Guiding your dog to come when called



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part article, the first of which was published in our September 25 edition – Kirsten Reichel, HTF Staff Writer

A good recall from your dog doesn’t happen overnight — a reliable recall is taught in small steps. You’ll want to start with short distances on a lead until you achieve a good recall. Once your dog is reliably coming when called increase the distance.

Eventually you’ll be able to add in distractions such as practicing outside around other people or dogs. If you notice your dog not obeying at a certain distance or with distractions, go back to your previous step and practice more — your dog wasn’t quite ready to move on.

Like many great things, a reliable recall is built over time. Don’t expect success overnight. If your dog won’t come to you in your own backyard, they’re not ready to try the command at the park.

Dogs are constantly learning from us whether we realize it or not, so it’s important to remember not to get lazy when it comes to giving out a great reward whenever they come on command. Even if they already know what “come here” means, it’s important to keep rewarding them every time they come when called. If you don’t reward your dog, they may decide that sniffing around in the yard is far more rewarding than coming back to you just to go back inside.



Dogs learn well when they’re rewarded for making their own choices. If you forget to praise them, they might wonder whether they’ve done something wrong or just decide it’s simply not worth it to listen next time.

There are so many possibilities when it comes to rewards – it doesn’t just have to be treats. Dogs can be highly motivated by play so try a tug toy or lure if your dog likes to chase. If they go crazy for squeaky toys use those. I’ve used everything from frisbees to carrots.

You can make it extra rewarding by making a game out of it. Puppy in the middle is one of our favorite recall games; you and a partner practice calling your dog back and forth. Keep your dog interested by rewarding them handsomely with treats when they come. Step it up a notch by adding in a tennis ball and encourage them to join in. It’s an easy way to practice a reliable recall with multiple members of the family.

Whether you’re using a clicker or verbal praise, another way to improve your dogs’ recall is by letting your dog know they’re on the right track as they’re heading back to you. If you wait to show any sign of positive reinforcement until they’re completely back to you they’re more likely to become distracted along the way.

When training a puppy, the “chase me” game is especially fun. As they’re heading back to you verbally praise them and try to coax them into chasing you. You know your dog best, use the higher value rewards when working with new distractions or from a further distance.

Any toys that you designate as training tools should be kept separate and out of reach from your dog. Dogs can easily become bored with toys if they’re given access to the same ones all the time — only use your high value training toys or treats when you’re actually training.

When it comes to training your dog to come when called it’s important to remember to keep it fun. One of the easiest ways to do that is to make your dog’s release its own reward.

If your dog was in the middle of doing something fun before you had him come to you, give him his reward and then allow them to go back to what they were doing. For this to work you should have a release command such as “okay go.” Something to signify the dog is free to go back to whatever it is they fancy.

When it comes to teaching your dog to “come here” don’t assume your dog is too young to learn. You can set a decent foundation by teaching your young pup that coming over to you equals all sorts of good and fun things. That positive association will help set the groundwork for your dog’s recall later on.

Puppies grow up following their litter mates around. They learn by example, and following around other members of the family comes naturally to them. Teaching a young puppy to come here is generally pretty easy using positive reinforcement.

Puppies love to follow moving objects so teaching them to come to you while you’re running around can be accomplished quite easily. If you can lay the foundation of a great recall with a young puppy it will be tremendously helpful for when they reach their rebellious teenage phase.

If you can’t reliably get your dog to come to you from five feet away at home, don’t try it at the dog park. Success comes in small steps and your dog needs to be trained in many different situations before you can expect them to come to you in a highly stimulating environment.

If you do find that your dog is not listening, go and retrieve them. Don’t yell or make it stressful on your dog, just put them back on the leash and remove them from the distraction. Your dog needs to realize that not coming when called isn’t an option without being overly harsh.

Only use your recall command once, maybe twice. Don’t keep repeating it. If your dog is ignoring you, they’re going to associate not listening as an option to keep on doing whatever they’re doing.

It will reinforce selective hearing and you’ll end up with a much less reliable recall in the long run. If your dog isn’t listening, it’s time to stop the training – the dog is either too distracted, bored with training, or wasn’t ready for that level of training yet.

Dogs that are trained with negative consequences or punishment get stressed out which can lead to other behavioral issues such as fearfulness or aggression. The extra stress can interfere with their further training and ability to learn new behaviors.

Some dogs love training, but even the most enthusiastic learners do best with breaks. Fifteen-minute sessions should be sufficient for most dogs. If you go on much longer than that, you run the risk of your dog becoming bored and/or distracted. Keep it short and sweet by ending on a high note so they’ll look forward to the next session.

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