How to Teach a Dog to Come When Called: A Simple Guide

Training your dog to come, or recall as it is also known, is one of the most important things you can teach him. It could, literally save his life one day.

There are many ways to teach recall, one very simple method to try is this: When your dog is coming towards say his name and the word “come” in an excited tone. Give him a treat and heaps of praise when he gets to you.  

Why is it important to teach your dog to come?

Aside from the fact we want our dogs to listen to us, teaching your dog a solid recall is about safety. 

  • If he’s running towards the road
  • Off leash and getting too far out of your sight
  • Escapes from your backyard
  • What seems to be an aggressive dog is coming towards him
  • He’s about to chase a squirrel or other creature

 When not to call your dog to come

As important as it is for your dog to listen when you ask him to come, it’s also important to know when not to use this command. If he hates having drops put in his eyes for example, or would rather do anything than take a bath, don’t ask him to come. If you call him over to do something he finds unpleasant, there will be a negative association attached to the word “come” and he won’t listen. That’s a lot of great training effort down the drain.  

How long does it take to teach a dog recall?

It can take months for your dog to learn a consistent recall before it’s safe to let him off a leash. Lots of practice in different situations and locations will be key to this training.

Getting ready for recall training

Rewarding a dog as soon as he does what you ask is the quickest path to success. If it takes time for your dog to get that reward because you have to go into the next room or you’re fumbling in your pocket, he won’t make the connection. The reward must immediately follow the behavior or action.

Use the same cue every time

The easiest cue to use is the word “come.”  

Practice, practice, practice

Recall is a tough thing for a dog to learn, or I should say consistent recall. You need to practice it a lot in a variety of locations, situations, and with a variety of distractions.

Reward your dog for listening

You need to show your dog that coming when you call him is more rewarding than ignoring you. It can be tough at times, especially when he’s about to chase that squirrel across the road. For that reason he needs to know he’s getting something amazing.

Irresistible treats

For this training use the food your dog loves the most, and will do almost anything to have. For every dog that will be different, so if you aren’t quite sure what will work try various types to find what he responds to best. At the beginning you’ll want to be generous with the treats, but as your dog progresses you won’t need to use such big pieces. You don’t want him to gain weight or get an upset stomach.

Since you must reward your dog immediately, a treat pouch is the best thing to use.

Some of the foods to try:

  • Cheese
  • Deli meat
  • Boiled chicken
  • Hot dogs
  • Freeze dried treats
  • Homemade treats – lots of easy to make recipes on Pinterest

Lots of praise

Some dogs respond better to praise than they do food, so that may be a more motivating reward.  

A favorite toy

Your dog may have a toy he absolutely loves, so when you’re doing recall training in the house, use that as a reward.

Whatever you use, whether it’s one or a combination, it has to be fabulous enough for him to leave what he’s doing and go to you. It could be when training outside a treat will work better, while in other situations he’d be happy with a lot of praise and fuss.

How to teach a dog to come when called

How to get your dog to come back when you call him

There are lots of ways to teach your dog to come when you call, but no matter which training scenarios you set up, each one involves saying his name then the word “come.”

Below you will find a few examples to get you started, feel free to create your own challenges as well. In any training you want to set your dog up for success so start with something easy and gradually make it more challenging but that will take many weeks or even months.

When he’s gotten really good at responding, you could ask him to sit before giving him a treat. You don’t need to do that every time, once in awhile is okay.

Helpful tip: As your dog is coming/running towards you, let him know he’s on the right track by saying something like “yes” or “good boy” in a really excited voice, even clap your hands and say “yay.” That will give him even more reason to keep going towards you.

Keep training sessions to 5-10 minutes at a time, or your dog may get fed up. It’s always best to end training on a high note meaning when he did what you asked.

Keep treats within easy reach, you never know when a training moment will come up and you want to be ready…just like in method one below.

Method 1

When you see your dog walking towards you in the house for example, call his name, say “come” and give him a treat. What a great training opportunity!

Method 2

This method is for two people.

Stand a distance apart from each other, then take turns calling your dog – say his name, come and give him a treat. If he wanders off you may be standing too far away from the other person, so move closer.

If you call him and he’s not responding, do what you can to encourage him – getting more animated may help.

Method 3

Call him randomly while you’re facing him.

Method 4

Can him when your back is turned.

Method 5

Call him when you’re sitting down.

Method 6

Call him from another room.

Method 7

Practice somewhere less familiar but still familiar. For instance, if you live in an apartment, do some recall training in the hallway. If you have another person to help, stand a short distance from each other, take turns calling your dog and rewarding. Over time increase the space between you.

To make it even more challenging, when you’re a good distance apart introduce a third person to stand in the middle.

You’ve done lots of recall training in various places inside, and while you’ll still keep that up it’s now time to try it outside.

Method 8

Keeping your dog on a long leash, go into your backyard. Keeping him on a leash is perfect if your yard isn’t fenced in, but even if it is it will prevent him from getting distracted.

