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Come (Joyfully!) When Called


An instantaneous, drop-everything-and-come-running recall is the dream of every dog owner.

A few dogs will learn it easily (they are probably co-dependent and afraid of losing you!), most will take longer.  It will require dedication and practice to get to the level of training you dream of.  Breed type, personality, and especially differences in instinctive prey and chase drive in each individual dog will affect the dog's ability and desire to respond. The owner's relationship with the dog also has great bearing. 


Two Rules:
1. Be fun, be engaging, make learning to come when called the highlight of his day. 

2. NEVER call your dog and scold him or make it a habit to call him if the outcome of coming to you will be unpleasant. 

"Honey, come on! We're gonna be late!"

"Just a minute - I'll be right there ... I just need to finish this!"


How many times have you, your spouse, your kids, uttered these very words?

So why, when we call our dog and he hesitates for even a nano-second over that fabulous scent of squirrel at the base of that tree, are we so quick to say "HE JUST WON'T COME WHEN HE'S CALLED!?"   Your significant other probably says the same thing about you!


"When a dog runs at you, whistle for him."
- Henry David Thoreau

The result of coming must always be better than what the dog was doing at the time you called.


Set up situations where coming to you is the MOST fabulous, MOST fun event in your dog's life.

"Carter, Come!"  Wouldn't you just love to see this every time you called your dog?  

So, how do we work against nature, against instinct, and get a truly reliable come when called?
We don't do it by yelling, chasing or grabbing, and they certainly don't learn it by frantically yelling "come!" as the dog disappears down the block!


She'll come if I yell, "cookie!" but not if I yell, "Come!"
Why?  Because history says every time you say cookie, cookies happen! 


The answer? Make the same association to the word "Come!" Your dog will come the same to "come" as it does to "cookie" if it ALWAYS predicts something fabulous! Call many times a day: to dinner, for petting, to go for a walk, to play ball. The problem is that sometimes "come" means it's time to go to bed, to stop playing and go inside, to leave the park, or to come away from something she's having fun doing. (Go get her to do her nails!)  Worse, sometimes people use come when they really mean, "stop that" or "get away from there" or "put that down."  Never call and scold your dog, or punish them when you catch them.  If you are harsh with your dog when you finally catch them, you are punishing the last thing they did - allow themselves to be caught.


Keep Away & Catch-Me-if-You-Can

Living beings are never 100% reliable. Not me, not you, and certainly not our dogs. No matter how much training you put in, no matter how amazing your relationship is, it only takes one oops. The greatest Olympic athlete who trains many hours a day, still trips over curbs. The greatest race car driver still gets in fender benders.

Unless you are in a completely safe location,


Use a leash.

Great blog post on "Teaching Rover to Race to You on Cue" by Sophia Yin with video.


Make recall games the most fun your dog ever had!


Round Robin & Ping Pong recalls

Two or more family members have the best rewards they can muster.  Standing a few feet away, each calls the dog's name and marks the head turn in their direction with a happy "yes!" then backs away a step and feeds, then the other family member does the same.  If there are more than two people, someone is appointed the "director" who randomly selects who will call next.  Gradually increasing distance.  When the dog is excited and running to each person who calls her name, each person will add the word "come!" in their happiest voice just as the dog reaches top speed and reward upon arrival.  When the dog is happily coming, add a sit in front, reach with your empty hand to touch the dog's collar as you deliver the reward.

Hide and Seek 
Start in the house, many times a day. Have someone hold the dog gently by the collar while you taunt her with a favorite toy and run away - when she is straining to get to you, call her! The person immediately releases the dog the instant you say the magic word "Come!". She should come screaming to you at full speed - when she gets to you cheer and play a rousing game with the toy or give her a really fabulous treat and then do it again ... this time go a little out of her line of sight. Repeat until she is on the edge of her seat waiting for your cue to come. Turn this into a really exciting game of hide and seek, all over the house, in every room, even in the dark.


