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How to Teach Your Dog to Come

As with any other training activity, if your dog is “treat-motivated” to learn, then it is important to have healthy and high-quality dog treats on hand. Once you’ve taught your dog to sit and stay, it’s time to teach her to come on command. You will, by this point, have a good, trusting relationship and you will have established a connection between obeying commands and positive reinforcement. This will be crucial in future training. 

The importance of teaching your dog to come, or recall, cannot be understated. There are times in your dog ownership in which your dog’s safety or someone else’s may depend on your dog coming back to you the first time you call. And without a reliable recall, you won’t be able to allow your dog to enjoy off-leash play.

Reliable recall

Reliable recall means your dog has internalized the command and responds immediately so regularly that you are virtually 100% confident she will always come when called. We say “virtually” because dogs do have minds of their own! There may be a distraction that is so great that your pup is torn. This is why it’s a good idea, once you’re very confident, to practice with your dog in a distracting environment, so that she can practice coming even when there are all kinds of fun—or frightening—things happening around her.

Picking a recall word

It’s important to choose a good recall word. Most people opt for “come,” although “here,” “back,” or “return” are also good options. It should be quick and easy for the dog to remember. It also should be a word you will not be tempted to repeat. If you train your dog to reply after you call “come” three times, she will come after the third time. So only give the command once when training. 

If you find yourself repeating the word and she is not responding, you have “poisoned” the cue, either by repeating it during training or by training too quickly without allowing the behavior to become ingrained. You may also not have provided sufficient incentives during the training process. In such cases, pick a new recall word and begin the training over again, avoiding that mistake.

Training steps

First, choose your incentive. In the beginning, a high-valued treat is the greatest incentive. After a while, switch it up, sometimes offering a treat and sometimes a favorite toy or game of tug that’s reserved for training. Always offer more than your usual praise, because eventually, you want that to be a reward in itself. You should occasionally treat, even after many months of successful behavior, but high praise should become treat enough. 

  1. Go into an undistracted place and make sure your dog is paying attention to you. With your dog on a leash, take a few steps, and as she comes along with you, use your cue word – “Come” (or what you have chosen). Then stop (because you don’t want to teach her the commands to “walk” or “heel”) and praise profusely and give her a yummy treat. Do this a few times with the leash, then try without the leash. Every time she comes, or even takes a couple of steps towards you, reward her with high praise and a treat. You can get down to her level and reach out to her to help her take the last few steps.
  2. Gradually get farther away from her and have her come from the “sit” or “stay” command. Follow with the same hearty praise and yummy treat. Avoid gestures such as patting your legs. Let your recall word be all the command she needs. 
  3. Practice frequently, starting closer to your dog at the beginning of each practice session and gradually getting farther away, until she responds very well in an undistracted environment. After a while, begin mixing up rewards, but keep the high praise. 
  4. When she’s been doing very well for a while, enlist the help of a friend. Have your dog sit or stay near your friend, then call her with the cue word – saying the word only once, of course. 
  5. Now it’s time to head out into distracting circumstances inside the house, maybe the tv is on or the kids are playing. Beware not to poison the cue by calling her more than once, but also make sure you get her attention when you call – you are still training, after all. Be louder than the distraction and within eyesight. Gradually you can begin trying to call her from behind, but you still need to be loud enough to be noticed. 
  6. Once indoor distractions are overcome and your dog is coming consistently, try outside in an enclosed area. Wait until you’re very confident that your dog will come back to you when you call before practicing in open areas outside. 

A few more tips

If your dog does not respond as you go from one level to the next, it is not because the dog is being stubborn. It could be one of the following reasons, but be careful not to repeat the command in succession so that she begins to think the cue is “Come! Come, Lassie! Come here, girl!” complete with a knee slap.

  • Reason 1: She hasn’t internalized the cue yet. In this case, go back to the previous level; i.e., if she doesn’t come when you are 20 feet away, go back to 10 feet and work your way back up. 
  • Reason 2: She’s too distracted. You have several options. You can go back a step and reinforce behavior more. You can wait 30 seconds, put yourself in her field of vision, and call loudly – “Come.” Or you can take her out of the situation, have a brief wait, bring her back into the situation, and give the command again. This is called a reset. If this still doesn’t work, go back a step in your training and reinforce the behavior more. 
  • Reason 3: She’s not incentivized. If you’re in a distracting situation, the distraction may be greater than the reward. Go back a step and perhaps increase the reward. It is really important, especially when going up to the next level of training, to have a treat that the dog would do anything for! What’s your dog’s favorite treat? While a carrot may do the trick in the first level, meat is what really inspires dogs. Our Saint Rocco’s meat treats are the perfect incentive for every dog.

Choose from Savory Red MeatChicken and Sweets, Meat Lover, Cheeseburger, Nuts and Beef, Carnivore's Choice, Pepperoni Pizza, or Helt’s Honey Treat. All our treats are made with just six human-grade ingredients. 

Cut the treats into several small pieces and mix them up so your dog is always surprised! Better yet, try our Chicken Sampler or Beef Sampler, which are already cut into small pieces and will always offer your dog an exciting surprise, to keep her coming when you call!

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