Weimaraner

How to Teach Your Dog to Come When Called

Today’s focus: Coming when called. Also called “the recall” in the dog training world.

In Remy’s defense, Josh and I have not put in much effort on teaching him to come when called so he’s not all that great at it.

I know it’s best not to call your dog unless you’re 100% sure you can enforce it. So, I’ve been letting Remy off leash and then I wait for him to come to me on his own or I just go get him! Not exactly ideal.

So anyway, it’s time we focus on this very important command. How are the rest of you doing with this one? Any struggles or suggestions to share with the rest of us?

How to teach your dog to come when called

I follow these strict rules:

  • Only say the command once. And I do use my dog’s name. So it’s, “Remy! Come!”
  • Do not call your dog unless you are 99% sure he will obey or that you can reinforce it instantly by “reeling him in.”
  • “Come!” means “Come to me and sit in front of me.” (It doesn’t mean “crash into me” or “nip at me as you run by” or “dance around me just out of reach!”)

How to teach your dog to come

1. Set your dog (and you) up for success.

Start with the easy stuff.

I call Remy indoors in boring situations where I’m the most exciting thing so of course he’s going to come when I call him. For example, if we’re sitting in my home office and I call him, he listens. There’s nothing else going on. Good boy!

Another “easy” scenario you can set up at home is to toss a treat, let your dog go get it and then call him and give another treat.

If your dog loves walks, call him before his walk. Loves to eat? Call him before you feed him.

And if he doesn’t get too excited and start biting and jumping (like Remy does) you can make a game of calling your dog back and forth between you and a family member down the hall.

See my post: 10 ways to get your dog to come when called

2. Use a leash and treats and increase the challenge very slightly.

When you have a leash on your dog, you know you can reinforce it when you all him. So call him once and then “reel him in” if he doesn’t come on his own. Then lots of praise!

If your dog is on a leash, you can start practicing “come!” with some mild distractions like outside on a walk or perhaps in your backyard.

Tip: Use highly valued treats when working on the recall. If your dog gets a real meatball every time you call him, don’t you think he’s going to have a pretty good recall? I normally don’t use a lot of treats with Remy because he gets too excited, but I use them for coming when called. We like to train with the “Hearty Bites” dehydrated raw treats from Campfire Dog Treats.

Another tip: I don’t tell my dog to “stay” and then call him because it encourages him to break from stay. Remy is still young and needs to work on a solid STAY command. If you want to leave your dog and then call him, I recommend you use a “wait” command. This is great for sports like agility too.

How to teach your dog to come when called

3. Buy a long leash at least 15 feet long.

I just bought a 30-foot lead for Remy, and I highly recommend it. I plan to use this for calling Remy outside in random areas so we can work on a little distance but I’ll still be able to somewhat prevent him from running off. Order Mighty Paw’s long training leash HERE.

See That Mutt’s review of the Mighty Paw long training leash.

Make sure to wear gloves so you don’t burn your hands. Even better, just step on the leash vs. grabbing it. Also, it’s best to remove prong collars for this exercise in case your dog hits the end of the leash hard.

Over the weekend Josh and I took Remy to a park and practiced calling him back and forth between us while he wore the long lead. Remy had a blast! He thought this was a fun game, we were the ultimate rewards and he got some good exercise too!

Tip: Don’t do this for too long or the dog might get bored or distracted. We probably practiced this for about 4 minutes. We stopped while we were all still having fun. Good choice.

Another tip: A retractable leash can work pretty well for this too if you have a mellow dog, a puppy or a small dog. It would be dangerous to use one for my powerful weimaraner, though. That would be like reeling in a tiger with a yo-yo. Someone would get hurt.

4. Practice! Practice! Practice!

The key is setting your dog up for success by not making the distractions too difficult at first.

The mistake many of us make is we expect too much too quickly. Instead, we should v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y over several weeks, months and years increase the level of difficulty only as our dogs are successful. So that means lots of practice in “easy” scenarios first. Every day.

For example, with Remy, I can call him indoors and he’ll pretty much always listen. Outside at the fenced dog park he’ll come when called if there are no other dog around and if I’m holding treats. If he’s on a leash outside, he’ll pretty much always come when called.

But, it’s too challenging for Remy right now to come when called off leash in most scenarios unless the distractions are very mild (no other dogs around, we’re in a fairly ordinary place, etc.) or if I’m holding a high-value reward such as hot dogs or a squeaky toy!

It’s about knowing your dog and challenging them ever so slightly but also making sure you’re both successful.

See my post: 5 mistakes people make when calling their dogs

Other tips for teaching your dog to come when called:

  • Don’t call your dog for “bad” things like putting him in his kennel, trimming his nails or leaving the dog park. Instead, just go get him or wait for him to come to you.
  • Sometimes the best reward is more freedom, not praise or a treat. Call him, then let him go back to playing or sniffing.
  • Make a game of it – Hide in another room or run from your dog so you are the prize.
  • Practice for 5 minutes at least a few times per week. No need to work longer than that or the dog gets bored.
  • Sign up for an obedience class, either a beginning level if that’s where you’re at or a more advanced class.

