Teaching Your Dog To Come When Called
December 2, 2018
Teaching your dog to come when called is one of the most valuable lessons in this training course.
It can literally save your dog’s life.
A dog that comes when called can be kept away from traffic or other dangers. You can let him run at the dog park, in the woods or along the beach knowing that when you call him back, he’ll come. This training therefore gives you both more freedom.
But teaching your dog to come when called is also one of the most difficult lessons-for you, not your dog.
You’ll need to control your normal human tendencies and pay close attention to your body language. What you’ll be learning to do is counter-intuitive to humans, but very effective.
The end result-a dog that comes when you call him, every single time-will be well worth the effort.
Before we begin, you need to decide what command you’ll use. Give this some thought, because you’ll need to use it each and every time, without change. Consistency is key with verbal commands. You can’t expect your dog to learn that
“Come,” “Come here,”
“Get over here,”
“Hey, come on,” and “Max, get your butt over here right now!”
all mean the same thing. The simplest, of course, is “Come!”
Three things during this training are going to be different from other lessons.
First, your tone of voice. It should be upbeat and enthusiastic. Think of yourself as an excited coach yelling encouragements to a player running down the field, versus calmly telling the player what to do.
Second, repetition of the verbal command is good for this particular training, because a series of short, enthusiastic sounds works best when getting your dog to move quickly. Imagine a coach yelling “Go! Go! Go!” Also, clapping while giving the command is extremely effective.
Third, you’ll need to use your entire body (not just your voice) to get your dog to do what you want. Most people tend to stand facing their dog, or even step towards him, when they want him to come. That’s the opposite of what you should do.
To get your dog to come, you’ll need to turn and move away from him as you call him.
This will be the hardest trick for you to learn, but you’ll be amazed at how well it works!
Think of yourself as “pulling” your dog toward you.
When pulling something heavy on the end of a rope, you can stand facing it and pull it towards you with just your arms… or you can do it the easy and much more effective way-by turning, putting the rope over your shoulder, and walking away from the object, pulling it behind you.
Here’s another tip: most dogs want to go where their owners go. They figure out where we’re about to go by looking at our feet. That’s why you’ll be turning and moving away from your dog to get him to come to you.
One more thing before we begin. It is very important during this initial training that your dog learns to love coming to you. As mentioned earlier in this course, your primary reinforcer (such as the treat) must be something your dog loves-not just accepts, but really loves.
Your tone of voice when giving praise must be encouraging and happy, too. Have you ever seen someone yelling at their dog that got loose?
Typically they lose patience quickly and switch from a cajoling voice to a stern, angry yell if the dog doesn’t come immediately.
Think about that.
Would you want to run towards anger?
Of course not!
Remember, your goal is to make your dog very happy to run to you when you call.
So be very careful to not patience during this lesson, keep your voice happy and enthusiastic, and give tons of praise when your dog does the right thing.
Now (finally), let’s get on with the lesson!
Lesson 3: Teaching Your Dog to Come when Called
Read this lesson first, and then practice it with your dog.
- Load up your pocket (or a bag or pouch) with treats. You’ll need more than usual for this lesson.
- Take your dog to an area where there won’t be a lot of distractions.
- Move about 10 feet away from your dog as he’s not paying attention to you.
- Enthusiastically call out your dog’s name, followed by the come command: “Come! Come! Come!” Do this while turning sideways (don’t turn your back, you need to watch him closely), and start clapping as you begin to run away from your dog.
- As soon as he moves in your direction, call out your praise (“Good!”) and keep going.
- Slow down and let your dog catch up to you; then stop and immediately give him a handful of treats and lots of enthusiastic praise-like coming to you was the best thing in the world!
Important: This method reinforces your dog’s actions twice-first for diverting his attention from whatever he’s doing (Step 4), and second when he reaches you (Step 5).
Step 4 is just as important as Step 5.
Be very good and consistent about praising your dog the instant he turns his attention to you.
Considering how many smelly distractions there are in your dog’s world, getting him to stop whatever he’s doing and look at you really is quite amazing, and you need to show your appreciation.
Give your praise (“Good!”) immediately when he looks at you and starts to move in your direction.
And be sure that with Step 5, you give the treat immediately when he reaches you. Do NOT wait because he may sit down.
If you give him the treat after he sits, he’ll think sitting was the action that’s being rewarded, not coming to you.
- Walk about ten steps away from your dog and wait for him to look away from you.
- Repeat Steps 3, 4 and 5.
