The call of ‘come’ is a common sound in dog parks all around the world. You will always here dog owners calling their pet to ‘come’, but a lot of the time they don’t. While it can be an amusing sight to watch this spectacle, the reality is that it is frustrating and potentially dangerous.
Teaching your dog to come is one of the most important things you can do and in this guide we are going to show you how to do it. We will take you through a step-by-step approach that will get your dog coming to your call in no time.
Additionally, we are going to cover exercises you can do to enforce the ‘come’ command, what rewards you need, and potential problems you may face.
This may be your first time training your dog, or you may have already taught them to ‘sit’ or ‘lie down’. If you have already taught these two commands to your dog, you will probably find this guide a little bit easier than if you haven’t.
If you haven’t taught your dog ‘sit’ or ‘lie down’, don’t worry, you can still follow this guide. However, we do recommend you check out our guide to “Training Your Dog to Sit”.
Why Is Training Your Dog to Come So Important?
Along with ‘Sit’, the command ‘come’ is one of the most important things you can teach your dog. The ability to reliably call your dog back to you can keep them safe in dangerous situations or prevent them from doing things like running in the road or chasing a cat.
Additionally, the ability to get your dog to come back to you will help in situations like dog parks, where there are a ton of distractions. You will also need a strong, reliable ‘come’ if you ever want to walk your dog off a leash.
It can be incredibly frustrating if your dog does not come to your command and in some cases it can be downright embarrassing.
Best Tips and Tricks for Training a Dog to Come
Dogs have a short attention span and they can become easily distracted when you are trying to train them. However, dogs are always keen to please their owners and you can use this to your advantage when you are training them. You should always know your dog’s limits and never give them too hard a task straight off the bat. This will only confuse them and make progression much slower.
Pick a Good Environment to Train In
Training in a busy environment or place where there are lots of different distractions is a recipe for disaster. Think about your dog’s attention span and how they react to the world around them. You want to pick a place that is familiar to your dog, but also quiet.
Try not to train in places that are full of distractions like other dogs, humans, food or toys. You want to have your dog’s full attention when you are training them. This will give you the best progression and make the training process less frustrating. Below we have listed some tips to finding the right training environment:
- Use a large room indoors as you have more control over you dog and you can confine them in an area. You can also control the distractions, so that your dog finds you the most interesting thing. You will probably need a large room as you need to put a bit of distance between you and your dog.
- Avoid training outdoors if possible. While it is nice to train outside, there can be far more distractions that are less controllable. Outside training also limits your ability to confine your dog in a single area, which will make training a lot more difficult. If you can only train outside, try and use a lead to keep them close to you.
Eventually you will want to start training your dog outside and in places with more distractions to reinforce what you have been teaching them. However, you want to train them in a low distraction environment when you first start. The ultimate is to try and train your dog in places like dog parks, where there are lots of interesting pooches around.
Regular Short Training Sessions Are the Best
Like we said above, dogs have short attention spans and can become easily distracted. To combat this, you want to use regular, short training sessions to help them learn. When it comes to deciding how long a training session should be, you should also consider your dog’s energy levels, age and ability to focus.
For puppies, aim for sessions around three to five minutes in length. Spread two or three of these short sessions throughout the day and try and train them when they have energy, not when they want to sleep.
If your dog is older, you can probably get away with training sessions that are up to ten minutes in length. However, we still believe that slightly shorter, more frequent sessions are the way to go. Additionally, you can increase the frequency of the training sessions, but two or three a day should be enough to train your dog to come.
While it is good to set out a time limit for your training, if your dog is becoming bored or distracted it may be best to try again later.
Remember Your Dog’s Mood
Just like humans, dogs can get pretty tired. Sometimes they just don’t want to train and you need to remember this. If your dog just doesn’t seem in the mood to train, give them a break and then try again later. A tired dog can become more easily distracted or disobedient, which can make training them frustrating.
The other thing to remember is that they just might not be excited to train. While dogs love to please their owners, they also like to have fun and tasty treats as a reward for their hard work.
Supply Your Dog with High Value Rewards and Praise
There is no doubt that dogs love food and they love to be rewarded with tasty treats when they have been well behaved. Giving your dog nice, delicious treats is a crucial part of training them.
A great way to get your dog more invested in the training process is to use higher value rewards such as beef or chicken. You may need to try a few different types of treats to get the best response from your dog.
