How to Teach A Dog to Come: 5 Steps for Reliable Recall

cute mixed breed brown dog running towards camera, practicing coming when called recall

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You’re at a park, enjoying an off-leash romp with your dog, when they see a squirrel.

Your dog takes off after the critter. You call your dog. Come!

Ignored.

Panic sets in as your dog chases the squirrel into the street.

Your dog gets lucky (while others don’t) and evades the oncoming cars, but they still won’t come when called and suddenly you’re in a wild goose chase in the park. Panic turns to frustration and embarrassment by the time you eventually catch and leash your dog.

This may sound dramatic, but it’s a scene I witness on a regular basis… and guess what?

It is easily preventable.

That’s why I’ve written this blog post. As a professional dog trainer, I want to help dog owners learn how to teach a dog to come when called and the safety measures they can take to lead up to off-leash freedom.

Are you ready to take those steps? Let’s dive in!

Why You Should Teach Your Dog To Come When Called

There are many reasons why every dog should be properly trained to recall:

  • Safety Hazard: A dog that blows you off can end up in dangerous situations, like running onto busy roads or encountering harmful animals.
  • Not Everyone Likes Dogs: Even if your dog has the best intentions with strangers, they could wander up to someone who is afraid.
  • Not All Dogs Are Friendly: Even though your dog is friendly, other dogs might not be. And I hate to break it to you, but it will be your fault if your dog gets hurt.
  • Common Courtesy: Having a trained dog in public places shows respect to others and ensures enjoyable outings without unnecessary disruptions. You’re more likely to get a compliment, too!

How to Teach a Dog to Come When Called

  1. Start small
  2. Call your dog & reward them
  3. Cue the distractions!
  4. Use the long line for guidance
  5. Practice, practice, practice!

Before You Get Started: Gather Your Tools

To ensure a more streamlined and easy process, keep these tools on hand at all times when working on your recall:

Failure to have these tools on hand whenever you take your dog out for recall can cause major hiccups in the training process.

Step 1: Start small

Start in a low-distraction environment. Attach your dog to a long line and toss a treat a short distance away. As your dog goes after it, get ready for the next step.

Step 2: Call your dog & reward them

Call your dog by name, followed by “come!” while taking a few steps back. As they begin to move towards you, mark it by saying “yes!” and present a treat, enticing them further. Once they reach you, reward your dog with a treat. Repeat this process, increasing the distance over time.

cute dog hiking in woods

Step 3: Cue the distractions!

Cue the distractions! Once they consistently come to you enthusiastically, it’s time to up the ante. Gradually introduce them to more distracting environments. An empty park can serve as a middle ground before advancing to more populated areas.

If distractions prove too much, don’t be disheartened. Go back to the previous step but lure them with a high-value reward. Remember, it’s a game, and the goal is for them to enjoy it.

Step 4: Use the long line for guidance

Persistence is key. Should they get distracted, use the long line to remind them of the game at hand gently. Upon their return, shower them with praise and treats like a party!

Step 5: Practice, practice, practice!

Regular practice, around 2-3 times a week, keeps this skill sharp. Always remember to keep it fun and rewarding. Consider going off the long line once they’ve mastered this for a few months. If you or your dog are struggling or want professional guidance before venturing off-leash, consult a dog trainer to learn what you need to do to reach your dog training goals!

husky sitting for treat. owner learning how to teach a dog to come

Tips for teaching a reliable recall

  • Always Reward: Every recall deserves a reward 100% of the time. It builds a positive association with coming to you and increases the likelihood of them returning to you over other distractions, and positive reinforcement matters with this command.
  • Safety First: Always keep your dog on a long line, as this ensures your dog stays within a reasonable distance during training.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: If you have a safe, enclosed area, such as an empty dog park or courtyard, test your dog’s off-leash recall, but ensure they’ve made significant progress first.
  • Don’t Overdo It: Avoid overusing this command. Too much repetition can make it mundane for your furry friend.
  • Make a Game of It: When training your dog alongside someone else, alternate in calling your dog back and forth between the two of you. Each time they respond, reward their effort with a delectable treat or a beloved toy.
  • Drop to the Ground: In a crisis where your dog isn’t heeding your call, try dropping to the ground and feigning unconsciousness. This unexpected action can pique their curiosity, prompting them to approach you. As they draw near, swiftly secure their collar, attach their leash, and reward them with a treat for their compliance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Teaching your dog the “come” command is an art and a science. While most dogs can grasp the basics within a few sessions, perfecting this recall, especially amid distractions, is a longer journey.

The breed and temperament play pivotal roles: more biddable breeds, such as herding dogs, might catch on faster than more independent breeds, like Huskies.

With consistent training and keeping your dog on a long leash, many dogs can achieve a reliable recall within 2 to 3 months.

However, it’s essential to remember that every dog learns at their pace, and the primary goal is their safety and responsiveness.

When your dog seems to turn a deaf ear to your call, it can be frustrating. Several reasons might be at play.

First, distractions in their environment might be overpowering their desire to obey.

Second, they may not associate coming to you with a positive outcome. They might not see the point if they aren’t rewarded with something enticing each time.

Also, if you frequently call them without ensuring they follow through, they might learn they sometimes must respond.

To improve their recall, always use high-value rewards, be prudent in calling them, and consider using a long line to prevent them from straying too far, reinforcing that listening is beneficial and non-negotiable.

Recall training should begin as soon as you bring your dog home. This is an optimal time for puppies as they naturally gravitate towards their owners and are eager to learn, providing a prime window to instill good recall habits.

Their youthful curiosity and willingness to engage make the training process smoother. On the other hand, if you’ve adopted an older dog, prioritizing this command is equally essential, especially if it’s not part of their existing skill set.

Regardless of age, establishing a solid recall foundation ensures their safety and a harmonious bond between you.

Conclusion

Taking the time to learn how to teach a dog to come when called is more than just a convenience; it’s a fundamental aspect of their safety and your peace of mind. Achieving reliable recall is a testament to the trust and understanding between you and your canine companion. It requires patience, consistency, and consistent reinforcement, but the rewards—a dog that listens and responds to you under any circumstance—are immeasurable.

Remember, the goal is to build a bond so strong that your dog chooses you over a tempting distraction. With the right approach, your calls will become an irresistible invitation they can’t wait to accept.

Hungry for more tips on strengthening your bond and enhancing your dog’s training? Join my community of dedicated dog lovers. Subscribe to my newsletter for expert training advice, behavioral insights, and the support you need to nurture a happy, well-behaved dog.

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