Teaching Your Dog to Come

Teaching a dog to come is crucial.

"Dasher, come," you yell from across the lawn.

Dasher just stands there and gives you a look.






With that, your dog finally reacts. He comes loping toward you, only to swerve at the last moment and bolt right on past. Next, it becomes a tragic-comic game of chase: you running and yelling, and Dasher dodging just beyond reach, tongue lolling, eyes twinkling, pleased as punch.

Not good.

The Come Command

Teaching a dog to come when he is called can be his human's greatest challenge. Why would a self-respecting dog want to drop whatever he's doing and come running to you? He might not, but you need to make it a priority to change his mind. Why?

Because his life could depend on it.

There are several reasons why the come command is so hard to master. Getting your dog to return to you is asking him to stop doing something very fun and instead, do something considerably less fun. Dogs are opportunists who live in the moment. They know that romping with friends or tracking a scent is probably more thrilling than staying with you. For dogs with a strong predatory drive, the sight of a cat or squirrel may be irresistible. Certain breeds of dog are instinctive runners or trackers. They are hardwired to bolt. Some individuals may never be safe off-leash.

But for the average dog, learning the command to come is within reach once we confront the human factors that can contribute to this misbehavior of not coming. Let's put ourselves in your dog's, um, paws and think about why he might not be coming when you call him.

Who's Alpha Anyway?

The bottom line is that your dog has learned that he can take charge of the situation when you are calling him, and he's loose. For this moment, he's alpha. If you have not been firm and consistent with rules and limits, some dogs will take advantage.

Until your dog can be trusted off-leash, simply don't risk it. Keep him on-lead and be safe rather than sorry. Training your dog to come on command takes patience and persistence, but it's usually doable.

Here are some basic guidelines to remember when training your dog to come:

Specifics for Teaching Your Dog to Come

The best time to teach the come command is when your dog is a puppy. Puppies crave closeness and will naturally bound over to you at the slightest invitation.

If your dog missed this training as a pup or needs retraining, the procedure is similar.

Tips for Success

There are a few things you can keep in mind to increase your success with teaching your dog to come.

Advanced Training

Once you feel confident that your dog has learned the lesson, you're ready to move to an open outdoor area. For this, you'll need a 20-30 foot lightweight leash used for training purposes. It is available at most pet supply stores. Let the long line trail behind your dog, and he'll forget he has it on, giving him a sense of freedom but also providing a safety net. You can catch or correct him if you need to.

Send your dog away and then give the come command. Praise him each time he complies. If he balks, you can choke up on the lead and give him a correction by snapping the line. Then praise enthusiastically once he heads toward you. If you've had to correct your dog, you may need to end the training session for the day. Try to ensure that he doesn't get wise to the long line, or he may learn to disobey when he's not on it!

Once you have consistent success, experiment with various distractions. Have another person or dog engage your dog in play, and then challenge him with the come command. Throw a ball, and call him to bring it back. Once he reliably comes 100% of the time, it's time for his off-leash debut.

A Note About Electric Training Collars

Electronic or "shock" collars are sometimes used to help teach and enforce the come command. They allow the trainer to give remote corrections in the form of a sound or a mild electric shock. The use of these devices is controversial, although some trainers swear by them. Electronic collars should only be used as a last resort and under the direct supervision of a professional trainer or veterinary behaviorist. Consult your veterinarian for further advice.

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