Are you teaching your dog NOT to come when called?

My mom and I were walking the dogs when we were approached by two off-leash dogs that had gotten loose.

Are you teaching your dog not to come when called?

This was in rural Wisconsin, where it’s fairly common to see off-leash dogs.

These two were so happy! Racing, smiling, spinning their tails, sprinting and darting as excited dogs do.

They were enjoying their free-for-all!

Then, their owner came wandering down a driveway, yelling at them to come back. We even turned and walked toward him so the dogs would follow us.

He was not happy. He grabbed their collars and marched them to their pen.

As we walked on, I heard the dogs yelping multiple times.

It was a distressing sound, and it gave me a bad feeling.

Of course, I have no idea if the man had actually handled the dogs roughly. The dogs were probably yelping for not wanting to be in their pen.

Still, the experience got me thinking about teaching dogs to come when called and how most of us make a lot of silly mistakes.

Mistakes people make when calling their dogs

1. Coming when called should always be rewarding for the dog, not unpleasant. (You don’t call your dog before crating him or before trimming his nails, do you?)

2. We should only call our dogs when we are 99 percent sure they will obey. Otherwise, we are teaching them coming when called is optional. (If you know your dog won’t come, just go get him.)

3. We should only call our dogs once, not two, three, four or five times. Otherwise, we are teaching them to wait for the fifth or sixth command.

4. We need to remember to reward our dogs when they obey us in order to reinforce good behavior and increase the likelihood they will come when called the next time.

5. We should never, ever punish our dogs for running off. As hard as it is not to get frustrated sometimes, we just have to take a deep breath and prevent them from running off again in the future.

Ace comes when called

What not to do when calling your dog

Here are a couple of examples of when not to call your dog:

  • Calling your dog before putting him somewhere he doesn’t want to go. Sometimes I call my dog before putting him in our extra bedroom for the night. He doesn’t want to go in there; he wants to be in our bedroom with us. Instead of calling him, I should just go get him and gently guide him to the spare bedroom for a treat.
  • Calling your dog before “rewarding” them with something he doesn’t like. I know someone who calls his dogs before picking them up, which these dogs don’t enjoy. The dogs go to him anyway, because they are such good dogs, but their body language says they don’t like what is happening. Sometimes, they run off and pretend they don’t hear him.
  • Calling your dog before ending the fun, like before leaving the dog park or before heading inside from the yard. Instead of calling your dog, just go get him. Or, make sure to reward him with a highly valued treat or toy.

But shouldn’t your dog always listen to you, no matter what?

Ace

Ideally, yes.

That’s why “Come!” should only be used when you know your dog will listen.

Practice in controlled areas such as in the house, in a fenced area or while your dog is on a long lead. With time and success, you should slowly increase the challenge.

I’m sure many of you can practice “come” successfully with your dog off leash and even with distractions as I do with Ace. 2018 update: Ace has passed away.

Setting the dog up for success, saying the command just once and then rewarding him with highly valued food for obeying is the best way to reinforce the recall. Make it a fun game so coming to you is way better than sniffing that tree or chasing that other dog.

Then, if an emergency does happen and you must take a chance by calling your dog to keep him safe, hopefully he will obey because coming when called has been reinforced so many times.

Coming to you right away should always be fun and positive for your dog.

With my dog, I try to make a game out of it, giving him all sorts of praise and playing tug or letting him chase me.

And just so I’m clear, I’m also lucky to have a dog that naturally wants to stick close, and I’m thankful for that. Some dogs are much, much more challenging than Ace and possibly shouldn’t even be off leash.

Don’t forget food rewards

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of real meatballs, pieces of hot dogs, pieces of chicken, etc.

Some people say their dogs aren’t very food motivated, but most people don’t work on training with real hamburger in their pockets.

If you give your dog a real meatball every single time he comes when called, don’t you think he’ll have a pretty good recall?

That’s not a joke. That’s one of my top training tips.

Now, thinking back to the man at the beginning of this post … his dogs were so happy to be free. No wonder they did not want to come when called. He simply returned them to their pen.

If you take away anything from this post, it is this:

Coming to you should always be more rewarding for your dog than not.

Now I want to hear from you.

What are your top tips for getting a dog to come when called?

Are you teaching your dog not to come when called?