- Repeat this process three times.
If your dog doesn’t do what you want
If your dog doesn’t come, he’s probably too distracted.
Remember, he hasn’t yet learned that coming to you will make him happier than anything else he’s doing.
So here’s what you do: go to him. (This is difficult for some people to do as they feel it is “giving in” to their dog. But please trust us… this is the right thing to do at this point of training your dog.)
Let your dog know you have a treat in your hand, and use it to lure him as you walk away, giving your come (“Come! Come! Come!”) command.
Stop after a few steps and give him the treat.
If the treat lure doesn’t work, put a leash on him and gently pull him along as you give your come command. Stop after a few steps and give him the treat.
Remember to keep your tone of voice upbeat, enthusiastic and happy.
This Week’s Homework
Practice this lesson several times a day. Vary the time of day
and location. Think of the training as a fun game for you and
Remember to use the same come command every time, turn away from
your dog, and clap while running away. Give instant praise when
he turns his attention to you, and instant treats when he
Be aware of what your dog is doing when you call him to come to you. You want him to learn quickly and easily, so don’t call him when he’s focused on something else. Keep the degree of difficulty for this exercise as low as possible at this point.
Use the command also when you know you’re dog will be coming to you automatically, such as when you put his food bowl down.
Also remember the key to this lesson is to teach your dog that coming to you is a wonderful thing. So for now, do NOT use the come command to call him to you if the end result is something he
won’t like, such as having his toenails trimmed.
Instead, go to him, put on the leash, and lead him to where you need him to go. Keep your tone of voice upbeat, friendly, and encouraging, but be sure to avoid using the come command when
your dog won’t like what happens afterwards.
In Addition to Practicing This Lesson…
* Reinforce Lesson 2, Teaching Your Dog to Sit. Continue teaching your dog to sit (as you learned last week) at various times throughout the week. Remember not to change your verbal command.
If you started with “Sit,” do not say “Sit down” or anything else.
After a few successful sessions with the basic lesson, during your next session, put your treat in your other hand (not the one that is moving over his head toward his tail).
This will teach your dog that he’ll get a reward for doing the right thing (sitting) even when he can’t sniff the food.
Remember to say “Sit” before moving your arm.
After a few successful sessions, during your next session, try saying the word alone, without moving your arm (or anything else).
It may take him a few seconds longer to sit on just the verbal command, so wait until he does so before giving lots of praise and several treats.
If your dog doesn’t sit on just the verbal command, resist the temptation to repeat the command.
Instead, go back to using the arm motion with the verbal command. Don’t worry if he won’t respond to the verbal command without the arm motion at this point.
When you feel your dog is ready to move on, during your next session, try teaching him to respond to the arm motion alone.
Modify the arm movement somewhat, so it’s more of an upward motion out and back towards your chest than a movement over your dog’s head toward his tail. Use just the arm movement alone, without the verbal command. Give extra praise and treats to reward him if he sits.
After he learns to respond to just the verbal command, and to just the visual command, alternate them (but not during the same session).
Sometimes ask him to “Sit” verbally.
Other times just use the arm movement.
Give lots of praise for doing the right thing.
Be patient; this alternating of verbal and visual commands is a bit complicated for your dog. Don’t switch commands during the same session.
Go back to using the verbal command and arm motion together if he doesn’t respond to either alone.
All dogs learn at different paces.
Just keep working at it.
Make sure there aren’t too many distractions.
Give lots of praise for doing the right thing.
Keep your practice sessions to no more than five repetitions per session.
* Reinforce Lesson 1, Teaching Your Dog His Name: Continue teaching your dog his name at various times throughout the week, allowing the level of distraction to increase during our practice sessions. Remember to say your dog’s name only once, wait for him to look at you, then immediately give praise.
Intermittent Reinforcement Begins
When you’re confident your dog will respond to his name each time, you can begin “intermittent reinforcement.”
Continue giving verbal praise, but back off on giving treats every time your dog responds correctly.
Give treat rewards intermittently, at random. This gradual withdrawal of treats is an important step, so don’t skip
- (You can delay it another week, though, if your dog doesn’t yet respond consistently to his name.)
Start using petting (make sure it’s the kind your dog likes-most dogs do NOT like pats on the head, for
instance) and play as other forms of reward.
* Have fun playing with your dog! Don’t focus all your time together on training. Spend lots of quality time just enjoying each other’s company.
Coming up next lesson: Lesson 4, Teaching Your Dog to Stay.