Train my Dog to Come When Called?

  • By: Mick Whitefield
  • Time to read: 9 min.

The best part about having a pet is the chance to teach them tricks and commands. One of the most critical commands you can ever teach your precious pooch is the “recall”. Getting your dog to come to you when he’s called will go a long way to stop him from wandering off in public or to stop him from running under a truck or bus when he’s busy chasing after a squirrel, or another dog in the direction of the road. It’s a really useful command when you want to enjoy the great outdoors off-leash with your furry friend. But as simple as the “come or heel” command may sound, teaching it is not a one-off affair!

How do I train my dog to come when called? To train your dog to come, ensure you start with short distances and preferably, inside the house before you take the training outdoors. Use high value treats to lure him whenever you call him. You can also use a long leash to give yourself better control of your dog as he learns the “come” command. Never scold your dog during training.

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In this post, we are going to consider what you can do to ensure that your dog comes when you call him and delve deeper into the various techniques you can use for this kind of training. At the bottom of this post you will find a link to a video that you can watch.

Let’s face it; most pets will come when there’s a good reason to do so, like when it’s time for a meal or when you have a treat in your hand, or when he’s just craving your attention and wants a pat.
But when you desperately want him to come back to the car so you can go home or stop him from messing up your neighbor’s freshly manicured garden, it rarely ever happens.
It is, therefore, crucial that your pooch learns this command; it will help keep both of you from any number of unwanted situations.

The biggest key is to achieving a great recall is having a strong connection with your pet. So be sure that the training is filled with positive associations and high-value treats for your dog.

Start Indoors

A great recall from your dog won’t happen overnight; it will take some time before you get there. Just like you can’t expect a child to make the leap from grade 1 to grade 5, you have to start with baby steps before you move to the grown-up strides.
You, therefore, want to start the training inside the house and not outdoors. This is because there are far fewer distractions in your home than there are outside and you will be able to command your pet’s attention more easily.
Remember that if your dog won’t come to you in your own home, then they’re definitely not ready to try the command in the park. It is imperative for both of you that you work on getting a 100% reliable recall from your dog inside the house before you make the move outside.

Another important thing you must do is to establish the word that you are going to use when you are calling your dog such as “heel” or “come”. Generally, pet owners will call out their pup’s name when they want to know where they are… not necessarily when they want them to come.
If you have been doing this, using your dog’s name on its own for the recall training it, may not be the best idea as this doesn’t necessarily tell him what to do.
I suggest you use a clear command like using their name first then, immediately use “come here” or “heel” to train your dog. This way your dog will firstly know you are talking to him and will then pay attention to the command.

Using Quality Treats

Positive reinforcement is vital when training your dog the recall command and nothing is more applicable here than treats. You want to start the training using high-value treats…the kind of treats that your dog doesn’t frequently receive.

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If you have been dishing out dog cookie for treats, try using a small bag of cooked chicken or string cheese for the recall. Consider something your dog truly loves, and try to make it available as often as possible. Dry and crunchy biscuits may be cheaper, but they won’t be very rewarding to your pooch.

If your dog realizes that your offering the same boring old treats that he has become accustomed to, chances are he’ll be less inclined to come back. After all, the prospect of a wild chase and dead rabbit meat afterwards sounds far more palatable than the age-old biscuit you are calling him for.

You can also try out cheese, peanut butter, meat, or freeze-dried liver; they are all high-value rewards that you can find in your local pet store. It also helps when the treat has a strong and sweet aroma.

Every time you call your dog, make sure you have a treat ready for them immediately they come to you. Remember to be consistent with the rewards. Do not switch between high-value treats and the ordinary treats he is used to. You are not trying to confuse him; he should be able to believe that there’s something tasty waiting for him every time he returns to you.

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Consistency is key! This way, even if it happens that you want to call your dog but have no access to treats, there’s a high likelihood that he’ll come back. Be sure to start the training with smaller spaces and small distances as you work your way up to farther off distances in open spaces.

Using a Long Leash

Generally, there are only two possible ways that you can get your pup to come to you. The first is when you have physical control of him – he is on a long line and leash so you can compel him to come to you with a little pull.

You want to begin the training with a six-foot lead. Wait until the dog is distracted by something then use his name and the “come” command to call him.

Use an upbeat voice as you run backwards and away from your pooch. Hold a high-value treat to lure him towards you as you move away from your dog. If your dog follows suit and he’s just a few steps away, raise the treat up and make sure he’s standing calm and waiting for you to feed him. Reach and out grab his collar before you reward him with the treat. Remember to praise him excitedly as you do this.

When you are sure that your dog has achieved perfect recall at that distance, move on to using a (15-30)-foot line or leash. You want to try and improve the level of difficulty at this point. Get a friend to help out by distracting your dog with toys and treats, or you can use another home pet. Repeat the recall using the same treat to lure your dog until he comes to you. As you improve the recall by progressively increasing the length of the leash, you won’t need to run away anymore. You also don’t have to hand out the treat every time. Just make sure that the command is upbeat and welcoming anytime you call your pooch.

Keep on doing this until you get unwavering 100% compliance from your dog when using the long line before you can graduate to off-leash training, but in confined spaces. If you feel that your dog is starting to get the hang of it, start using the lighter lines such as nylon-made so that your dog has a lot more freedom.

The other way is when you call them verbally – the dog listens to you and chooses to come running to you. But remember, this is only possible if you have perfected the recall command; if you haven’t, your dog may choose to run off and not come back when you want it to. This is why it’s important that you get a leash for the recall training. The safest place to attach the leash is at the back of your dog’s collar.

One of the critical components to a reliable recall is a strong relationship. Remember that the goal is to get your dog to make an uninfluenced decision to come to you whenever you call him. Try to get your dog used to checking up on you every once in a while. Encourage this by rewarding eye contact from your dog with a smile or any other happy gesture. Hide behind the garage door if you can and let your dog seek you out. These are the simple things that will help to bolster the special bond that you share with your pooch.

NB: Remember to be persistent when teaching this command. It may not work out the first, second, or third time, but constant training is what’s needed to ensure you achieve the perfect recall with your dog.

Starting with Short Distances Outside

Always make sure that you start with shorter distances at the early stages of the training. If it is inside the house, start with a 6-foot distance between you and your dog, as you stretch the spacing to a different room in the house as the training progresses.

When you decide to take the training outside, ensure you spend some time playing games as you did indoors. Remember to approach the training with patience; you don’t want to put a lot of pressure on your dog. Always make sure that your dog comes all the way back to you before you are satisfied that he’s learning the command.

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Meeting him halfway whenever you call doesn’t count as a successful recall. If anything, you should move a few steps away from him and ensure that he gets as close as possible to you before rewarding him with a treat.

It is important that you learn to control your emotions during the training. While it is natural that some situations may get the better of you – your dog persistently ignoring your call – you should never shout at or scold your pup.

The problem with reprimanding your pet is that it sets him up for failure. Your dog will willingly come to you only when he realizes that being near you has more value than being away from you; intimidating him through scolding will be counterproductive.

Non-food Rewards also Work!

The best way to motivate your pup during the recall training is to use rewards. And while food is the most effective positive reinforcement you can use, there are alternative forms of rewards that can apply.

This will come in handy if you don’t want to use food as the reward during the recall training. For instance, if your dog loves his walks outside and gets excited whenever you want to take him out, you can incorporate this into the training.

Early Play

Grabbing the leash is likely to tell him that it is time to go outside. So instead of the food treats, you can grab the leash every time your dog successfully executes the recall command. Even if your pup doesn’t obey instantly, he will eventually learn to associate the “come” with a walk outside.

Alternatively, you can use his favorite chew toy or dinner bowl in place of a treat. Another option is to use verbal praise and petting to reward your pooch for obeying. This is especially applicable when your dog has made significant steps in the training and has become good at responding to the command.

Conclusion

It may take weeks or months before your pooch becomes fully accustomed to coming when called, particularly when distracted. The major thing is to be patient and consistent. With plenty of high value treats and praise, you will end up proving to your dog that it is more worthwhile being around you than running away from you

Watch this helpful video from Petplan to get you started….

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