45 thoughts on “Are you teaching your dog NOT to come when called?”

  1. Great tips! I honestly think teaching your dog to come is the most important command he can learn. Of course, my dog isn’t perfect, I tend to be rather informal about “come”, but it seems to work for us. He’s so good and he always comes when me or my husband call, “hey, Hiccup!” in a happy voice, so we tend to use that more than a formal “come” command. I only really expect my dog to look at me if I say his name, but he almost always comes to me anyways, so it’s pretty low-pressure for both of us. I should probably work on a firm come command though . . .

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I can be really informal about it to, and for the same reason. My dog is usually eager to come running up to me.

      1. The only time it drives me crazy is at the park and she thinks I’m playing with her. She barks puts her butt in the air and runs away. Finally I just walk away or am able to grab her collar It’s not often but I know it means she’s not ready to go home!

    2. Sharon McGuigan-Baki

      Yes my Hannah 98 % of the time comes when called never do I scold her after she comes. She is happy and smiling at me and makes so many other dogs at the park look bad because so many have not trained their dogs to understand coming back to their owner should only mean good things happen. Some owners need training LOL

    3. I just had my home insurance cancelled because my dog did not come when called. He lives in the house with my wife and I, no fence, very small outside area that is secure for him to play. He is a 70 lb. Boxer, 7 years old. He is a rescue dog and came with some serious luggage. He is wonderful with people but not so good with dogs. Some dog trainers and I believe he was involved with a dog fight group. I know he was carried to the Animal Control unit by a county sheriff. We adopted Rocky 4.5 years ago. He slipped past me when I was holding the door open for a visitor. He went to play and I got in my truck to retrieve him. A man with a small dog was standing near me as my wife when for Rocky. We ask him to take his dog inside, his house was directly in front of us, maybe 30 feet to his front door, but he refused. Rocky always goes to the truck, his favorite vehicle. My truck is parked at the curb and Rocky sees it and runs toward the truck but see the small white dog. The dog is yapping continually and Rocky puts the dog down but does not injure it. The owner picks the dog up by it harness and it falls out to the ground, about 7 feet. The owner came back and threatened to hit my dog but some men present stepped between them and said “don’t hit that dog”. Rocky was put in the truck and I left with Rocky. The man got into an argument with my wife and said “I am going to make you pay”. It is a long story but he carried a petition to have Rocky removed from the neighborhood or euthanized. Long story but that was about a year ago. I am charged with “dog off leash, true, vicious dog, false, cruelty to animals, false. My home insurance paid about $10,000 and cancelled my home insurance. I am on probation and looking for home insurance and the HOA is forcing me to leave the community. I have a hearing the end of the month. My fault for letting my dog out. I called and Rocky hit about 25mph and did not come. Could have been a better story if Rocky came when called.

      1. A pit bull attacked my miniature Australian shepherd when she was 3 months old. I saw the guy coming and shortened my leash and he says, oh my boy is a lover he’s good with dogs. He let’s the dog out of his gold cart and starts sniffing my girl and she shys away from him and I tell him pull your dog away she’s afraid. Next thing you know this pit bull is on top of her trying to kill her. I grab this vicious dog by the nap of his neck and lift it up screaming at this asshole to control his dog. He’s laughing the whole time, I legally carry a weapon and I was a second away from drawing it to save my puppy. She was not aggressive to this mutt at all she was afraid and just tried to hide between my legs, she never showed her teeth to this dog. Thank God I finally got this idiot to control his dog and didn’t have to shoot it. So yeah, you should control your dog, you never know what the outcome will be if you don’t. Btw, my park told this moron that the dog goes or he goes, he got rid of the dog and I will never trust a damn pit bull ever again. The park limits dogs to 25 pounds and this vicious pit bull was more than 25 pounds. Leash your dog and when someone tells you their not comfortable with your dog approaching their dog you better listen to them. I don’t have any pity for you Mr.

