Training a Dog to Come to You

Training a dog to come to you is the most important thing you can teach your dog. If he is running down the street toward oncoming traffic, you need to get him back quickly!

Teaching Recall

To teach an effective recall, don't teach it from a sit-stay. You want your dog to learn that part of the motion is turning around and coming back toward you. With your dog on-leash, toss a treat away from you. Once your dog eats it, run backward a few steps calling your dog's name. Don't say "come" yet.

Have another treat in your hand. When your dog is running excitedly toward you, stop and hold the treat over his nose as if you are trying to get him to sit. Now, give the command, "come."

Praise like your dog has just done the greatest thing in the world. Give treats and reach down to pet him around his collar. If you need to grab him in an emergency, he needs to be comfortable with a collar grab.

Practice this until your dog is running toward you as soon as he first hears his name. Then you can start saying his name followed immediately by "come."

Gradually, make the command harder by using a 30-foot line and practicing in increasingly distracting areas. Only when your dog can reliably come off of any distraction is he ready for off-leash.

Tips for Success

Recall should be the most fun thing your dog ever does. He should always get treats and praise because the one time you really need him to do it, you won't have treats, but he'll remember all those times you did.

Make a game out of it. Have everyone in your family stand around in the yard and call your dog to them one at a time for a treat. Have your children hide in the house and call your dog to find them for a treat.

Don't use the word if he isn't going to come. Your success depends on him learning he has to come when he hears "come." If he discovers he can ignore it, he will. When he's not on leash, it's very difficult to reinforce, so success depends on on-leash practice.

If your dog does run away before he learns the word, just call his name or grab a toy and run the opposite direction so he chases you, not the other way around. When he finally comes to you, no matter how long it took, never punish because you are actually punishing him coming back to you!

Don't use recall only when your dog has to do something he doesn't like. For example, if you call him to you at the dog park, do it 15 times where you just give him a treat and release him to play with his friends. On the 16th time, clip on the leash and take him home. Then he won't associate recall with an end to the fun.

Teaching recall should be a fun activity and positive experience for you and your dog. With practice and realistic expectations, you can have a dog that comes when you call every time.