How to Teach a Dog to Come When Called

How to teach a dog to come when called

Dear Hindy,

We let our dog Buster off the leash the other day, for the first time. He had such a great time running around with the other dogs in the park, but he wouldn’t listen to me when I called him. It took ages for him to come back, and I was scared I was going to lose him. Please help. Thank you, Claire

How to Teach a Dog to Come When Called

Dear Claire,

I can imagine how scary that must have been! Teaching a dog to come when called (recall) can, literally, save his life. I recommend you keep Buster leashed until you’re sure his recall is where it should be. That doesn’t mean his fun in the park has to stop, try using a very long leash so he has some freedom.

There are different elements to this training, but let me get you started with the basics.

You need a quiet place with no distractions, so Buster can focus only on you. When he’s headed over to you wait until he’s quite close, maybe a couple of feet, call his name and say “come.” When he does, make a big fuss to show him how exciting it is when he comes to you, and do this every single time. If he’s food motivated, small pieces of his favourite treat are a big help!!

 

Practice this periodically throughout the day, every day, until you’re satisfied he’s listening then you can start calling him when he’s further and further away. Gradually introduce distractions into this training in the house, and in a fenced in backyard.

Keep sessions to around 5 or 10 minutes so he doesn’t get bored.

Good luck.

 

Hindy Pearson
I am a dog trainer and behaviour consultant, specialising in working with first time dog owners. Whether you're thinking of getting a dog and aren't sure if it's the right time, or you've been sharing your life with one for awhile but there are issues you can't resolve, I am here for you. No matter where in the world you live I can help.

32 Comments

  1. Dear Mishu

    Thanks for this great advice! I am great at “leave it” but not as great at ‘Come’… I always come, but sometimes on my own time. Thanks for the reminder that this can be a lifesaving command

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Mishu you sound like Jack. He’s very smart and knows what we’re asking, but sometimes he decides to do something else!! The one thing that always ensures he listens…food!

      Reply
  2. Anita, Purrsonal Assistant to The Tribe of Five

    Very good article, now if you could only help us figure out how to make felines come when we call!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I hear you Anita!! I love that you’re called a purrsonal assistant by the way! I would call my cats over and over and they would just look at me like “you’re kidding right?”

      Reply
  3. Ruth Epstein

    I did that with Layla when I first got her, long long leash which I let go so I could stand on it if she ran plus treats and within a month her recall was amazing. I tell people the same thing as it is the best way to go – great post

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      It’s much easier when a dog is very food motivated, like Layla and Jack. If he sees a treat in the distance he’ll come running. A long leash really makes the most sense, it gives them freedom but they’re safe while learning recall. When I see some dogs off leash my heart drops into my stomach. Yesterday I saw the cutest puppy running off leash, didn’t even have a dog tag. Makes me crazy!

      Reply
  4. Michelle Stern

    This is a great suggestion. We have had dogs in our younger days that didn’t have good recall, and it’s truly frightening. It also makes you doubt the bond you have with your dog. Now that I am older, wiser and more experienced, we like to make a fun game of it – with lots of treats and praise whenever our dogs give us attention or come to us (when requested or not).

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Making training fun is such a great idea Michelle, and when they’re food motivated they learn so much quicker don’t they!

      Reply
  5. Jen Clifford

    This is very helpful, for those of us who wonder where to start with recall training. I appreciate that you don’t just encourage food rewards but also attention as it’s own reward. I know the challenge I have with training in general is that I have 4 dogs! And we are usually together in a group. I can call one and get all 4…even if that is not what I want. Of course, when the smallest decides to bolt towards the street she is already past being recalled. We are working on that, lol. Slowly. Thanks again for the great advice!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Jen. Yep you have your hands full with 4, it’s a matter of training them individually but that sounds like a full time job!! Hope this helps with the little one!

      Reply
  6. Adriana Lopez

    That is for sure, having basic discipline down is so important. I took a 6 week class with my Bella for basic obedience and that helped me to create a bond with her. She is super intelligent so we have a good team. She knows how to please me. She even became a therapy dog.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      That’s wonderful Adriana, I bet you and Bella are making a lot of people very happy when you visit.