  2. We’ve inherited a senior maltese in the last week. She really does not have a recall but its been wonderful that her breeding is to stick close to someone. We are working on potty training and schedules, knock on wood no accidents in the house. And so far have just been tickled pink. But I have found that the easiest thing with her is to just walk up and pick her up. She actually gets herself ready for it and seems to enjoy being carried down the stairs for the morning potty break. She’s definitely going to have a more active lifestyle in the coming years so I’m hoping we have a good recal. A quick funny story, we were out for our evening potty break this weekend and D.O.G. was a little far away. Some dogs were barking in a different part of the neighborhood and she let out one bark. D.O.G. came running!!! She might be another tool to help with his recall!! 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Cute! She sounds like a great, little dog! Yes, maybe she can help D.O.G. with his recall 🙂 Are you keeping her long term?

      1. We are planning on keeping her long term. She’s over 10 so who knows how long, though she’s moving around great. She’s definitely going to be slimming down though, diet and lots and lots of exercise. 🙂

  3. I just wrote on this topic recently too 🙂 Repeat After Me: My Dog Coming To Me Is ALWAYS A Good Thing

    We do try really hard to making coming always a good thing. Sometimes a habit slips through; it makes so much sense to call your dog to give them their eye drops or brush their teeth. Somehow that is the natural things one wants to do. And it is hard to unteach oneself to do that. So hubby and I try keeping and eye on each other so this happens as rarely as possible.

    Seeing how Cookie always is when running to us, seems that she is happy to come. We have to play the recall game more often; she really likes it and gets some good exercise. Hubby and I stand quite a ways apart and keep calling her back and forth for treats. She runs like a wind …

    Does she have the perfect recall? No … when she gets her nose on a scent, you can be standing right beside her and she won’t know you’re there. When her brain does function, though, she comes bouncing with a big smile on her face.

    Btw, though the not-repeating of a command was debunked … read an article on it some place.

  4. Great tips and a good reminder not to call them when it’s for something they won’t enjoy…like a bath. I always forget the treats so I try to give Jack lots of affection – which he loves only 2nd to treats. Maggie needs to treats and it’s probably why her training isn’t progressing as it should. Thanks for the push.

  5. Mom used to do it all wrong too, but she learned. It always has to be a good thing coming when called, even if it is to go in the kennel she would give a treat and/or big cuddle for showing up. It is hard when she is mad, but it is still important.

  6. Reading that story reminds me of an identical one that happened to me a year or so ago. I let Kaya have off leash freedom too early and there were sooooooo many frustrating times for me(joyous time for her) but I was very diligent about never punishing her no matter how long it took me to catch her. Her recall really became rock solid when I taught her fetch. I gained a million cool points for being the ball thrower and used a “get the ball reward” to play a lot of obedience games. This all translated to times away from fetch too.

    Norman’s recall was always pretty shitty ’til recently. He’s wouldn’t run off or get into trouble like Kaya would but just not stop sniffing the leaf, etc. I think I actually relied too much on treats and he had a “I’ll get it from you in a minute, lady” attitude. I decided to revert to puppy games with him, making an embarrassingly big deal every time he’d come, having him run with me, crouching down and shouting “good boy!” while he approached. Also, I didn’t mean to but I started saying “uh oh” every time he would not listen to the first “come.” Though with all the new fun and games, he developed a really positive association to the “uh oh” and he is really rock solid on that though he is getting better and better at “come” too. I just think he had become numb to the word.

    I’ve always found that it helps to say their name before like “Kaya come!” A lot of dogs respond better to nicknames as well since they are pretty much exclusively used at happy times. One other thing I thought of is dishing out several small treats once the dog comes, it keeps them guessing and looking to you for the next move.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I guess I just assumed your dogs have a great recall because they are always off leash in your pictures. I guess they do have a great recall now, but it took some consistency on your part. Ace can be like Norman where he won’t run off, but sometimes he will finish sniffing or peeing on something before coming to me. Naughty. 😉

      1. Kaya’s recall has been pretty awesome since I started the blog. They’re awesome off leash in a sense that they never run off, they always know where I am even if they stray off the trail, they’re very savvy about roads and vehicles, they easily come back if even when hey chase a squirrel or deer. Their need for recall is really when they are literally 10 feet in front of me when it’s time to stop licking someone, sniffing another dog’s butt or they’re about to invite themselves to someone’s pick nick.

    2. Great idea, Rachel! Will use “Fetch!” to step into “Come!” ‘Quick story: used to walk 2 boxers, only one interested in Fetch! Determined to teach the other one, he taught me that Fetch! was comprised of 1)Go get it, 2) pick it up, 3)bring it back. Then he did it 3 times in a row – and never again.