"Come" and "Get It!"
Roll a treat down the floor and encourage your dog to "get it!" As the dog picks up the treat and looks back at you, call "Come!" and toss a treat the other direction, again encouraging her to "get it!" Do this three or four times til you get a nice rhythm going, and then step to face your dog and call "sit" as she approaches the mid-point, guiding her into a sit in front. Throw in a sit every so often. This teaches your dog how it feels to skid to a stop and turn and run back when she hears the world "come!" This works best in long hallways on even ground where the dog can see the treat easily as it rolls. (Dawn Jecs uses this fabulous exercise in her "Choose to Heel" training program.)

Be realistic.


Read this article on building STRONG FOUNDATIONS.


Until your dog has learned to come reliably in the house with no distractions, first time every time, you can't expect her to come when there are more exciting things on the horizon than you. Until then, put a long trailing line on her so she can't end up in the street and don't call her unless you are holding or standing on the end of it.


On the trail ...

If you are out hiking with your dog and he takes off too far ahead ... turn and run the other way! If he doesn't notice you've ditched him, duck and hide. He'll soon realize he is alone and double back in search of his lost family member. Reinforce his relief when he finds you - he'll be more attentive of your whereabouts in the future.  (Practice ONLY in safe places where there is no chance of traffic or other dangers!)

If they head north, you head south! Take off the other way and reward them for catching you!


Call often and reward well - and you'll soon have this kind of response!

photos courtesy of Bea Wachter


What about the independent dog who doesn't seem to care about your whereabouts?
The newly adopted dog who doesn't know its name or that you are its new family?



Try hand feeding (nothing in her bowl, all food by hand) for a couple of weeks. Call her only when she is away from you doing something else. Celebrate and give her several kibble, one at a time as a big party and then send her off. If she follows you or pesters you to eat, ignore her. Wait til she's off doing her own thing awhile later and call again. If she chooses not to come, she chooses not to eat. As hunger catches up, her response to the cue to come will become amazing and immediate! When she drops everything to come at mach speed, give bonus rewards - a special amazing reward reserved ONLY for come when called. Don't have it with you? Celebrate and keep cheering all the way to the house to get it!


I was told my Husky, Sighthound, Scenthound, Terrier,
[insert your breed here] couldn't be taught to come when called.


It will take longer and much more practice to teach a dog to come whose instincts are to go far and fast or follow their nose. It's especially difficult to teach any dog to come away from high value distractions, but it is definitely possible.


Here are some tips to get started:


1. Hand feed every morsel of food she eats. Whatever was going to go in her bowl, she could get for coming when called -a bit at a time, all day, every chance you get. Start in the house - all over the house. One family member can hold the dog while the other runs away to another room.  Let her go when they call "Spot, come"! In the same happy voice you will use out in the field. Each time you call and feed her, dismiss her "ok, go play!" and ignore her and go about your day. Praise her for checking in, but only call and feed her when she is not following you around.


2. When she runs to you immediately and eagerly when you call in the house, take it into a fenced yard. Call and then run away so she chases you. Praise and feed her when she catches you. Use higher value food outdoors than you did indoors.


3. Get a 30 foot long line and take her to the field with the best high value, smelly, yummy, to die for treats you can find. If it's wide open area, you might hook 2 lines together so she can enjoy a little more distance. Hold the end and just let it drag. The line is just life insurance, it's not to direct her. Feed feed feed and send away "go play!" Call and feed, send away. Call and feed, send away. Call before she gets terribly interested in anything. Call when she is highly likely to come, over and over. Call when she turns and looks at you. Reward her for checking in. Reward generously. Should she lock on to something, before she takes off, hold on to the line tight, call and turn and run the other way. When she catches you, praise like crazy, feed and send her away.


4. If you call her a hundred times a day and feed her every morsel she ever gets for coming, she will soon be coming like a rocket at short distances with low level distractions.


5. Coming away from distractions at a distance will take much more practice. First you will train for low level distractions where you are close and the distraction a distance she can handle, gradually working toward being able to come away from really high level distractions, when she is nearer to the distraction than she is to you, moving targets, etc. The surprise appearance of fast moving furry distractions will always be her hardest.



Building Strong Foundations


It takes LOTS of practice and management/prevention (long line) to get to the point where she is good enough at "come away from distractions" to be able to handle difficult challenges.

Getting there is dependent on your dedication to training and commitment to practice.





This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:
© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People -
ditr_training @ -

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