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Coming When Called

Dogs should not be given unsupervised time off-leash unless they are in a fenced in yard.

Coming when called is something dogs have to be taught how to do. Some guardians will say, "He knows how to come, he is just being spiteful of stubborn." Dogs do not have the ability to be spiteful, more than likely the dog learned that if she came, then she was scolded instead of praised or they were provided with inconsistent messages.

The only way to get a dog to come reliably is to implement an obedience training regimen. A dog manners class is highly recommended. This is one of the more difficult cues to teach your dog, but it can be lifesaving. The best way to teach this is to take small steps, have patience and be consistent!

The following tips could also help you begin to establish a reliable come:

  • First, practice "come" on a short leash in the house. Try having the dog sit, take step back and give the cue to your dog. Say the cue ONLY ONCE. If your dog does not step toward you, use other sounds to get your dogs attention, but do not repeat the "come" cue. You can also step backwards away from the dog, as most dogs and puppies will then come towards you.
  • Work up to practicing come on a long line in your house. As the distance increases between you and your dog, you may need to run backwards several steps or use other sounds to get your dog to come towards you, but do not repeat the cue.
  • Once your dog is responding reliably inside, go outside to your yard, start back on a shorter leash and then work up to the long line as your dog responds.
  • Then try going to a park where there are other distractions, start back on a shorter leash and work up to the long line again. Set your dog up for success by going slowly. It may take months before you can go to park on a long line and have your dog come consistently. 
  • If there are two people in the household, you can also practice come. Each person should have treats and stand 6-10 feet apart in the same room. Have the dog sit in front of one person, and the other person can say the dog's name then the cue to come. Reward the dog when she comes all the way to you. Then the other person can do the same to get the dog back. Practice this until your dog reliably goes to the other person. You can then increase your distance from each other over several days, eventually working up to different ends of the house.
  • Once your dog is doing this consistently, you can then move outside to a fenced in area, or tether your dog to a point that is equal distant between you two. Standing 6-10 feet apart again until you get the behavior consistently before moving further apart. There are more distractions outside, so have patience and take slower steps, if needed. 
  • Call the dog when you know she will come (e.g. at mealtimes). You can also put a few treats on the floor, crouch down and cup your hands over them. Give your dog the cue, and when she comes all the way to you, uncover your hands to that she can eat the treats.  Your dog is not likely to return to you if your voice sounds angry, so never yell at your dog if she does not come immediately. When your dog finally does return, do not punish her, as she will learn that bad things happen when she returns to you.
  • Your dog will then be less likely to come to you next time if you punish her for not coming immediately. During training, set your dog up for success in the house by not giving her the cue to come unless she is leashed.  ALWAYS praise in a receptive tone of voice and smile whenever the dog approaches.
  • ALWAYS reward with praise and high value treats when beginning this training. Coming to you must be better than anything else to your dog. Once she is reliably coming, you can slowly start to phase out the treats every time, and only reward your dog's returns that are rapid and direct. Refrain from calling your dog to come when you are going to do something she finds uncomfortable, like clipping her nails, for example.

If you would like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please call 414-431-6173 or email to schedule a consultation.