The “come” command — also known as recall — is one of the most important skills to teach your dog. Not only will a solid recall help you avoid those embarrassing games of catch-me-if-you-can when you’re trying to leave the dog park, but it will help keep your dog safe off-leash.
How to teach the “come” command
- Start by practicing indoors or in a fenced backyard. Make sure there aren’t too many tempting distractions. If your dog sticks to your side like glue and you can’t get far enough away to ask them to come, have a friend hold your dog while you take a few steps away from them.
- With a treat in your hand, back up a few feet, squat down, and open your arms in a welcome gesture. Wiggle the treat and tell your dog to “come!” in an enthusiastic, happy tone of voice.
- As soon as your dog starts moving in your direction, praise and encourage them in a warm, positive tone: “Good dog!” If they stop or start wandering away from you, immediately stop the praise. When they start coming toward you again, start in once more.
- When your dog makes it all the way to you, offer the tasty treat as well as enthusiastic praise and pets. Then tell your dog, “Go play!” and let them go back to whatever they were doing for a minute or so.
- Repeat the exercise.
- Once your dog has practiced the recall a few times, start offering treats sporadically, only after the fastest recalls. Eventually, you can phase out food rewards completely–although praise and pets are of course always appreciated, and they help cement in your dog’s brain that coming when called is a good thing.
If the “come” command is not working
If your dog hasn’t had a chance to figure out what this “come” command is all about, don’t reprimand them for not responding. Just call their name, ask them again to come, and start jogging backward, away from the dog, to stimulate them to follow. Clapping your hands may also convince them that this is a fun game they want to join. Start praising the dog as soon as they move toward you.
If you’ve been practicing the recall for a while, you can tell your dog to come again in a sharper tone. If they obey, praise them and show them the treat in your hand, but don’t give it to them. Back up a few steps and ask them to come, and give them the treat if they obey. This shows them that they need to come on the first call if they want the reward.
With the “come” command in particular, dog parents are often the ones causing the problem. Consider whether you’re making these common mistakes:
Expecting too much, too soon
To teach a really solid recall, you want to add in extra challenges very gradually, and make it easy for the dog to get it right. If they get it wrong, they’re practicing a bad habit — namely, running away when you ask them to come. If you need to get your dog but know they probably won’t respond to your recall, just walk up to them and snap on the leash.
Punishing the dog once they get to you
This is the cardinal sin of teaching “come.” It doesn’t take a canine genius to figure out that if a scolding or punishment is waiting for them when they come, they’d really rather head in the opposite direction. Never punish your dog when they come to you, and call them in an upbeat tone of voice. If you sound furious, your dog is less likely to obey.
Using the recall only to do something unpleasant
If your request to come is usually followed by shoving your dog outside, leaving the dog park, subjecting them to a bath, or any other item on a dog’s list of least-favorite things, they’ll quickly learn to dread and avoid it. Practice recalls often during walks, games, and trips to the dog park, and then let your dog get back to the fun.
Moving toward your dog when you’re calling them
This can seem like a fun game of tag for your dog — and you’re it. Moving away from your dog when you call them, on the other hand, will lure them to follow you.
Teaching your dog the advanced “come” command
To set your dog up for success with learning the “come” command, you’ll want to start out easy and gradually make it more challenging. Begin teaching the recall indoors or in a fenced yard, then outside on a leash, then outside with a longer leash, and then outside on a leash with a distraction added to the mix —someone throwing a ball, a friend’s dog romping around, and so on. If your dog’s recall disintegrates, make it easier — standing closer to your dog perhaps, or taking away a few of the distractions — and try again.
The ultimate test is the dog park, a place of fascinating smells and fun playmates. When you first practice the recall in the dog park, start with your dog on a leash and ask them to come several times, rewarding them with a treat and praising them whenever they respond.
You can let them off-leash once they’re obeying consistently, but call them back to you periodically, praising and rewarding them when they arrive. Then tell them, “Go play!” and let them go back to the fun and games. If most recalls end with a treat, a tummy rub, and then a release to go back to their playmates, they won’t ever come to dread — and ignore — the sound of your voice yelling, “Come!”