary, he discovers the world is a big fun place and stops coming to you. That’s when I get the calls stating, “My dog no longer listens to me.”  The truth is, he wasn’t really trained before. When he was younger he was coming because you were his safe place and he was too scared to go far away.

Third, practice and repetition are key to training your dog. Here are two tips to training your dog to come to you:

  • Set your dog up for success. Start close to him. Call him to you and then give him a really good reward (like chicken, cheese, or a fun toy) and then let him go play again. Repeat this over and over so that your dog learns that coming to you gets him something really good and then he can go play again.  This is a great time to take advantage of the young puppies that come to you easily. Rather than simply marveling at your brilliant dog, remember to actually reward him for the behavior. What gets rewarded gets repeated!
  • Increase distance and distractions gradually. Dogs need to learn how to come from farther distances gradually. Don’t go too far away too soon. The same applies to distractions. Calling your dog away from something boring is much easier than calling him away from something fun like another dog!  So expect that he will need some help (by you moving closer to him) when he is far from you or around distractions initially.

Finally…avoid the biggest pitfall to teaching “come” to your dog: Be careful that you aren’t calling your dog to you only at times when he gets put in the crate or put in a room alone. Far too often the only time we actually use the come cue with our dogs is to get control of them and take them away from the fun they are having. This is a sure way to mess up the come behavior because the dog starts to learn that coming means all the fun ends.

With practice and patience you can have a dog that comes to you all the time!

What other ways have you used to teach come to your dog?

Worried about how to handle loose dogs that you encounter on walks? Be sure to check out my 13-page pdf download How To Handle Loose Dogs and Dog Fights

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

13 thoughts on “What No One Tells You about Teaching Your Dog To Come

  1. Robin,

    Great advice! We see so many people trying to get their dog to do simple commands, such as Come, but what is more amazing is that many dogs do not even recognize their own name. So working with the commands above, we encourage owners to work on helping their dog know their name, so that they can work on the basic commands with confidence. Building trust with commands and with your voice can go a long way when you go out to eat with them or take them on a walk. After all, you want the dog to realize you are more important than the squirrel or other dog down the street.

    Take care,
    Jack Bobeck

  2. Love this article Robin! Motivation, us silly humans tend to forget something may be more motivating than us. 😉 I often tell my clients, be more fun!

  3. I enjoyed reading this well written article, and I will pass it along. This will be helpful to many people who struggle with getting their dogs to come.

  4. My husband laughed at me when I started training our puppy. Jumping up and down and calling her. She loves to come and see what is going on. On our morning walk, when it is light out, I let her off her leash she gets ahead of us (me and our other dog) I call her and she comes running. She is almost 11 months and we are never done the training but she is doing great!

  5. Perhaps the final item to consider is that there are always limits on recall, and you should never assume, but safely test first. My fosters will come when called, from hundreds of yards away, but provided there’s no cat or such running in front of them, possibly across a street with traffic. So they always remain on leash if that situation is possible. While my dog has had specific impulse training and tested to sit or stand in place while even a cat or rabbit runs by. Never assume…

  6. I am a dog groomer, dog sitter, behaviorist and Long time rescuer.
    I just signed up for your video graph & newsletter and I can’t tell you how excited I am to receive more info on our industry. I am new to grooming and boarding, so I invite any and all info that will help me have a more successful business. Thank you for availing this info to those who truly want to learn how to care for our clients better & grow our business!
    Licks & Slobbers,
    No Dog Left Alone!
    Sitter & groomer

    • Thanks for your kind words, Tammy. I’m glad you found the information helpful and look forward to getting to know you better!

  7. Thanks for this advice! Teaching “come” can be so frustrating! I’ve noticed that dogs go through a definite phase of maturity when suddenly they are more inclined to listen (in my experience 2 years is a magic number). With my latest dog I’ve been using a whistle – two blasts mean “Come” – that way I don’t accidentally dilute the meaning of the word “come” by using it when I don’t really mean it, or am not prepared to follow up with the good treats, etc. Two tweets of the whistle only ever mean “come here and sit in front of me” and can’t be confused with anything else! I also keep the whistle(s) next to bags of extra yummy treats, so they are always on hand. I practice by randomly blowing the whistle when I’m sitting on the couch watching TV, or when we are doing other things in the house or outside. I have a real problem with my dogs barking up a storm at the fence line. I don’t want to contribute to the barking by yelling at them, and if I’m in the house they certainly can’t hear (or simply ignore) my firm, calm “come” command… but they can hear the whistle! Unless the neighbor’s goat is standing right in front of the gate the whistle is usually enough to break their concentration and send them running inside and up the stairs to find me and a handy treat!

  8. Lots of great information. I would add that it is important to take your dog by the collar when he comes to you as this will be something you will need to do many times during the life of your dog and it’s important that they don’t feel they need to try and get away. Call your dog to come, take him by the collar and praise him or give a food reward, and like you say in your post let him go to play again. Thank you.

  9. When my dogs tree a squirrel, they will look at me but will not come. If I get too close, they play keep away from me while circling the tree. They would like to stay there til the squirrel leaps out, but by then, I’m running late to where I need to go. What do you recommend in this extreme distraction situation?

  10. great advice for pet owners. as someone who works with dogs everyday. a comeback is so important. the thing to remember is your dog is associating that word with the action so have its call back something specif and don’t change it. and often is your struggling with a call back try teaching them sit first so if the dog is not responding you can sit them down then call them to you so they are first paying attention to you and not whatever distractions are out there. there not as torn between you and the nearby squirrel.

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