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How To Teach a Dog To Come

Written by FOTP Team

Updated

Dog running to owner

Recall is the most important command for your dog to learn because his safety depends on coming when you call. Whether you're enjoying a hike whilst he's off lead, he escaped the yard or you notice he's heading straight for that piece of food your child has just dropped on the floor. If your dog knows they must return to your side instantly when given the command, your life (and theirs) will be much easier.

Learn how to teach a dog to come in four simple stages using positive reinforcement.

How To Use Positive Reinforcement

This method rewards good behavior and sets up your dog for success. Each time the dog responds correctly to a command, you immediately say a praise word, like “yes.” As quickly as possible, you follow up with a small and tasty food treat and physical affection. The dog will enjoy learning and will quickly understand that responding to you is a direct path to a reward.

Praise words are used for timing; it allows you to begin rewarding good behavior the instant your dog responds. You may use any word you like for praise. Choose something your dog isn’t likely to confuse with other situations and be consistent with your chosen word.

Having an immediate reward for your dog’s correct response is critical. Dogs connect your actions with what is happening right now, not what occurred ten seconds ago. Use healthy treats that your dog enjoys and deduct equivalent calories from his dinner bowl.

When your dog makes a mistake during training, calmly guide her back to where you began the exercise and try again. You should never use punishment to shape behavior because pain and fear only teach your dog to be afraid of you. Use your training sessions to have fun with your companion and build confidence, trust and connection.

How To Teach a Dog To Come When Called

There are four stages to teaching recall:

  1. Teach “touch” in a small area free of distractions.
  2. Use a long line in a larger area, still without distractions.
  3. Practice off-leash in a large, safely fenced area.
  4. Add distractions to prepare for future unpredictable situations

1. Teach Touch

Learning touch is the foundation of learning recall. “Touch” means that the dog’s nose needs to make physical contact with your hand, like touching home base in a game of tag. This helps the dog understand that “come” doesn’t just mean moving in your general direction — it means connecting with you.

Use your command word for recall, which is usually “come.” The word itself doesn’t matter as long as it’s not a word your dog may hear in another context and confuse with an alternate meaning.

Your pet naturally touches you with his nose to greet you, so touch is a logical first step in how to teach a dog to come. Simply give your command word and put out your palm and wait. As soon as that little wet nose touches your hand, say “yes!” and provide a food treat and a little affection.

Allow your dog to wander off to sniff around or explore the small training area, then repeat the process. This stage of training should go quickly because you (and your praise and treats) are the only interesting thing in the room. When your dog consistently comes to you in this situation, you’re ready to move to stage two.

2. Use a Long Line

Take your lessons to an area large enough for your dog to wander away from you. At this stage, you will be using a long line, which should be lightweight and about 30 feet in length. The dog shouldn’t be focused on the lead and should feel free to meander around the space.

Start by giving your recall command when your dog is just wondering around rather than in the middle of a good sniff. If he comes to you immediately, give your praise word right away, with a treat and a pat when he reaches you. Repeat the process when they're a little more focused on something else. You're making great progress in learning how to teach a dog to come. Keep practicing to build your dog’s confidence.

If your dog ignores you, hesitates or only walks toward you for a few steps before losing interest, put gentle pressure on the long line, reminding him that you’ve called and you’re waiting for him. If he is at a standstill, say his name and repeat the command. As soon as he moves in your direction again, release the pressure on the line, say “yes!” and hold out your palm.

Focus on increasing his sense of freedom without losing the capacity to ensure his success. The further he is from you, the more he’ll feel that he can choose whether to listen to you. The line reinforces the idea that distance doesn’t matter and that ignoring you isn’t an option. Practice this stage until he comes every time without requiring the use of the line.

3. Lose the Long Line

The third stage has only one difference: you no longer use the line. Your dog is now off-leash in the large enclosure. Call and respond with “yes!” and food and affection if your dog responds immediately. If your dog's further away, keep the praise going until she's returned, keep your arms wide open and keep your focus on her. If you've called her, she's started to respond and you've pulled out your phone as she's trotting back, she's more likely to think the command is over and she'll go back to her sniffs,

If she doesn’t come, don’t get angry. Remember that she’s here to learn. If your tone is threatening, she’ll only be able to focus on fear. Calmly walk over to her, take her collar and lead her back to where you called from. Don’t yank or yell, because bullying is not how to teach a dog to come.

Encourage her to touch your hand and give her a pat for praise. Then let her go and try again. Remember, as soon as she moves toward you, it’s “yes!” followed by food and affection.

4. Add Distractions

When you have a consistent and immediate recall, you're ready to add distractions. Before you head out into the real world, introduce some distractions in your secure space. You can throw a ball or ask a friend to accompany you and have them run in the opposite direction. So long as your dog is always focusing on you and the recall word, you should be safe to try it in a more open environment.

This is a big step, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some practice for your dog to come to you despite other people or pets being present in the training area.

If you move out to a wider space and your dog can't get over the distractions, try introducing the long line back. They're already aware of what it is so it should help reinforce that a short tug on the line means recall.

How To Continue With Training

Congratulations! You’ve learned how to teach a dog to come, and you and your pup are ready to explore the wider world together. Practice regularly and learn more about training and treats on Front Of The Pack's website.