What about really ‘stubborn’ dogs?

I don’t know that there are “stubborn” dogs but maybe just dogs that are very driven to follow their nose or to hunt. And then there’s dogs that just love other dogs so much! And another problem is when dogs don’t get a lot of off-leash freedom they don’t want to return because the fun ends!

For problems like not coming when called around distractions like other dogs, squirrels, a dead bird, etc., what it comes down to is a solid foundation. Start from the beginning and if he comes 99% of the time without distractions, start adding mild distractions. Work up to slightly higher distractions, then medium, etc. And really up the reward any time you increase the challenge. Use hot dogs, pieces of real meat, that squeaky toy that makes him nuts, whatever it might be!

Heck, sometimes, it’s worth it to let him have that freaking dead bird or to go back to chasing that rabbit or whatever it might be if he actually came to you! Sometimes it’s worth it! (Yes, I know there are risks. You pick your battles.)

What about an e-collar?

I personally use the Garmin Alpha 100 with my dog Remy and have had a lot of success using the tone only mode. He associates the tone with a treat and comes running!

Check out my review of the Garmin Alpha 100 here

If you use the vibration mode on the collar, do not think of it as a punishment but more of a quick “tap, tap” like “Hey! I’m over here! Remember me?”

You also have to remember to work within your dog’s abilities. Just because he has an e-collar on, you still have to remember he can only handle certain distractions. Don’t challenge him too much. It’s not fair.

So what I would do with the e-collar is call your dog once. “Remy, come!” If he comes, great! Lots of praise. “Wooo!” If not, give one “tap, tap” with the vibration mode or low correction mode to get his attention. Then lots of praise when he moves towards you. It’s probably best to have him on a long leash (25 ft) when you first practice this. The e-collar is actually a lot like a firm but gentle tug on the leash to get his attention.

Tip: Have your dog wear the e-collar for part of the day a week before you even turn the thing on. That way he’s used to wearing it and won’t associate a vibration or correction from the collar. Also, try the collar on your own skin before you put it on your dog so you understand the level of intensity. I always try it on the underside of my wrist. There are lots more tips for e-collars in this post.

So those are my suggestions for teaching your dog to come when called.

What tips would you add to this list. What’s worked for your dog? Or do you have any questions?

Let us know in the comments! Always helpful to hear from others as we could all use some feedback at times. Clearly Remy and I could use some help too!

I’m planning on writing a post about each of my dog Remy’s training issues.

You can see the full list HERE. I’ll add links as I write the posts. (And I’m sure I’ll add to the list, too!)

25 thoughts on “How to Teach Your Dog to Come When Called”

  1. great suggestions! I will try the treat method first. Also good to know NOT to call him to come when I am going to clip his nails or clean his ears!

  2. Great tips there! You briefly mentioned it but I do think it is important not to put your dog on the lead every time he comes back. I do this with my dog sometimes. When she is off leash, I will call her with no intention to put her on a lead, grab the collar (I do think this is important that they give you the chance to let you grab the collar), give her a pat and let her go running again.

    It was because the only time I would really call my dogs to me on a walk was when I was going home. So I didn’t want them to associate “come” with “walks over – we are going home”.

    My dogs are 8 and 6 and I still work on recall training. Its SOOOOO important!!

  3. My dog Scooter enters a different world and total Ignores my “come Scooter” when she comes across a rabbit smell while chasing the tennis ball..I could dangle a 12oz. stake and it would do no good. Otherwise when she is returning the ball I hold a treat out at arms length she sees the treat and comes right up to me and sets.

  4. I am taking a beginner dog obedience class right now with my 5 mo old lab/bully mix. The trainer is teaching the following. Have dog (leashed)sit close to and in front of you,facing you.Hold treat and leash in your hands.
    As you begin to walk backward, say Come Remy, letting him smell/lick at treat but do not give him any yet. He will follow as you walk backward with treat in your hands. Say come and good boy as he continues to follow you. After 5-10 feet depending on how big your dog is, say Sit, and after he does, give treat saying Good boy Remy. Get another treat in your hand and again walk backwards with him following, saying Come Remy, etc. Gradually end up on a long line. But as you said, only call him to come if you can reel him in if he doesn’t, otherwise he gets the message that he can come when he feels like it.

  5. My dog is a 7 year old labx. Until a few months ago she had a fairly reliable recall, I could call her away from people and dogs and interesting smells without a problem, and she would come back even when she was a couple hundred feet away. However, there was no way she would come back if there was a rabbit or coyote near.I finally bought an e-collar and it’s made such a difference! It only took a few shocks and now she’ll stop in her tracks when I call even if she’s in the middle of chasing a rabbit. It’s a great tool.

