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How to Teach Your Dog to Come to You

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Teaching your dog the command “come”, also known as “recall”, is a crucial and life saving command. However, it is also one of the most challenging commands to teach. This article will help you get started helping your dog master this command.

black, white and tan chihuahua running away from woman kneeling down in background

Understand The Goal, Be Realistic

The goal of training come is that your dog will come to you. This command is important to teach because it has the potential to save your dog’s life in an emergency. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the term “Reliable Recall” means that an owner will be 99.99% certain that their dog will come when called.

However, owners must be realistic about this command. As dogs are individuals and have the intelligence of human toddlers, there is no guarantee a dog will always come when called. This means that even if your dog has been trained to the point of “Reliable Recall”, they should never be allowed to roam freely outside and should always be walked on leash.

Also, consider your local leash laws; even if your dog can recall reliably, allowing your dog off leash in public areas may be illegal.

Training Supplies

Before you begin training, you will need to gather some supplies:

  • A block of uninterrupted time; you will need some time to dedicate to and focus on training with your dog.
  • Calm and Patient energy; in order for the training to be successful, you need to be in a calm and patient state of mind.
  • You will need a high value treat to reward your dog. Look for soft and smelly training treats or use small pieces of baked chicken, deli meat, hot dogs or Vienna sausages.
  • Allowing a dog to roam outside freely is unsafe, and since most dogs take time to master this command, you will need an assistant and a extra long training leash or a stake leash for ensuring your dog’s safety during training.

How to Teach Your Dog to Come to You

When you have gathered your supplies, follow these steps to teach your dog to return to you when you issue the command “come”:

Warm Up

Begin training indoors around your home. Do something that gets your dog’s attention, such as saying his or her name or showing them a favorite toy, and as they come over to you, say “come” once in a happy tone. When your dog makes eye contact, praise them, and when your dog comes to you praise and reward them with a special high value treat.

Work on this a few days, and once your dog listens consistently, increase the distance you work from. For example, call your dog to you from another room, then work up to another area of the house, etc. When your dog comes consistently, he or she is ready for increased difficulty; proceed to the next level.

Play

chihuahua puppy back facing woman on floor

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends playing games with your dog to help make learning the “come” command a fun activity:

  • When walking your dog on leash play “Catch Me” by getting his or her attention, then turning around and running a bit. When your pup runs to you, say “come!” then stop to reward him or her with praise, a treat or a toy after a few steps.
  • Play “Hot Potato” with your dog and 2 or more humans. Each human should have high value treats ready. The humans then stand a few feet apart and alternate calling the dog to them. Whenever the dog comes to the commanding human, reinforce with the high value treats and praise.
  • Play “Hide and Seek” by calling your dog from another room and saying “Find Me!”. When your dog locates you, reinforce with praise, toys or treats.

Learn

Take your dog outside to a securely fenced area. Take off the leash and allow your dog a few minutes to smell and explore. Walk away from your dog as they settle in. After about 5 or 10 minutes, call them over to you. If your dog comes when called, praise and reward them. Continue to practice and once your dog listens consistently for a week, proceed to the next level.

Advanced Learning

For advanced recall you will need an assistant or a stake leash.

Start by working from the door of your home. Take your dog outside for advanced training. Attach the long leash to your dog’s harness, with your assistant allowing your dog to roam to the end, or allowing your dog to explore to the end of the stake leash.

Call your dog to you from your front door; this is good practice for getting your dog to come back inside if he or she escapes.

When you call your dog, use a commanding tone. Do not repeat the command multiple times; if you over use the command, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC) a dog is likely to ignore an over used command. Be sure to have the high value treats ready!

If your dog does not listen, return to practicing in a fenced area for another week.

If your dog comes to you, give him or her lots of praise because this is a huge accomplishment!

Reinforcement

To reinforce this command, practice at least once a week. Every other day is even better.

Also walk around your front yard or neighborhood and call your dog to you from random locations rather than to your home.

When practicing recall around your neighborhood also try commanding your dog to come and walk confidently in your chosen direction. Your dog should follow you at your side. Achieving this level of recall is another major accomplishment to celebrate!

running chihuahua

Training Tips

Review these tips before you begin training to help make the training process as smooth as possible:

  • Keep training sessions short and sweet; practice for about 15 to 30 minutes and always end on a positive note.
  • Begin training during a quiet time with no distractions to help build a strong foundation. Once your dog has begun to respond consistently during quiet times, work your way up to training during exciting circumstances to teach your dog to come even during distractions.
  • Be sure to work on training when you have plenty of time and when you are relaxed; do not try to rush through a training session or train when you are stressed out. This keeps the pressure low and the training experience positive.
  • When your dog comes when called, give your dog an epic level of praise; whatever your dog responds to, whether it be excited talking or petting, give them that. Praise your dog like they just saved a child who was trapped in a well “Lassie” style. This helps them understand they did something right and reinforces that behavior. The better the experience he or she has for recalling, the more likely they are to choose to come to you in emergency circumstances.
  • Reserve the high value treat you choose to use as a reward for a successful recall only for recalls. If your dog learns that he or she receives a special reward for coming when called, he or she will be more likely to come when called.
  • When there are distractions or exciting circumstances, the average dog would need a high value reward to make ignoring the temptation worth it. Splurge on the treats; a 3 calorie milk bone is just not going to cut it.

Final Thoughts

Teaching your dog to come requires patience, consistence and dedication. Teaching your dog to come during distractions is especially crucial to this command protecting your dog in an emergency situation, however, it takes time to get to that level of training. When perfected, this command may save your dog’s life, so never give up even if it more takes time than you anticipated. Remember that no dog comes 100% of the time, so never allow your dog to roam freely off leash for their safety and the safety of others.

Cathy