Give him a chance to sniff around first, then standing or sitting call him just like you’ve been doing inside. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t do as well to begin with, because now there are lots of sights, sounds and smells competing for his attention.

If he’s not really paying attention, stand close to him and in your excited voice say your dog’s name and come. Run slowly backwards, enticing your dog to follow then reward him. You may have to reward him for every step or two he takes towards you, particularly if he’d rather smell the grass than listen to you.

Method 9

Now it’s time to challenge him in the park. At first go when it’s quiet, or at least where there aren’t any other dogs or people. Unless you’re in a fenced in area, please practice this a lot when he’s on a long training leash.

Method 10

This is about introducing distractions and can be done whether you’re training inside or out.  

Standing really close to your dog and with a squeaky toy in your hand squeak it a few times, drop it on the floor, call your dog’s name, show her the treat, take a few steps back, and when she follows her the treat. If your dog hates squeaky toys use something else.

Next throw the toy, not too far from your dog. As she’s going towards it call her name, come and treat. She may be looking back at the toy, so keep calling her, showing her the treat, walking backwards to distract her away from it and keeping her focus on you.

Another big challenge is putting a bowl of food or treats down near her. This would also be a good opportunity to practice the “leave it” command you’ve been teaching. You want to do the same thing as you did with the toy – being very enthusiastic when you call her, trying to get her focused on you.

Keep a close eye on your dog because if it looks like she’s going to make a beeline for the food, pick the bowl up. It’s best not to let her get to it because the next time you try it she’ll be focused even more on the food.

IMPORTANT: There is no rush to work your way through this training, it won’t help her learn recall any faster. In fact, not spending enough time at each step can set her back. If she’s not listening to you when it’s just the two of you in the house, there’s no chance she’ll pay any attention when you’re calling her in the park.

How to Teach a Dog to Come When Called A Simple Guide

How to teach a dog to come without treats

Is there a reason why you don’t want to use treats for training? Unless your dog has no interest in food, treats make training easier. It will likely take months before you’re able to wean your dog off them, and that’s okay.

If you’re concerned about him eating too much don’t give him huge pieces and speak to your vet about the possibility of reducing his meals slightly to compensate.

When we were teaching our dog Jack recall, he quickly learned that he got food by running back and forth between the two of us. He didn’t even wait for one of us to call him before he was halfway there. That certainly was not teaching him to listen, so sometimes we gave him a treat, and sometimes we didn’t. It kept him guessing and kept him coming with high hopes!

We still give him treats to this day because that’s what he responds to, but not as often. Now my husband just gives him treats because he’s so cute…don’t get me started on that!!

What to do if your dog won’t come when called

♦ You may need to ramp up the level of enthusiasm you use to call him.

♦ Check you’re not too far away from him too early on in the training.

♦ Let him chase you a bit then reward him.

♦ If you’ve just started recall in the backyard, it’s normal for him to be distracted by the grass, smells etc… Give him a few minutes.

♦ Sometimes you need to show him the treat first to motivate him.

♦ If your dog hasn’t been walked or had any exercise before the training session, he could have too much pent up energy to pay attention. Stop what you’re doing, take him for a walk then try.

♦ Stop calling him. All you’re doing is repeating the same word, likely getting more anxious and frustrated each time until you’re yelling at him.   

♦ You may have been at it for too long and he’s bored, so shorten the length of your sessions for now.

♦ Maybe he’s bored of getting the same treat all the time. I know he loved it, but it could be time for something else.

♦ If you’re in the park and someone else is so interesting to your dog he’s ignoring you, go up to your dog, show him the treat up close, walk a few feet away then call him to come.

How to catch a dog that won’t come back

While our instinct is to chase a dog who runs away from us, it doesn’t work and can even put the dog in great danger.

Run away from him so he, hopefully starts chasing you. That may present you with the opportunity to lure him into someone’s garden, a building or even a car.

Teach your dog to stay or wait. Using that command may get him to stop, and holding a treat out to him as he approaches may enable you to leash him. 

This article “Loose Dog? Don’t chase! Stop, Drop and Lie Down” has some good advice on what to do if your dog gets loose or runs off during this training.

Can every dog learn recall?

Every dog can learn recall, but the important question is how well can they learn it and will it be enough to allow them to be off leash in an unfenced in area. Since it depends on how much training they’ve received, there will be plenty of instances where a dog’s recall is not good enough to allow him to be safe off a leash.

If that’s the case with your dog, a long training lead will give him some freedom to run around and play, while keeping him safe.

 

For information about my virtual training and dog care consultancy service, and to book an appointment, please visit my services page.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp

32 Responses

  1. 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

    1. 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!

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

    1. 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?”

  3. 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

    1. 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!

  4. 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).

  5. 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!

    1. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

    1. 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!

  8. 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

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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!!

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

    1. 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!!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience.