How to Teach a Dog to Come When Called – Every Time | Pupford
September 27th, 2023
Filed under Training
Some people we talk to swear their dogs have selective hearing. They're constantly wondering how to teach a dog to come when called, especially when outside!
Either their dog responds consistently to “food” but not to “come,” or they only listen to the “come” cue some of the time.
Does this sound like your dog? If so, you’re definitely not alone.
A lot of dog parents in our community ask us for help with consistently getting their dog or puppy to come when called.
So that’s what we’re here to help with today, let's dive in!
We’ll be touching on these topics:
- Why your dog won't come when called, especially outside
- Why is recall so important?
- How to teach a dog to come when called
- Tools to help with recall
- What to do when your dog doesn’t come
Oh, and just as a helpful note for new dog parents are those who aren’t familiar: training your dog to come when called consistently is a skill known as recall, so that’s what we’ll be referring to it as throughout this article!
WHY YOUR DOG WON'T COME WHEN CALLED, ESPECIALLY OUTSIDE
It can be frustrating to have your dog not follow something you ask and not be sure why.
There are a few main explanations as to why your dog won't come when called, especially outside ⤵️
- Your dog is being distracted by their surroundings, like other animals or people.
- Your tone suggests they may be in trouble once they come to you, especially if you sound frustrated or angry after many failed commands.
- Whatever else your dog is doing is more rewarding than what you have to offer them (no offense!).
- Your dog is having fun and doesn’t want it to end.
- Your dog doesn't yet understand what the word "come" actually means (hint, this is often the root, while the other reasons play a role as well)!
Regardless of the reason, it’s important to get your dog back on track and to learn to come when called!
WHY IS RECALL SO IMPORTANT?
Recall is super important for keeping your dog safe. If they’re in a situation they’re not supposed to be in, like being out in an open yard near a road, or you see a threat that they don’t see, getting them to come to you can mean avoiding serious injury.
Unless your dog has mastered recall, they won’t be ready for activities like off-leash walking, hiking along your favorite trail, going for a swim, playing at the dog park, or going to the beach, since not following the “come” behavior can be dangerous in these situations.
Apart from keeping your dog safe, teaching your dog to come when called can lay a better foundation for more advanced behaviors down the road.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DOG TO COME WHEN CALLED
The good news is there are things you can do to help your dog master recall – it’s all about training.
Before we get into the training steps, here are two pro tips to keep in mind:
- Practice proofing -- this means starting your training in situations with no distractions and slowly increasing distractions. For example, you’ll want to start training the “come” behavior inside your own home, move to an outside yard, and eventually work up to a place like a park.
- Train with high reward treats -- like we mentioned, you have to make it worth it for your dog to leave what they’re doing to come to you. High reward treats are delicious enough to teach your dog that recall is worth it!
HERE ARE THE BASIC TRAINING STEPS THAT CAN HELP TEACH YOUR DOG TO COME WHEN CALLED:
- With your dog on a long leash, have your dog sit and stay.
- Walk a few paces away, get down low in an approachable position, and in an excited tone say, “[name], come!”
- Use their leash to guide them back to you and reward once they’ve returned.
- Repeat until mastered, then do the same thing at longer and longer distances until they are able to recall from off the leash, on the other side of the yard.
- Once mastered, repeat steps 1-4 in a situation with a few more distractions and mix in other people giving the command.
I know those 5 steps sound simple, but truly that is how you teach your dog to come when called.
The key is to practice these steps from varying distances, distractions, etc..
Just because your dog has a reliable recall inside your living room, doesn't mean they will at a busy park or anywhere outside for that matter.
You MUST practice those difficult recall situations beforehand, not just while they are happening.
Make sure to always have a stash of high reward treats on you so you can reward any time your dog follows this behavior, at least until it’s mastered.
Additionally, here is a video from Zak George about teaching your dog to come when called.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR DOG DOESN'T COME WHEN CALLED
Of course, there are bound to be moments during training where it doesn’t go quite as planned. If your dog is not progressing as expected and is failing to follow the “come” cue, there are some things you can do.
First of all, watch your tone. No, we’re not scolding you as your mother did as a teen, this is real advice!
Make sure you avoid an angry tone when giving the cue word and try again with a happy one.
If you’ve used the cue “come” over and over again with absolutely no success, consider going back to the drawing board by picking a new cue word and starting the training process over again.
It’s possible that “come” has lost meaning to your dog and they will grasp the behavior better with a new word like “here.”
TOOLS TO HELP WITH COME WHEN CALLED
There are a few things you can keep on hand to help make recall easier for your dog, and you.
Here are our come when called essentials 👇
HIGH-VALUE TRAINING TREATS
Let me be blunt for a second here...
If you don't have treats that your dog is willing to work for, you won't teach a reliable recall. Period.
On the other hand, if your dog knows that their reward will be tasty, they will be much more likely to come.
And once that reward is given, the behavior of coming will be more likely repeated (that is positive reinforcement training in a nutshell).
LONG LEAD TRAINING LEASH
Again, this isn't an "optional" tool. It is 100%, absolutely, unequivocally, no ifs-ands-or-buts necessary.
To safely teach your dog a number of behaviors, including recall, a long lead leash is a must.
It allows you to give your dog "freedom" while still staying in control.
The alternative is to just go 30 feet away and hope your dog comes back when you call them... but what happens if they don't?
Again, you need a long lead.
TRAINING STARTER PACK
We love a bundle deal! You can get a pack of high reward training treats AND a long lead leash together -- with a bonus tug toy.
For everything you need to get started teaching a strong recall, shop the Training Starter Pack here.
THE RECALL MASTERY COURSE: PART OF PUPFORD ACADEMY
Get access to step-by-step instructions for teaching recall, learn how to prevent impulses from getting in the way of your dog returning to you, and play fun games with your dog that reinforce the behavior.
This course breaks down your dog's recall into 11 "levels" of progression.
EXTRA NOTE: A TOOL YOU DO NOT NEED
We will bring this up because we don't want you to be misinformed.
You do NOT need an e-collar to teach a reliable recall.
Let me repeat that a little bit louder for the people in the back...
You do NOT need an e-collar to teach a reliable recall.
E-collars (yes, they are an aversive method) have scientifically been shown to cause more trouble and harm than good.
Here is another scientific study highlighting the negative effects of aversive methods like e-collars.
UNIQUE RECALL WORDS FOR DOGS
While I believe simplicity is often better for cue words, some people want to try out unique cue words for their dogs to come when called!
Here are some fun and unique recall words for dogs:
- Aqui (or any non-English word that means 'come')
- Whistling (instead of any word)
- Come touch (this is often tied to the 'touch' behavior, but that's a topic for another article)
Really, you can use ANY word you want for the come when called behavior. The key is to just pair that word with the behavior as your train it and then be consistent!
Do you have a unique recall word? Tell us in the comments!
RECAP OF TEACHING A DOG TO COME WHEN CALLED
Teaching your dog to come when called every time takes patience, persistence, and consistency.
So, what're you waiting for?
Also, if you're wanting more training resources be sure to sign up for 30 Day Perfect Pup! It's a 100% free (no credit card required) online course taught by Zak George. You'll learn even more about recall, leash walking, potty training, and more!
EXTRA RESOURCES FOR TRAINING COME WHEN CALLED
We wanted to include even more resources to help you train your puppy (or dog) to come when called!
Is letting your dog off leash worth it? See our opinion here!
Playing is way more fun than training, so use play to teach your dog recall here!
We all mistakes and that's life... But learn how you might be ruining your dog's recall here!
We mentioned it before, but a long lead is one of the most underrated dog training tools. Learn 3 long leash dog training techniques here!
Check out another full guide about dog recall training.