Teaching a dog to come when called requires a good connection between the dog and the human. If your dog is not trained to sit, lay down or stay, I highly recommend you start on those first. Come is more advanced and works best if you have formed a bond through positive reinforcement training ahead of time.
NEVER say the word “come” unless you are 100% sure your dog will succeed. You must train them in a controlled environment, building up to distractions and relishing in all success. If you find yourself saying the command regularly and your dog ignores you, you have basically “ruined” the word and should start with a new one (we recommend “Here”). During training, do not use the word until you have your dog’s attention and are working on it.
For the purpose of this blog, I will assume you have not ruined the command and use “Come”.
- Start INDOORS with no distractions, just you and your dog.
- Have a high value reward ready (this depends on what your dog likes most: maybe it’s cooked chicken or a new squeaky toy).
- Always have your dog on a leash.
- Say your dog’s name then the word “come”. Be sure to use a happy voice and only say it ONE time, clearly. Reward your dog when they come to you with chicken, a quick play session or whatever they love best. NOTE: if your dog ignores you, you may need to be more animated. Use the leash ONLY if your dog ignores you and you need a little help getting them to move towards you. Do NOT pull your dog on leash to come to you. Only nudge with the leash if they are ignoring you and move backwards with them to get them going. Skip rewarding if your dog did not come to you on their own. Start over and reward when they come when asked.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. If your dog starts getting bored consider if you are being happy and exciting. Pat your thighs, jump up and down, whatever you need to do to get your dog excited about what you need them to do. If not, they may need a break.
- Increase your distance as they succeed by working in your hallway or longer area indoors (if possible).
- When they are 100% successful indoors, move outside to a quiet parking lot or backyard – continue to use the lead to ENSURE success and safety. If your dog is not 100% listening at this point you need to step back.
- Practice this until your dog is consistent.
- NEVER trust your dog off leash if they are not reliable with coming when called.
GAME: Here’s a fun game to play with your dog to reinforce Come. Gather a handful of your dog’s regular kibble. Also gather a small handful of cooked chicken, hot dog or cheese (tiny pieces). Have them together in a bowl. Toss a piece of kibble for your dog. As soon as they return to you give them a piece of the higher value (chicken, hot dog, cheese). This will teach your dog that coming to you is WAY better than leaving. This is a fun game you can play anytime. As your dog is more reliable you can add in the words “good Come!” while they are running back to you. This will help them understand what “Come” means.
Being positive and having exceptional rewards will help your dog to learn and understand that coming to you is wonderful! You want your dog to always feel great about coming when called.
NEVER punish your dog after calling them to come to you, even if you are mad. This will damage the command and the last thing you want is a dog that refuses to come when called because they are afraid of the consequence.