      1. I bought a cheap $50(cad) “petrainer” from amazon. I used it again today when my dog started chasing deer and it worked great. It allows my dog a lot more freedom; without it I would have to leash her much more often (I avoid leashing her as much as possible).

      2. I use Sportdog collars for hunting or bird training. At home we use use the Petsafe wireless invisible fence because we live in a rural area and I like to give them some room for exercise. My youngest is 3 and she obeys my every command in the field. Haven’t had to use the static for a while and rarely have to give her a tone anymore. At home is more of a struggle with her and my mix who has a mind of his own. I am competing with birds, squirrels, mice, moles, chipmunks, cats, deer, the occasional loose dog, etc. Sometimes I just watch them run from one distraction to another while I have to wait to call them inside. I appreciate all these great tips, I hope to get a better handle on things at home. I will say that they have both improved and come about 70% of the time. But I think I need to refocus my recall training. Thanks again.

  6. I would add that a person shouldn’t forget that training is a life long endeavor and that coming by with a dash shows the dog knows the command. Training is a cumulative thing and people only train up to the point that they are satisfied with the result. If you’re not satisfied, keep training.

  7. Langlois Jackie

    Hi, I have an 18 month old male husky. He walks off leach when I go hiking on the mountain and follows me going up. Yet when I ‘m ready to return ….he takes off in the wood ? Even if I zap him with the electric training collar, he doesn’t respond! I have to blow many times the whistle & call him for 20 minutes before I get his presence ? I need help &tips for my dog to return when I call him!

  8. Kathy Butterfield

    Padded handle? Heck ya! I have a rope burn healing on my left hand right now from a long line….(dang wild turkey.. came outta nowhere and I reacted without thinking and Ouch) I am gonna order for sure. Recalls are easy to work on in the house if you always have treats on ya like I do… I call my girl tons during the day…she’s great in the house HA! Work in process.. she knows what to do .. but oh the choices when at obedience class or on a walk. It’s a team effort, this training stuff and if your dog is happy and relaxed on a walk (long line) I think she/he is more likely to respond to the recall, knowing that the reward will include more free sniff time!

    1. Ouch. I didn’t get rope burn, just lassoed around my legs and flipped on my back. Bruised my ego but I payed attention after that. Consider me trained!

  9. Sad to say, but I don’t trust any humans to use these ‘corrective’ collars or techniques humanely. Had a hard day? Not enough sleep? Chances are you’re going to keep pressing that shock button or yank too hard too often (re all the time /incorrectly). You likely won’t realize you’re doing it until it’s too late. Or, if you’re too many dog owners you’ll never realize you’re being cruel and abusive.Worse yet, these things give license to legally abuse dogs to those people who see them as property, as worthless, as stupid, as the problem. Kudos to any who can correct appropriately, but I think they should all be banned to save millions of pets from just one more way us humans take our shit out on our faithful, loving companions.

    1. I totally agree – both prong collars and e collars are open to abuse and sensitive dogs can be completely traumatised by them.
      I use a horse lunging lead – softer and not so likely to burn hands.
      Much easier to train recall with puppies, not so easy with an older dog who has learned that he actually doesn’t HAVE to come if he doesn’t want to!

  10. Treats!! Treats!! Get the most desirable treats for your dog and use them. Differentiate on the return call. “Come” means get over here and get some lovin’ and “Leash” means come over here and get a delicious treat -and- hooked up. I would like to get “Now” to mean “emergency recall”, get over here now… but still in progress.

  11. We live in a forest, so we have LOTS of distractions for our Newfoundland Landseer. We got her a year ago and she is 5. I think she tolerates us. I keep her on a 30 foot leader attached to a 50 foot guywire that is attached between two trees. Other than that, she is either in the house with us or on a leash for a walk. she understands “Walk Walk” for going for a walk. She is now understanding “eat” for coming inside to get something to eat. If she gets off her leader, she takes off. (Scares me to death!)I want to work with her “off leash”, but she will take off if she doesn’t have either her leash or leader on. Where do I start?

  12. I am going to try using the lead and keep working with Bailee. She is a year old. She is very timid. We got her when she was 5 months old. I can’t trust her outside the yard without a lease, I don’t think she would come back. I am so afraid she will get lose one day and follow something into the woods.

  13. Very very helpful!! We never have our pup off leash as he cannot be trusted. And we must do more training. He won’t come when loose in the privacy fenced back yard!!

  14. i need to practice this. my girls will come if they know i have food, but sometimes they just look at me and dont budge.

  15. Bella is a 5 month cavvy/brittany cross. Up till recently not a chance of recall if she sees a dog or person. Twice now she stops and sits when I call then comes belting back to me. Success?? Not a chance – She grabs her hot dog then turns around and belts back to the distraction!! Think I’m in this for the long haul!

    1. Bella still needs a long lead and be taught she doesn’t move again after coming until released. If she tries you can just hold her back with leash, saying wait until you say Free! Or whatever word you choose to release. That’s what we were taught at obedience. This rule goes for all instructions..drop, sit, stay etc.

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