  7. Absolutely agree with this theory. I wish my husband would get it too, as he’s the one with the “she should come when I say so” attitude. He also tends to call the dogs in a harsh scolding voice, whereas I try to make it a happiness party. If I had meatballs in my pocket they’d probably never leave my side in the first place!
    I would never let my dogs off leash outside of the house or yard, but I live in Los Angeles where it’s not safe or legal anyway. But I would go so far as to say that no dog can ever have perfect recall so any off leash time is always a risk.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m lucky there are areas near me where I feel safe letting Ace off leash. I agree, though, that no dog will every have a perfect recall. Hopefully near perfect, but never perfect.

  8. When I was training Haley I would sometimes call her away from doing something fun (mostly to see if she would listen and come to me). If she came to me, I would praise her or maybe give her a treat and immediately send her back to the fun. It helped train her to come to me, even if she was having a great time doing something else or was distracted. Now, if I could just train my dad not to be mad at his dog when she doesn’t come when called 🙂

  9. I couldn’t agree more – embarrassingly enough I have no idea why it took me so long to realize I had to make recall a super positive experience. Growing up I would just yell “come here” and get angry when my dogs didn’t listen. It’s just what I did; not realizing that I was giving my dogs no real motivation to actually come to me. Of course they’d rather sniff that other dog than come back to their angry owner. I swear it was like an epiphany a few years back when I realized I needed to add positive reinforcement to every recall I’d every ask for.

  10. Great tips, it also makes sense to observe when she is less likely to come. For example, because the garden downstairs is fairly isolated for us, she gets to go offleash there. But sometimes, she has so much fun she will stop and refuse to move when it’s time to go home. I make it a point to start rewarding her when she comes without fuss to the lift lobby. I like to think it changes mindset from “no, I don’t want to go to the lift lobby because that means going home.” to “oh yay, I’m going to the lift lobby because I get treated.” That sets me up for success when she starts to stall and I tell her to come. I don’t always do it, just now and then to keep her interest. 😛

  11. I read all the blog’s but none mentioned whistling rather than come ? Is there a reason not to whistle, my lady “SCOOTER” comes to me when I whistle except when she spots a rabbit (no injury to the rabbit she can’t run as fast as them). Should the rabbit stop and crouche down Scooter stops dead in her tracks and just sniffs tell the rabbit takes off again and the fun starts all over for Scooter. Should I not whistle when she chases a rabbit and instead just walk towards her and guide her back on the path ?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Whistling works well to get my dog to come to me as well, especially when he’s outside. With the rabbit, I guess it’s up to you. I prefer not to call my dog (even by whistling) if I know he won’t respond. I just go get him.

  12. Hi Lindsey 🙂 i have a 2 years old terrier that i got 3 months ago. Ever since then i have been training him and he usually has like 98% recall 🙂 haha the other two percent is when he gets outside with out a lead… Even if there is no scent or other dog he will run and wont stop until i pick him up in the car !! He seems to know when he is off the lead !! I have been training him on a long lunge rope and he has perfect recall but how do i make him listen to me when he has no lead ? He is in obedience classes btw and works perfectly to voice commends ib training ! Im really concerned because if I cant fix this soon my dad is making me give him up :/ he is such a sweetheart and that cant happen !!! Can you advise anything ?

  13. This post was right on – my incredible Great Collie (Great Pry mixed with BC) is a challenge – sometimes I think I adopted a battle not a pet – she is extreme intelligent – and that serves her/us sometimes and others not – what I have learned is that she is not obedient by nature (unlike my lab) – so she has to ‘agree’ with what I am asking of her – if not – it is like boxing a glacier – I have so resisted using treats (i.e. bribes) to inspire her behavior – once you go down that road – don’t you have to have a treat always unless it will become confusing – the question is – what are the coming for – for obedience? for love? for reward? Although I have lost this battle so many times – and have violated the excellent rules in this article – like calling multiple times – calling when she is being put inside – calling when I am frustrated with her – in the end – it is about love – dogs come to a place of love – and when she senses – and she does – that I am frustrated with her – then why come to that place? The Pyr side of her is infamous for stubbornness – I have to learn that she was bred to make independent decisions – and her coming has to be partly her decision – my lab will come if I just look at him lol – they are true opposites – I think this also speaks to what breed you adopt – if you are looking for obedience – don’t get a Pyr – get a lab – I learned a lot from this article – my takeaway is don’t set up your dog for failure – calling them to come when they will resist or reject the call – just hurts the relationship….

