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Teaching your dog to "come" when called

"Come" is the most important word your dog can learn to obey. Unlike "sit" or "stay" in the right circumstance, "come" could save his life. Consider the "come" Instruction to mean, come and sit in front of me and look into my eyes. If the dog doesn't know how to "sit", then start by rewarding him for coming to you. You can always refine a behavior later on. Eventually, try for the combination of "come" and "sit" and "touch the collar." Otherwise, he may just come near you which isn't good enough if you need to put him on leash.

It is VERY helpful to have your dog drag a long line or lead (10 - 25 feet) on your dog at all times when you begin the instruction phase through the reinforcement stage of learning. You can "reel" the dog in after giving the instruction and praise - not too enthusiastically - like it was your dogs idea but no treats. NEVER call your dog if you have any doubt about compliance. Go closer to the dog or wait until the major distraction has passed.

You must be sure you don't accidentally teach that "come" is a bad word.  Never call the dog - for ANY reason that does not result in a wonderful outcome for the dog. NEVER scold or punish the dog after he or she comes to you.

If you must correct him, go to the dog. As your scolding, insist on a "sit" in a Instructioning voice. Once sitting, all is forgiven.


Change your tone of voice to friendly, when you ask the dog to "come" to you. Ask, one time only when you have the leash in hand and can be sure the dog will not run off. Crouch if the dog will not come when you are standing. Encourage the dog with happy noises, hand clapping, etc.

From this day forward, NOTHING good happens without you calling your dog to you, "Petname, come!" first. Now, life rewards, strengthen your dog's response to your clear instruction. Call your dog for dinner, for play, for attention, for walks, for EVERYTHING. If your dog does not come, turn your back, walk away and give no attention. Hold back rewards until your dog has EARNED them by following at least one instruction first.

Control feeding by giving 2 meals instead of leaving food down. By doing this, your dog will see you as the leader and provider of food. This strategy also provides the daily opportunity to train your dog for a few minutes before each meal.

To start teaching the dog to come on cue, first praise the dog whenever he/she comes to you.  

In a very short time, your dog will learn the dinner routine and be waiting (or cheerleading) while you fix dinner. Use the first few kibbles of every meal to practice your dog's human vocabulary. Praise compliance and offer kibbles or small treats as you go. 

The next step is to work on "come" (still inside the house), but not at the usual dinner time or place. Hide some dog cookie jars in a few places around the house where you spend time. The jar will remind you to practice training the dog. When you know the dog is in the house but nowhere to be seen, take out the treat and say, "Fido, Come."  When he comes to you, surprise him with a treat.

End your training sessions after the quickest and best responses. Then, give the dog his dinner or share a play session or  walk. 

After your dog has learned "come" at home, you must practice while walking the dog on the leash. Although this might seem odd, the goal is to control the process outdoors while you're not confined in the house. Make the dog "Sit-Stay".  Then, you back away to the length of the leash. Say "Fido, Come". Give small, short tugs on the leash to get him started. Do NOT "reel him in" with continuous pressure. If needed, hook two leashes together to give you a longer recall distance. If he errs, make him do at least one good response before going on your way.

Here's another trick to teach him to come when off-leash. Start in a fenced area, like a tennis court. Let the dog drag the leash. After a few seconds, when he gets 10 to 15 feet away, call him back to you. If he comes, give a treat and return the freedom. If he doesn't go to him and ask for a SIT. 

Practice COME for a few minutes during walks to help your dog learn that coming earns more walk time! It may be easier to practice toward the end of the walk once your dog has expended some energy.

Make it in your dog's best interest to have the leash go back on after an off leash outdoor excursion.  Help the dog to associate going home with a special reward such as dinner or a favorite toy or treat. 

If there is a safe off-leash area, a common mistake is to arrive, remove the leash and allow the dog to run and play. When the time comes to leave, he may not want to give up the fun and may be difficult to catch. This makes it less fun for you to take him out.

To solve this problem, when you first let him off leash, call him back immediately, and give a treat. If he comes quickly, the reward he gets is to go play again. If he doesn't come, you go and get him and keep him on a short lead for several minutes working on the "come-on-leash" exercise described above. When he will come reliably, very gradually, allow longer periods of freedom.  ALWAYS walk your dog before a meal when he/she is hungry.

You want your dog to be successful so teach in baby steps and progressive stages: 1 - in home in sight, 2 - in home out of sight, 3 - in home with mild distractions, 4 - up the distractions, 5 - outdoors no distractions, 6 - outdoors with minor distractions, etc.

Always call him back when he travels to the edge of the distance from which you feel you have reliable control.   Lavishly praise all correct responses.  Use food treats as needed as reinforcements.

Establish the distance you will allow freedom by choosing the distance you allow him to wander before requiring checking in with you. When you are confident the dog will come to you EVERY time - even with distractions (bouncing ball, squirrel or cat) then try it in a safe, open space.

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