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Recall Command: How to Teach a Dog to Come When Called

Of all the basic commands you can teach your dog, the “recall” command is the most important. Training your pet to come to you when called not only keeps you in control, but it can save him from dangerous situations. While it is a crucial command, it is often the most difficult to train. Why? Think about the world of distractions your pet can face everyday, SQUIRRELS, other dogs, toys, and kids. Let us not forget the endless list of scents that catch his attention! So, with all these diversions, how can you train your dog to come on your command? Don’t worry, it can be done. To help you here are a few tips.

What is Dog Recall Training

Dog recall training is teaching your dog to come to you on command. You may hear the term “reliable recall” when reading about or discussing the topic with trainers. Reliable recall means when you give the “come” command you’re sure he will happily respond by running up to your side. Before we get started on how to teach your dog this obedience command, keep in mind:

  • The earlier you start recall training the better; AKC recommends to begin when your pup is 7 to 8 weeks. 
  • Don’t take his disregard to your command personally! Dogs are easily distracted and your hollering “come” may not be as exciting as whatever has his attention.
  • Patience, plenty of practice (daily is best), and positivity will go a long way in dog recall training.
  • Ensure you have lots of treats on hand.
  • Never use an authoritative or angry tone when commanding your dog to come.
  • Never punish your dog when he comes to you.
  • Don’t repeat the word “come” or his name as it may lose its meaning for your dog.

How to Teach Your Dog to Come

When you start training your dog the come command, begin in a low-distraction area, like inside your home. The quiet will make it easier for your dog to focus. Over time, work your way up to places with greater distractions like your backyard, then a park.

Show your dog a treat or toy and praise him as he comes to you, then offer a reward. Repeat, adding the verbal cue “come” (or whatever term you’ve chosen to use) when your dog looks at you and begins to move toward you. Only use the cue when your pet is moving in your direction. Always give treats and praise. After plenty of practice, ask your pet to come without revealing the treat and add distance between you and him.

Now that you’ve got the basic idea, one of the best ways to teach him to respond to your call command is through games as suggested by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

  • Hide & seek: This game is an ideal way to involve children in dog training. Have your dog sit or stay in a room or have someone hold onto him. You and/or your child hide around the corner in another room, or behind a piece of furniture. Call your dog to come find you. When he does, immediately offer a treat and praise.
  • Go & come: For this game, you will need a low value treat such a kibble and a high value one like meat or cheese. Throw the low value treat and tell your dog to get it. Before he finishes eating the treat, call for him to come to you, using an excited, positive tone. When he responds and comes to you, reward him with the high-value treat and praise.
  • Catch me if you can: Get your dog’s attention then run in the opposite direction making excited, fun sounds and gestures to get him to chase you. When he catches you provide treats and praise. It’s important that you never chase your dog. He thinks it’s a game and will continue to run away from you.
  • Relay races: You can play this game inside (hallway is ideal) or outside in your backyard providing it’s fenced. This game requires two people. One person starts by holding your dog while the other person goes a few feet away and calls him to come. Reward and praise him when he complies. Now the other person calls your dog to come, offering him treats and praise when he does. As your dog gets faster, slowly increase the space your dog has to run.
  • Recall retrieve: This game is for any dog that loves to play fetch. Like the go & come game, you throw a retrievable object, such as a ball or toy. As your dog is returning to you with the object, say come. Have him give you the object and throw it again. If your dog is unwilling to give up the ball or toy, it’s time to psych him out and throw a second ball or toy and repeat. The best part is when your dog finds the game itself rewarding so you won’t need treats because he’s motivated by praise. 

Once your dog listens to your “come” command every time, you can begin rewarding him randomly instead of every time.

Why Won’t My Dog Come When Called?

Does your dog look at you like you’re stupid when you give the “come” command? Expect it; all dogs ignore a command for one reason or another. Here are the top three:

  • Fear: If your dog has been reprimanded in the past when he came to you he might associate coming to you with getting into trouble. 
  • Distractions: Whatever is distracting him is way cooler and more interesting than coming to you. 
  • Confusion: You’ve repeated “come” over and over, and its meaning is unclear or your dog has attached a negative association with the word. (To fix this situation, switch to a different word like “here.”)
  • Motivation: Your pet thinks fun time is over.

While you may not fully understand why your dog is ignoring you, incorporating a few of the above recall games in his training may help you and your dog get past the unwillingness on his part. Sometimes using a training device to get your dog’s attention may be helpful. Learn more about The BarxBuddy in this related post about ultrasonic dog repellers and deterrents.