Do you have dreams of hiking alongside your dog, calling her back to you with a single word, and holding your arms outstretched as she comes back running?
She’s going to need to know how to come when called.
Even if you have more modest dreams, like being able to go to the dog park or traveling with your dog someday… she’s going to need to know how to come when called.
Once your dog masters this, you can keep her under control, protect her from potentially dangerous situations, and give her the off-leash freedom she deserves.
It’s a very important command!
You can teach a young puppy to come when called (also called “recall”) as soon as she learns her name and how to sit. The actual training part is easy (and this is the best method I’ve seen for quick, consistent recall), but us humans have a way of undermining ourselves.
Most dog owners have the best intentions, but they fail to follow this simple rule and they end up having a hard time training their dog to come.
The rule is: never punish your dog for coming to you!
Well of course, you may be thinking, why would you do that?
Consider this: anything that your dog doesn’t want to do is a form of punishment. Leaving the dog park, taking a bath, dropping your shoe from her mouth - these are all things your dog does not want to do.
So if you ask Luna to “come!” and then you immediately leash her up, make her leave the dog park, or punish her, well… guess who’s not coming next time you call her.
So you never want to say “come!” if you aren’t certain that your dog is going to come to you.
In the meantime, try to get creative and use other strategies to get Luna to come to you without actually saying the word “come.”
Pick up her favorite squeaky toy and start running the opposite direction. Bounce a ball. Put a treat on the ground in front of her. If necessary, calmly walk up to where she is playing and take hold of her collar.
Just don’t use the word “come” in these circumstances!
You want her to think that coming to you is the best thing in the world and that good things always happen when she comes to you.
So while we’re in training, save the word “come!” for only positive, upbeat experiences. Got it?
A successful “come” occurs when your dog hears her name and comes running to you.
You want her to come quickly and you want her to come in close (preferably ending in a “sit”) so you can grab her collar or clip on a leash.
You also want her to come every single time you call her, even if there's a squirrel crossing the street or a stray chicken bone on the ground.
We’re going to start this exercise inside. Pick a location that’s free of distractions - an area where your pup already spends a lot of time (so it isn’t new and exciting), like an exercise pen, the kitchen, or your living room.
If you’re in a small room, you can do this without a leash.
If you think there’s a chance your dog could walk away and lose interest, attach a leash.
Then we’re going to pick treats - this is so important that it gets its own step. :)
Grab the absolute best treat that you can get your hands on.
For most dogs this means human food - pieces of soft cheese, bits of bacon, boiled chicken, etc. Maybe your dog likes french fries or cheerios. If she does, grab some of those.
Pick something surprising that your dog doesn’t usually get to have.
Our first task is to build a super positive association with the word “come." We want to teach Luna that “come!” is a crazy ✨magical✨ word and that absolutely wonderful and unexpected things happens when her human says it.
Stand right next to Luna, holding your special treats behind your back in one hand. Place your other (empty) hand in front of her nose.
When she sniffs or licks your hand, mark it with a click or a “yes!” and give her a magical treat from behind your back.
Do this a few times until she is purposefully bumping your hand with her nose and waiting for her treat.
Continue with Step 1, but now simply say “Come” in an upbeat tone while you stick out your hand and wait for the nose bump.
When she bumps it, say “yes!” or click and give her a treat.
Remember, you're working at a close distance. She doesn’t really have to “come” for this part because she’s already right next to you. She’s just hanging with you, listening to the magic word, bumping your hand, and eating treats.
Soon she’ll start expecting treats when she hears the word. That’s what you want.
Repeat this many times, until Luna gets visibly excited when she hears the word.
When you’ve done the magical exercise several times, you should have Luna’s full attention.
If she seems bored or distracted, stop the game here and pick it up another time. Remember, we never want to say "come" if she’s not going to listen.
But if you’re using something like bacon, you probably still have her attention. :)
Now start walking with Luna by your side. Make sure you have her attention - you can reach over and let her smell your treats at this point if she’s looking away.
When she’s right next to you, say “Come!” loudly, in a cheerful tone of voice, and run away fast.
Once she takes steps to run next to you, say “yes!” or click and run a few more steps. You and Luna should be running together in the same direction.
Run 5-10 feet.
When you stop, stick out your hand, let her bump it with her nose, and give her one of your magical treats and a ton of praise. Be really, over-the-top excited!
Repeat this several times and make sure you stop before she loses interest.
Stay on this step for a few days before you move on.
Once Luna is getting really good at Step 4, we can start to add in a small distraction so she’ll get used to turning away from something to run and come to you.
To do this, drop a few yummy treats on the ground by your feet and slowly walk a few feet away while she’s eating them.
Once she’s finished the last treat, say “Come!” and run away.
Run for 10-15 feet, stop, put out your hand, say “yes!” when she bumps it and give her more treats and praise.
“Come” isn’t over until you add your finishing move, which is going to be a nice sit, right in front of you. The reason why you'd want your dog to sit close to you after you ask for her to “come” is a practical one: it makes it easier to reach down and grab her collar or clip on her leash.
To add in your finished move, resume your practice and ask Luna to “come!”
Mark the behavior when she does with a “yes!” and immediately do the hand gesture for “sit.”
Only give her the treat after she sits in front of you.
Repeat this several times, only giving her the treat after she comes and then sits.
After many repetitions, ask Luna to come, say “yes!” and then wait with both hands behind your back until she sits. You’re phasing the hand gesture out, but since she’s practiced sitting so many times, she should know what to do. After she sits, you can give her the treat.
Now when you work on “come,” only give Luna the treat after she also sits. It may take her a few seconds to figure it out. Just wait and look at the floor and she should catch on.
Now you’ve taught Luna how to "come!” when you are inside your house or in your own yard. Continue to practice this skill in different places and at different levels of distraction. You can try some of these variations
Come! from one room to another
Come! in a local park, on a long leash
Come! through an open doorway
Come! when a favorite toy is in sight.
Make sure you have your pup’s attention before you call her. Try this: say her name first and wait for her to look at you before you say the cue.
If this exercise makes your puppy bitey and overly excited, do not continue to run when you ask for a “come.” You should briskly walk instead.
If your dog doesn't come to you at first, do not immediately repeat the command. Instead, decrease the distance between you and your dog, say her name first to get her attention, and then try again.
Be the most interesting thing in the room. Be upbeat! Make some noise! Get really good treats and make sure there are minimal distractions.
You may need to make the reward even more valuable if your dog isn’t responding enthusiastically.
Consider using a squeaky toy if your dog isn’t food motivated.
If your dog tries to run away from you, never run after her! Try turning the game around by calling out to her and running the opposite direction. She may then chase you in play. If so, reward her with praise when she gets to you.