Before giving your dog any food item, always check to make sure it is safe for them to eat. Many food items like onions, grapes or chocolate are dangerous for dogs to eat.
Take a look at our ‘Ultimate Guide to What Dogs Can Eat’ to find out more information on safe and unsafe foods for dogs.
Another way to reward your dog is to use their favourite toy or play a game with them. This is an excellent method of rewarding your dog, however, we do not recommend it when you are just starting out with training. Using toys or games can cause lengthy interruptions in the lesson, which can slow progress.
For this guide we want to make rewards as quick as possible and food is definitely the best way of doing this. If you are looking for a great pre-made treat, try ‘Zuke’s Mini Naturals Dog Treats’.
Praising your dog is another important part of the reward process. Your dog wants to please you, so make sure you give them lots of praise when they do the right thing. This lets them know they are doing the right job and will make them even more keen for training.
Watch Your Attitude
The way you speak to your dog and the tone of your voice can have a big impact on training. You should be firm but kind and calm.
You must never shout at your dog and end the lesson if you are getting upset or frustrated with your dog. Canines have significantly better hearing than humans and giving them an earful will seem aggressive and frightening to them. Always use a clear, normal tone that your dog can easily understand and listen to.
If you are frustrated, your dog will be able to tell and that can negatively impact the training. It can confuse your dog and turn the lesson into a disobedient mess. Always keep calm and it will help your training progress.
Keep a Positive Vibe
Carrying on from above, always make sure to keep the training positive. Training your dog should be a fun, enjoyable experience for both you and your dog, rather than a job.
Try to always finish the lesson on a positive note, rather than a negative one. Take this for example, if your dog comes to you on request a couple of times in a row, you could in the session there. We are ending the session because the dog has done what we asked and has followed the command a couple of times.
Another tip is to make the training more fun. To do this you can turn it into a bit more of a game. This will make your dog more interested in the training and they will look forward to the next lesson with you.
Occasional, you will not be able to finish a lesson on a positive note and this is ok. What you don’t want to do is continually finish on a negative experience. If you find your dog is getting distracted or the lesson is going south, try get your dog to “come” a few more times to see if you can finish positively.
The last thing you can do to keep the lesson positive is to finish with a game. Dogs love to play and finish with a game of tug will keep them excited for future training sessions.
Think About a Signal You Want to Use
Before you even begin training your dog, you want to decide on a signal that lets your dog know that they are doing the right thing. This is not a treat; it is something you use or say to give an instant reward.
We use the word ‘yes’.
Say ‘yes’ in a clear and enthusiastic manner, and then follow this with a treat or other reward. Your dog will eventually start to look for the signal in your lessons to know they are pleasing you. Using a signal will reinforce good behaviour and gives instant gratification.
In this guide we will be using ‘yes’, however, you can use your own word or even try clicker training.
Questions About Teaching a Dog to Come
We’ve put together a number of questions owners commonly ask about teaching their dogs to sit. Some of the questions below relate to owners who have already tried to teach their dogs to sit, but are having difficulties doing so.
When Should I Teach My Dog to Come?
Training a puppy can be easier than training an older dog, however, the belief that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is entirely wrong. Puppies may learn quicker, but if you have an older dog that won’t come, you can still teach them to do so.
You can start training a puppy as soon as they come home. While you may not want to introduce the ‘come’ command immediately, you can reward them for naturally coming to you.
How Long Does It Take to Train a Dog to Come?
Teaching a dog to come is not instantaneous. It will take time and patience on both you and your dog’s part. However, the amount of time that it takes can depend on a few factors:
- The age of your dog
- Any previous training
- If you have tried to teach them to come already
- Your dog’s energy levels and nature
- How often you train your dog
- Any mistakes that are made during the training process
- Where you want to use ‘come’ (eg, It’s easier to get your dog to come in a house, rather than the park).
My Dog Won’t Come When They Are Called
This is a common problem people have with their dogs. You may find that your canine companion will come sometimes, but will ignore you on other occasions. This is because they have not been trained to come correctly. You want the response to the command to be automatic.
Dogs usually will ignore your command when there is something more interesting than you. This could be other dogs, people, food or smells. You need to train your dog to ignore these distractions and that you are the most interesting thing to them.
Many owners train their dogs to come in somewhere like their house or garden, and then expect them to do it in the park. This is not going to happen, so you need to gradually increase the intensity of the distractions around you dog during training.
