One of the most common complaints you’ll hear in the dog training world is “my dog doesn’t come when I call.”
Training your dog to come, or “recall” training, is interesting because many of us are doing completely wrong. What we all really want is when we say “here, Scooter,” is for Scooter to come sprinting towards us with all their might.
To make this happen, we must make “here, Scooter” become the best command in the world. It must be music to their ears. And once achieved, we’re both happy because you get the desired result and your dog gets their reward.
Learn how to teach your dog to come and run to you immediately after calling them!
Why Should I Teach My Dog to Come?
Teaching your dog to come can help avoid so many dangers such as bringing them back to you when you accidentally lose grip on the leash, when you leave the door open, when they are running towards a road, or when they’re starting to intimidate guests and other animals.
Training this command is also necessary for their stimulation and happiness. Reward-based methods are enjoyable for them and it also boosts your relationship with them.
At What Age Can I Start Training My Puppy to Come?
At 7 to 8 weeks, your puppies can already learn simple obedience commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” However, formal dog training usually becomes more effective at 6 months of age.
When training is started at 7 to 8 weeks of age, use positive reinforcement and be gentle in teaching. Puppies have short attention spans, so training sessions should be brief but should occur frequently throughout the day.
Preparing to Teach the Recall Command
Successful recall is all about the relationship you have with your dog, which entails trust, rewards, and an enjoyable training process. Here are some tips on how to make that happen:
- Never call your dog if you are summoning them for a tongue-lashing. Doing so even once could undo months and months of hard work. From then on, hearing you call equals bad things in your dog’s mind.
- Avoid calling for your dog for the wrong reasons by asking yourself, “am I calling for my dog to come check in with me, or am I calling them to get them to stop whatever it is they’re doing?” This is called “poisoning the cue.” Only call your dog for things they perceive as positive, to make sure that coming to you is always a great time.
- Come up with a word for your recall command. If the word “come” is already associated with punishment, try picking a new word. This new command is easier to teach than changing the meaning of an old one that your fur baby doesn’t like. Another word you can use is “here.”
- Consider your dog’s name too! Remember to keep a positive association with their name by avoiding yelling at them using their name. This will only make them less willing to come when you tell them to. If you’re guilty of this, start offering rewards when you say it and they respond by looking at you.
- Use a long leash until you are sure of your dog’s response. Training a beginner requires putting the dog on the leash all the time. You will have trouble gaining control of your dog if they try to chase a squirrel, approach other dogs, or cross the street.
- Use high-value treats to maintain a strong recall. It’s not enough to have a treat with you because you have to know what your dog loves. Do they prefer cheese, peanut butter, or meat? There’s a bigger chance they’ll obey if you offer tasty rewards.
- If your dog hates returning to the car after a trip to the park or elsewhere, reward them with a small treat back at the car and they will soon do it happily.
- Know what distracts your dog. Make a list and rank them in order of least to most distracting. You now know what will be difficult for your dog to ignore when you’re ready to add challenges to your recall training sessions. Avoid distractions when you first start out, then slowly introduce them as you dog improves.
- Practice this command indoors first. Levels of obedience are like grade levels, so don’t expect them to start acting like they’re in high school. Gradually increase the complexity of training by adding more distractions and temptations.
Training the Recall Command
Whatever method you use to train your dog, here is a good formula to keep in mind during practices:
- Call out to your dog (remember only for the right reasons!).
- When they come, reward them immediately with affection.
- Quickly stop the affection after two minutes.
Watch this video for a guide on teaching your dog the “come” command.
You can also try some of these methods!
Ping-Pong Method (Beginner)
- Play the ping-pong game by preparing a helper, treats, and a tug toy.
- Sit on the floor about 10 feet away from an assistant. One person will restrain your dog, while another says their name excitedly.
- When the puppy starts running toward you, praise wildly, give a high-value treat, and then play a fun game of tug.
- After a few successful reps, add the word you want to use.
- Repeat while increasing the distance each time.
Using Gestures (Beginner)
- Kneel, say the word “here” once with a happy tone of voice, and then whistle, clap your hands or make kissy noises to encourage your dog to run to you. He won’t know what “here” means at first, so the noises will help him figure it out.
- When your dog comes to you, give them a treat and a praise party.
- Repeat the process until they approach you quicker than the previous time.
Training without a Leash (Intermediate)
- Make sure the area is safe as your dog will not be wearing a leash.
- Show your dog an enticing treat and hold it against your body by calling their name.
- When they come to get it, reach for their collar.
- While holding the collar, say “gotcha” and give them the treat.
- As training progresses, the grab changes from one finger to your whole hand, and from slowly to quickly. This teaches your dog that coming to you and the word “gotcha” is rewarding.
Hide and Seek (Intermediate)
- Do the same process as with the Gesture method but this time, hide in another room.
- Whistle louder as they look for you to give them clues.
- Reward them when they find you.
How Should I Phase Out the Lure and Food Rewards?
Remember that treats are just guides. As your puppy learns to comply, hide the food in your hand, give the command, and repeat the signal that they have learned to follow.
Then, signal and give the command, but when they perform the task, reward only with praise and give the puppy an affectionate pat.
Over time, “good dog” or the pat become secondary reinforcers. Because they have been paired with food in the past, they take on more meaning and become reinforcement in themselves.
Using secondary reinforcement is necessary because you will not always have food with you when you need your pup to obey.
Earning Your Dog’s Trust
Earning your dog’s trust is an important aspect of training them. And we’re not just talking about the “come” command which ensures their safety!
As your dog’s pack leader, you have to be gentle to them. A dog without training will surely test your patience, but it goes without saying that you should never be angry at them no matter how you feel.
In making sure they behave according to what you think is best for both of you, remember that consistency is key. For example, if you leave the door open and try to teach them to come, make sure you do it each time the door is open.
You need to understand the power you possess by giving and withholding rewards for your dog. Being very careful with how you give out your affection and attention is one of the most powerful tools you have for training your dog!
Also, giving your dog unearned attention and affection only works against you. Do so and you’ll be left wondering why your four-legged friend never comes when you call.
What we are trying to say is, training your dog to come to you entails trust, and being a trustworthy dog guardian is part of being the pack leader!
If you need more help on this, there’s a great video series that explains this and many other aspects of dog obedience. It’s called The Online Dog Trainer, go take a look and I’m sure you’ll be on your way to establishing yourself as your dog’s pack leader!
Teaching Your Dog to Come is Worth the Effort!
When our canine friends don’t come when we call them, it can be frustrating and alarming. It gets worse when they might be in trouble for crossing the street or escaping the house.
Teach your dog to obey you when they are being called despite any distractions in the environment. This can take months of patience, but with high-value rewards and proper education on being a pack leader, you can prove to your dog that you are more interesting than their environment, and it’s always worthwhile to come back to you.
Follow the tips we shared and make sure to watch the free video series for a more comprehensive guide!