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I always hear how difficult Great Pyrs can be! But it makes sense as they were bred to make decisions and be independent, like you said. My weim is definitely more challenging than my Lab mix Ace but they both are pretty people/pack oriented. So even though Remy doesn’t have the best recall (I haven’t worked on it like I should, either) he doesn’t want me out of his sight. He’ll kind of wander off and dance around, sniffing but he’s always checking in. Ace pretty much always listens … stereotypical retriever, that’s for sure.

  14. This brings up another topic – how to parent two completely opposite fur-kids – my original fur-son Shian is so gentle, sweet, obedient – a game of fetch, love, food and he is good to go – my Pyr To-hee is constantly testing limits – needs strong hand – sometimes even severe – lol many times I am disciplining To-hee – my lab Shian will do the behavior that she is resisting even though he is not the problem! Shian cannot understand why To-hee is constantly battling what she is supposed to do – he thinks a dog’s job is to follow the lead of the owner – where To-hee always wants to be the decision maker – how do I balance this?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Haha, yes, that is challenging. I would say to spend more time individually with them. Or occasionally. That’s what I do with mine. I split it up between all of us together and one on one training/walks with each dog. But I know you said you like to have yours together most of the time. Do you ever have the Pyr on a leash while the Lab is off leash?

      1. I agree with this completely. I have Shih Tzu, a border collie/queensland heeler and a beagle. all three have completely different behavior. the Shih Tzu is the MOST STUBBORN baby. He thinks his Chinese heritage gives him liberty to ignore everyone. I swear he believes he is royalty, technically if papered he is. so I have to ‘play’ into that. I let him know how smart he is and he’s the oldest so he’s the boss of the dogs, etc…IT WORKS. the other two would rather come than be left behind and are pretty easy to manage. but working with them all individually has helped drastically.

  15. I used to make the mistake and call Missy in from the yard when she was on squirrel patrol 😉 It was just not happening, so when I want her to come inside these days when squirrels are more interesting than I am, I grab a leash and go get her that way. I do ask her to sit, which surprisingly enough she does every single time although the squirrels are still present, then leash her, and quietly walk her back inside. I have yet to come up with a better idea. Unfortunately, squirrels trump food, even her raw meals.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Haha! Sometimes that’s just what you have to do. No point in standing there yelling “Come!” over and over.

  16. I have a Boxer the come call worked when he was a puppy and I did reward with treats, baked chicken or hotdogs, but the older he got come no longer worked. When my son was younger he would run out of the house and the dog would follow. I would call my dog he would stop and you could see where his ear would prick up a tiny centimeter and then he was off. If I try to go and get him he thinks it is a game and just continues to run further off. I basically have to wait until he is tired out before I can get him back. Worried the entire time the neighbors would call animal control.

  17. my husband screwed up. he calls and calls and Lil’ Duke just wont come no matter what. when I call him he’s there. when he comes to me it’s because I’ve always rewarded him with, at the least, good dog praises and hugs etc…. my husband gets so frustrated and mad. I keep telling him he needs to change that because dukie won’t come if he thinks you’re going to yell at him or he’s coming into an angry dad.

  18. Hi great post. I have a wonderful German Shepherd, who comes back when called straight away except for the cats. I live next door to someone who feeds all the stray cats and drives my girl nuts. She goes into her ow zone and doesn’t hear anything else. A trainer said you may not ever stop her. Another neighbour says you have to smack her which I refuse to do. Any suggestions?

  19. I’m fortunate to live where I can turn my dogs loose. They are rescues so had to retrain. I start in my house and the yard is an acre so I use a long line. When they are running to me I’d give the treats to the one who got there first. Sometimes to all if I saw good effort. I play hide n seek. Then I take it to the forest, most of the time when they come they get treats and I let them run again. When I hide and they find me its a treat party, I throw treats in the air Yay Good Dogs!

  20. Gloria Lipson

    Hello Lindsay. I wanna thank you for the wonderful writing. It is really well explained. I have applied your tips on my dog and it works.

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