Don’t worry if your dog is like this. If you follow this guide you will have your dog coming in no time.
How to Train a Dog to Come?
Most dogs do not come because they have not been taught to automatically respond to the ‘come’ command. When training your dog, you want to create a trained response that they do not have to think about.
Once you have trained you dog correctly, they will not ask themselves “should I go to my owner or is that other dog or human more interesting?” They will just come and will not be able to stop themselves.
Before we start training, let’s look at why ‘come’ can be associated with bad things in your dog’s mind
Why Come Can Be Bad to Your Dog
Dogs associate one thing with another, and commands are no different. The word ‘come’ and running to you can be associated with all sorts of boring or even unpleasant experiences. For instance, think about the following:
- Discipline or being told off
- Finishing a walk
- Leaving the park
- Coming inside from the garden
- Going back home
The above and more can often be seen as negatives to dogs. Your dog doesn’t want to go home from the park, because they are enjoying their time playing with the other dogs. They don’t want to be told off or finish a walk.
In the situations above we often tell our dog to ‘come’ when we want to take them home, tell them off or get them inside. Dogs will associate the negative feelings they get from these actions with the word ‘come’. They realise they get no benefit when they come to you and while you may think your dog loves praise, studies have shown that praise alone is not effective at changing a dog’s behaviour.
To change your dog’s behaviour you have to reward them with something like treats and give them physical affection, such as petting.
This makes it difficult when it comes to training a dog to come, as we naturally want them to follow the command in those situations. What you need to do is make coming fun and exciting for your dog. They need to think that if they come to you, it will be the best thing that they have done all day.
How Do I Make ‘Come’ Fun?
So how do you make ‘come’ fun? Well, that’s actually easier than you may think. What you need to do is create a situation where your dog runs to you and then turn it into an incredible experience for them.
This, of course, will require food, games and lots of fun. You are trying to create a memorable experience for your dog that puts a big smile on their face. What you are not doing is using the ‘come’ command at all during this time.
We are not barking out orders or forcing them to do anything for us. This stage of the training process is about getting them to chase you, and luckily dogs love chasing people.
Remember the High Value Rewards
We can’t emphasise this enough, you need to have treats that your dog gets excited about. They should be small pieces of food or small treats such as ‘Zuke’s Mini Naturals’, otherwise your dog may experience weight gain.
Walk Away from Your Dog
The first step of this guide is to simply walk away. You want to wait until your dog is a short distance from you with their attention focused solely in your direction. When they are looking at you, just walk away.
You should find that your dog starts to follow you. As they do this, increase the speed you are walking and then quickly turn around and give them a nice tasty treat when they get to you.
In addition to the treat, make sure you give your dog the biggest fuss. Pat them, play with them and praise them, so they know that following you is a good thing. Feed a few more treats to your dog and then repeat the process a few times.
What You Shouldn’t Do at This Stage
While this stage of the training is pretty straightforward, there are a few mistakes you can make. We have listed some of the things to watch out for below:
- Don’t go towards your dog – Moving towards your dog at this stage is a big no, no. Taking steps towards them, will tell them that they get a reward for nothing. Think of yourself as the reward, and they have to come to you to get it.
- Don’t use the word ‘come’ – Like we said earlier, you are not using the word ‘come’ or any other command to call them over to you. We are not saying the command because if your dog doesn’t come to you, they have just learnt to ignore it. If you make the mistake of using the ‘come’ command, you may need to think of another one.
- Don’t use food as a bribe – The food you give your dog should be a reward, not a bribe. Always keep the treats out of sight before giving it to them as a reward. Don’t wave them about or stick them in front of your dog’s nose, as this will only set you up for failure in the future.
- Don’t try to train without food rewards – Training without food is always a recipe for disaster. It is a super common mistake and it will lead to poor progress. Many people try and just pat or praise there dog as a reward, however, this just isn’t good enough. The quickest and fastest way to train the ‘come’ command is to use food. Once you have taught your dog, then you can change up the rewards.
- Don’t use low-value treats – Low value treats are ok, but when you really want to get good progress, use high-value ones.
- Don’t train around distractions – At this early stage of training, you want your dog to simply follow you. If there is something more interesting, your dog may follow that.
- Don’t train a full dog – Training a dog just after they have had dinner is a big mistake. While some dogs are never full, it is always better to train them before meal time rather than after. This will make them more willing to follow your instructions and the treats will be more valuable to them.
Help! My Dog Won’t Follow Me!
