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DOG / training & behavior

Teach Your Dog to Come When You Call

Three tips from a PetSmart trainer


Why won’t my dog come to me?

Have you ever wondered why your dog hurries to your side when you say “food” or “walk,” but not when you say, “Here, boy” or “Come on, girl”?

The reason is simple: It’s all about what happens when they get there.

“Come (when I call you)” is probably the most important behavior you can teach your dog. Luckily it’s not hard to teach. Follow these three steps, over about three weeks, to get your dog to show up when you say so.

Step 1: Link the command to a reward

In the first week, teach your dog that coming when called results in something they’ll really like. In other words, use positive reinforcement.

Pick a word you’ll use consistently (“here” or “come”) and stand next to your dog. As you say the word, pick up a treat and give it to your dog. Then lavish your pet with praise for about 20 seconds. After the love-fest say, “All done” and go about your business.

Soon your dog should get the picture: “Here” means they get attention and treats!

Do this drill five times a day, but no more than that, and try not to use the command between your practice sessions. If your dog hears the command too often and doesn’t yet understand it, the training may take longer.

Step 2: Add a hold

First, make sure your dog has a collar on.

Now do everything you did in Step 1 — stand by your dog and use the call word — but this time, after you say the call word, take hold of your pet’s collar and then give the treat and praise.

This teaches your dog that “come” or “here” still means they get attention and treats, but does not mean, “Let’s play that game where you try to grab me and I dodge you!”

Step 3: Practice, practice, and practice

Up until now, you have been doing your training with your dog sitting beside you. Now you can start adding some distance. Say your dog’s name then the call word. If you need to, take a few steps backward as your dog approaches. Most dogs are more willing to come to you if you are moving away from them.

If your dog comes to you, take hold of their collar and give them the treat and praise. You don’t have to spend a full 20 seconds praising them anymore; just go all-out a few times a week so your dog keeps a strong association between the command and lots of attention.

Don’t get frustrated by this last step, it may take a while. As you continue to practice, be wise. If you’re in a situation where your dog is too distracted to come to you, avoid using the command and go get your dog instead.

Never let your dog roam free without a leash or fence until you’re absolutely sure they will come back to you when you call. Once your dog reliably masters this trick, you can lose the treats. (But keep the love!)

Debbie McKnight is an accredited PetSmart Trainer.

For information on PetSmart Accredited Training, please visit the PetSmart training page.