Teaching Your Dog to Come

Question: When I call my two year old Yorkie, she just runs away from me. How can I get her to come when I need her too? – Dorota

Many, many people have a problem teaching their dog a strong recall, or to come when called reliably. This is such an important issue, because your ability to call your dog away from a dangerous situation could one day save her life; whereas, should your dog get loose and then take off when you call her, she could easily run right into the middle of a busy street, thinking you’re playing a game.

There are a handful of simple rules to follow when teaching your dog to come when called. Strict adherence to these rules should lead to the nice, strong recall we’d all like our dogs to have.

NEVER say the word, “come,” if it’s not going to happen. It will not happen if: she has inadvertently learned that “come” is the beginning of a chase game or means that something not-so-great is going to happen (like the end of a play date or a spanking); or she’s involved in something more interesting than you. You can eventually teach your dog to come even when there’s something better to do; but that takes a lot of very gradual work.

When you first start teaching this behavior, begin very close to your dog somewhere free from distractions. Say the word, then show your dog what it mean by making it happen. You can use your happy/excited voice and clap and whistle, or simply whip out a great treat, stick it in front of your dog’s nose and lure her back to where you were. Either way, when she gets to you, throw a party. She gets lots of great treat and praise or maybe a game of tug. If, as in Dorota’s case, your dog has come to think that “come” means “run away,” then you’d better not say “come” if you want her to come to you! Use whatever other methods you must to manufacture the behavior. You can either choose a term for the behavior (like, “to me!”) or get the behavior strong first, then try to work the word “come” back in.

Add distractions (elements of real life) and distance between yourself and your dog very gradually. Be prepared that if you go too quickly and ask your dog to come: when she’s involved in something more interesting; or from farther away than she’s ready for, you’ll have to make the behavior happen; go up to her with something delicious and lure her back to where you were. Your dog should never hear the command for come and ignore it.

NEVER say “come” when something not-so-great for dogs is about to happen. This means that if you are angry or about to scold your dog, if it’s bath time or time to go in the crate, if it’s time to leave the dog park, etc; you need to go and get your dog; do not call her to you. Every time your dog hears the command for “come,” she should be required to respond appropriately and great things for dogs should happen when she does.

That’s it! Those are the rules for developing a strong recall. Good luck to Dorota and anyone else who might  be struggling with this issue!


Guest Contributor–Danielle Grand has spent the last decade working to parlay her affinity for animals into a dog training career. While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was involved in an experimental study on canine cognition. She has also obtained her dog training certification from Animal Behavior College and attended numerous dog training seminars conducted by respected behaviorists. At home in New York’s capital region, she works closely with colleagues and mentors to expand her expertise; she hopes to help forge strong, happy relationships between many dogs and their humans.


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