You may find that your dog simply won’t follow you. This might be because they feel you are boring or uninteresting, and can’t really see any point in following you. If this is the case, you can get your dog’s attention by making noise or having your arms about. Your pup should see this and start to move towards you to find out what is going on. When they do this, walk away like we described above.
Introducing The ‘Come’ Command
Now that your dog knows that moving towards you or following you is good, it is time to introduce the command. You need to be careful at this stage, don’t start shouting at your dog to come. This is because your dog does not understand ‘come’ at the moment and using it can ingrain bad habits.
What you need to do is use the ‘come’ command when your dog is already doing the action. For example, if your dog is coming towards you, you can say the word come. We are teaching the dog that ‘come’ means run towards my owner.
Continue doing this for about a week. Your dog will eventually start to associate the word with the action. Make sure you continue giving them treats when they do come towards you, especially when you are using the command.
Training The Come
If your dog decides to naturally run towards you, that’s great, say the word ‘come’ and give them a treat. You are probably going to find that you either forget this in naturally occurring situations or they just don’t happen that much at all. Like we did before, you want to engineer these situations so that they happen.
Wait until you have your dog’s attention and begin to move away from them. As soon as your dog commits to running or walking to you, give the ‘come’ command. Do this is a clear manner and only say it once.
When your dog gets to you, reward them with a treat and make a big fuss of them. This shows that you are happy with their behaviour.
Mistakes You Can Make When Introducing the Come Command
Again, this part of the training is pretty straightforward. It is almost exactly the same as the first stage, but with ‘come’ thrown in there when your dog starts moving towards you. However, there are a couple of mistakes you can make.
- Don’t give the command to come too early – Saying the word ‘come’ before they have started moving is a big mistake. You should only say the word when your dog is fully committed to coming to you. If your dog decides to change his direction after you have said ‘come’ it can create bad habits.
- Phasing out treats – You need to continue to use treats at this point. If you remove treats from the training process, your dog’s interest level in the training will nosedive. Try to use high-value rewards as well.
- Not giving them enough attention when they come – Along with rewarding your dog with food, you need to make sure to give them lots of attention. Making a big fuss of them is an important part of the training process.
Teaching Your Dog to Come On Command
Here’s the part you have all been waiting for, teaching your dog to come on command. We have already taught our dog that coming to you is a good thing and they also now associate the word ‘come’ with the action. Now we are going to teach our dog to respond to the ‘come’ command.
You need to start in the same locations as you have already been training in. Remember to remove any distractions or train in a place that has no distractions already.
Wait until your dog is a small distance away from you and paying some attention to you. Your dog should not be moving towards you at this point. Give the come command.
You should find that your dog runs straight up to you to collect his reward. If they do, give them a treat and make a big fuss of them.
Once you have got your dog coming back to you on command in a controlled environment, it is time to change it up a little. Surprise your dog with a ‘come’ command when they are not expecting it. Don’t do it in an environment where there are lots of distractions, but it could be in another room or in the garden of your property.
Try it when your dog is lying down, walking about and sitting, and then heavily reward them when they come to you.
My Dog Didn’t Come!
So, what happens if your dog doesn’t come at this stage. If they do not come to your command, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Run away – Like we have done before you can run away, wave your arms, jump up and down, and just generally act silly, so that you get your dog’s attention. You will be far more interesting to your dog if you move. When your dog does get to you, make sure you heavily reward them and give them a good old pat.
- Revert back to the previous stage – Sometimes your dog just might take a bit more time to associate the word ‘come’ with the action. Go back to the previous stage and spend another week or two getting them used to the word.
- You need to be clear – You must make sure you are saying ‘come’ in a clear, concise manner, with no other words attached.
- Increase the value of your rewards – If you are failing to get the desired response, it can be a good idea to try some different treats. If you are just using biscuits, try and use some chicken or beef.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
You need to practice the command regularly. Don’t think that because your dog has successfully come on command once, they will do it again. You need to continue with regular and random training sessions to ingrain the command in their mind.
What Can Go Wrong
Do not repeat the command and do not bribe your dog. Shouting come repeatedly is a major no, no. Your dog will learn to ignore the command if you continually shout it at them, which will cause you further headaches.
When training goes wrong, many owners resort to showing their dog food to get them to carry out the command. This will only set you up for failure in the future and will make progression much slower.
