Dog doesn't come when you call? Try this

Come when called, or recall, is one of the more important behaviors that you can teach your dog. It can also be frustrating to teach if you don’t know some simple rules. Sometimes people get frustrated because their dog “just isn’t getting it” as quickly as they would like. I don’t put a timeframe on training.

There are many variables including the skill of the trainer, the amount of time spent training, the timing and consistency. See some ideas for improving your overall training skills. 

To have success with teaching “Come” follow these general rules:

  1. Don’t use it to start something your dog doesn’t like.
  2. Don’t use it to end something fun.
  3. Say it only once – always, and then make it happen.


Here is a basic exercise that you can practice using the above rules:

  1. Have your dog trail a leash to use as an aid in situations that you think he might not come to you such as a dog park or in your backyard.
  2. Call him ONE TIME, gently bring him back to you by gently tugging the leash or tapping your leg and pet him wildly (fun!)
  3. Reward him with something that he doesn’t normally get (chicken, roast beef, dried liver, etc.) then release him and say “go play” and allow him to play for a couple more minutes.

Eventually you can do these exercises off-leash and stand a couple of inches away from him, increasing distance as he improves. If his friends distract him, you will be ready to gently grab his collar, and do the above exercise and then say, “go play”. We want him to understand that COME means come to you, receive a yummy treat and then go back to what he is doing. 

At the beginning, don’t call him to put the leash on and take him home. Instead, go up to him put the leash on and go. We don’t want him to think “Come” means the fun ends. Always put yourself in a situation to make it happen after the FIRST time.

There will be times that you choose not to say “Come” because you can’t make it happen at this time. You should also practice with a long line (12-30 feet) to make sure he knows that it doesn’t matter how far away you are from each other, “Come” means “Come”.

 If you can practice for just a few minutes each time you are in a park situation, your dog will eventually listen very well. Make sure you keep the following in mind:

  1. As always, don’t repeat cues
  2. Don’t say the cue such as Come unless you know you can help him get it right within 2-3 seconds
  3. If he is able to do behaviors using the leash, you can drop the leash and continue working
  4. If you see regressions, move your dog away from the distraction and do a quick training session to remind him what is expected of him

Other Recall Strategies

Some dogs do “flybys” and run by their person or stop short when asked to Come. Here are some tips to overcome those challenges.

Flyby Prevention

Practice with your dog on leash and gently bring him all the way to you before releasing him 
Be consistent with your instruction of how you define a recall. If you say, “Come” you need to help your dog complete the task before you reward him or release him.

Stop Short Prevention

Some dogs do not come all the way to their person. This often happens because they are waiting for a toy to be thrown or are waiting to see if the “fun ends” and they are being taken inside or out of the park.

  1. Don’t always end the fun when you ask your dog to come to you. If you are in a play situation, ask him to Come, reward him and then say, “Go Play” and allow him to go back to what he was doing
  2. If your dog stops short, you should work on associating “Come” with running behind you. This way, if you can motivate him to run past you, it will be easy to block his path and get him to stop right in front of you
  3. Ask him to “Come” and when he is close to you, say, “Yes” or ‘Click’ and throw a toy behind you
  4. Your dog should run past you to get the toy. If he isn’t use a more interesting toy or a treat
  5. If you are tall enough, you can also throw the toy between your legs and allow your dog to run through your legs. This way, he will be in position to stop right in front of you for the next step.
  6. The next step occurs after he is routinely running past you when he hears “Come”
  7. Say, “Come” and as he starts coming towards you, say, “Good, good, keep it up!”
  8. When he arrives near you, don’t throw the toy, but encourage him to come all the way to you
Then, block his path and say, “Yes” and give him a treat or throw a toy as a reward
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