      Reply
  7. Michelle

    The long training lead often seems to be forgotten with new dog owners, but it is the best way to give dogs space to run and socialise until you feel that recall is to a good standard that you don’t freak out when they run off. Its a long process but definitely worth it! Great tips to starting recall training!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone using a long leash to give their dog freedom, while keeping them safe. Yesterday I did see a little puppy running off a leash, no collar. Now that makes me nervous!

      Reply
  8. Cathy Armato

    Teaching the Come when Called command is super important, one of the most important commands to teach your dog. It can keep him safe!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      So true Cathy, it’s getting them to listen with distractions that can be challenging…or if you have selective hearing like Jack does.

      Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    This is one of the commands that we are working on with Misha. I’d say about 75% of the time Misha listens, but the other 25%…. well she’s a Husky LOL!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      So what’s Jack’s excuse? He’s a Maltese mutt!!

      Reply
  10. Holly

    Great tips. I hate seeing dogs running wild and not responding when called. Frightening for everyone’s sake

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Holly. I agree with you, the number of times I’ve seen it and my heart ends up in my stomach.

      Reply
  11. Beth

    Having a great recall is super important. My dogs are always leashed when we go for walks because I think it is safer for all of us. Even though I don’t let them off leash, I try to work on their recall in case of an emergency.

    When I was ten, our dog slipped out of the car at the vet’s office and ran on to the highway. I yelled as loud as I could, “Polly, do you want to go for a walk?” Thankfully, she came running back! I wish I was as clear-headed now as I was then.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Beth that’s incredible to think of that, and at 10! Great instincts. I agree, I do think it’s safer, but once in a blue moon I let Jack off if we’re in a certain park because he’s excellent at “wait.” My husband lets him off quite regularly and he loves to run, but he has great recall with him…really because he’s so food motivated he’ll always come running for a treat.

      Reply
  12. Sandy Kubillus

    Yeah, I remember the difficulties of teaching my dog to come. It’s one thing in an obedience class or your yard, another when there are distractions. I found sometimes a good wait and then down worked good so I could approach and get her on a leash.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      You’re so right Sandy. Asking them to come in quiet of your home or yard is one thing, but when they’re distracted by cars and other dogs. That’s a whole other story. If they’re food motivated it helps a lot!!

      Reply
  13. Amelia Johnson

    Even though I am an experienced dog owner and former obedience instructor, I have not been continually reinforcing the “Come” with my puppy. Like many pet parents, I forget to refresh that very important command on a daily basis so that my pup will respond under any conditions. So glad you are here to help first-time dog owners.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I know what you mean Amelia. We get to reinforce it every time Jack is off the leash, although I admit I’m not as good at keeping up with other commands. The truth is they enjoy it don’t they, especially if you make it into a game.

      Reply
  14. Sadie

    It’s funny how some dogs can be trusted off-leash and others can’t. Of course, safety being the most important concern. I’ve been there – scary! Henry is nearly ten and he is the only one of our group that is not permitted to run around the property. Time for ‘refresher’ training.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I know what you mean, it’s totally scary. The thing that really freaks me out is when I see people walking their dogs without a leash…on the sidewalk! My heart is in my stomach because I’m so petrified the dog will run into the road. Thankfully it’s only the odd time because my heart can’t stand the stress. It will be interesting to hear how Harry gets on with his refresher course, he may be running around yet!!

      Reply
  15. Tenacious Little Terrier

    Training recall is an ongoing process. We still work on it regularly. Mr. N knows there’s good things to be had when he comes when called.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I think it’s so much easier when a dog is food motivated. Like Mr N, my dog also knows good things come to those who, well, come!

      Reply
  16. Katie Sample

    Great advice! I always like to tell people to make yourself the most exciting thing in the room for your dog. At the dog park there are other dogs and smells that can be distracting, especially since most dog parks don’t allow treats. Dogs love it when their owners are energetic and happy. I try to always bring that energy when I am interacting with my dogs. They see me as fun, even more fun than other dogs, so they listen when they hear me call. Calling your dog at the park should not be negative, i.e. coming when called equals leaving the park. Interact with your dog while you are in the park, not just when it is time to leave.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thank you Katie!! That’s interesting about no treats at the dog park, I’ve never heard of that before, certainly wasn’t the case where we used to go but it makes sense. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think a lot of people only call their dogs when it’s time to go home, so of course they’re not going to listen. We call Jack several times so he sees it’s not because we’re leaving. Great tip on making yourself the most exciting thing in the park, it’s tough to compete with all the fun distractions.

      Reply

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