This is where things can go really wrong. Introducing distractions is an important part of the training process and it can cause problems. You need to slowly build the intensity of the distractions around your dog.
Changing the location, introducing new pets or people, using smells and food are all great ways to challenge your dog. Eventually, you want to be able to call your dog to come when you are at a park with other dogs around, or when there is food about and much more.
How Do You Introduce Distractions?
Before you go testing your dog at the park with other dogs around, you need to start small. Gradually introduce distractions in an area you have already been training in. Start with something like adding another person into the mix.
What you need to do is get your dog sitting beside the person helping you. The helper must ignore the dog completely and should be a short distance away from you.
Call your dog to come and reward them heavily for doing so. To change the intensity of this, add more people or change the person who the dog stands next to. Try adding an extra person in a triangle formation, so that there is another person your dog could potentially go to.
If you find your dog is failing to come to your command, reduce the intensity of the distractions.
Using Food as a Distraction
Another great way of getting your dog more used to distractions is by using food. While you probably won’t be calling your dog away from food that often, it is a nice way to train your dog to come away from something they want. Dogs love food and if you can get them to come from it, then you are probably on the right track.
Initially, use a food item that is not that interesting to your dog. You don’t want to use food that is more enticing than the treats you are giving to them as a reward.
Along with food, there is probably nothing your dog likes more than their own kind. Training your dog to come away from other dogs can be difficult. If you have ever been to a dog park, you will know that it is full of people trying to get their canines away from other dogs.
The best way to train this is to enlist the help of a friend with a dog. Start off with asking your dog to come away from one dog and then eventually you will be able to train them to come away from many.
Get your friend, their dog and your own dog standing a short distance away from you. Your friend should be ignoring your dog and they should make their pup sit. Ask your dog to come and if they do, then heavily reward them.
Remember to only say the command once and do not try to bribe your dog with food. Additionally, after calling your dog to come, remember to let them go back and play with other dogs. This shows them that coming to you doesn’t mean the end of playtime.
Using a Long Lead or Leash
When you are moving to new locations or trying ‘come’ in somewhere like a park, it can be a good idea to use a long lead or rope. Start off with a short distance and gradually increase the distance that you are training at.
The process is exactly the same as we have outlined above in this article, except you have a bit more control over your dog. Using a long lead is a great way of keeping your dog relatively close to you when you are adding in new distractions such as other dogs, or changing location.
The lead should not be used as a tool to force your dog to come to you. Your dog should be willing to come and the lead should only be used as a last resort if things go bad.
Games to Play That Reinforce the Come Command
Training your dog should be a fun experience. If you make training fun, your dog will be more motivated to listen to your commands. Creating games is also a great way of reinforcing commands when the bulk of the training is over. We have listed a couple of games below that will help with your dog’s come command.
In The Middle
You can play this with your family or a large group of people. Place your dog in the middle of everyone and make sure all the people in the circle have treats.
Take turns asking your dog to come and then rewarding them as they do. Only one person should be calling them and if they go to the wrong person, they should ignore the dog until the find the right person. Remember to keep this game nice and short, you don’t want to exhaust your dog.
Hide and Seek
Everyone loves a good game of hide and seek, and it is also an excellent way of training your dog to come. Either get your dog to sit and wait, or get someone to hold them in place and then run away with a high-value reward.
When you are just out of sight, call your dog to come. Only say the word once and when they find you, praise and reward them generously.
When Can I Get Rid of Rewards?
Now that you have finished the bulk of the training, you are probably wondering if you can get rid of treats. Completely removing treats can do away with all your hard work. It is one of the most common mistakes people make and it can be really frustrating.
Once you have taught your dog to come, you can reduce the amount of treats you give them, but do not get rid of them entirely. You still want to reward your dog for their good behaviour. If they never receive any rewards and you only use ‘come’ in situations like returning home from the park, your dog will start to become less motivated to follow your command.
The other thing you can do is to start using toys as a reward. Take their favourite toy with you on a walk and when you call them to come, play a game with them.
Wrapping Up Teaching a Dog to Come
Training a dog to come is certainly one of the more important commands to teach them. It can keep them out of danger and can save you from frustrating or embarrassing situations at the park. Remember to take the training slow and always have fun.
While this guide ‘to train a dog to come’ is long, it should cover everything you need to know about the subject. If you have any questions about teaching a dog to ‘come’, leave a comment down below.
You can also check out the American Kennel Club for more information on training a dog to ‘come’.