Goal: Your dog comes within your reach.
Uses: Because your dog needs to know this command for you to keep him safe, it is the single most important one you can teach him.
Training Technique: Choose one command word for this skill and stick to it.
Why This Command Is Crucial
The come command is important because a dog who does not come when his owner calls him can become lost, hit by a car, poisoned, or worse. This is why you should begin to regularly practice come as soon as you acquire a new pet. Most dogs take a while to respond to the come command consistently, so be sure to take precautions to prevent your dog from running off—keep him on a leash, a long line, or in a fenced area when outdoors.
Keep These Training Rules in Mind
When a dog learns to respond consistently to the come command, he has a reliable “recall.” To develop a reliable recall, there are a few rules you should always follow:
- Always issue the come command in a positive, upbeat manner.
- Never call your dog to come to you if it will result in an unpleasant experience for him, such as a bath, a trip to the vet, or confinement. (In these cases, always go get him rather than calling him to you.)
- Most importantly, never punish your dog when he comes to you, even if he did not come when you initially called him. This is a surefire way to discourage him from coming the next time you call him.
Train Your Dog in Different Locations
Use a variety of training techniques in your home, in a fenced area, and on a long line to help establish a reliable recall wherever you and your dog may be.
#1: Start in Your Home
It’s easiest to begin training come indoors.
- Keep some treats in your pocket or place them in several locations around your home so that you can access them easily. Wait until your dog is distracted or occupied, and then call his name and give the come command.
- Each time your dog responds to this command, issue a yes! and reward him with a treat and plenty of praise. To heighten his sensitivity to this command, say it only once each time. If he does not respond immediately, he will miss out on a yummy treat.
#2: Move to a Fenced Area
The outdoors provides greater distractions to challenge your dog. If you have a safe, fenced area in which to practice, this is an ideal environment to improve reliability.
- Wait until your dog is distracted, and then call his name and give the come command. Encourage him to come to you by calling him in a happy voice, clapping your hands, slapping your thighs, squatting down, or running away from him. (Dogs love to play chase.)
- If your dog comes, give him an enthusiastic yes! and reward him with a treat. Again, call him only once each time.
#3: Practice With a Long Line
Regardless of whether or not you have a fenced backyard, training with a long line offers its own advantages. It can keep your dog safe in a variety of outdoor locations to further improve his reliability. Long leashes or tracking lines are sold at many pet supply stores, but an inexpensive cotton clothesline attached securely to his collar can work just as well. (Avoid nylon lines, as they can cause rope burns if your dog becomes entangled in them.)
- Let your dog explore some distance away from you while on the long line, and then call his name and give the come command.
- If your dog responds, say the cue word yes! and reward him with a treat. It’s very important to avoid pulling him to you if he does not obey. You do not want to teach him that you are in control only when he is on a leash or line. Always remember that the purpose of the long line is to keep him safe, not to force him to come to you.
- When your dog comes to you consistently while on a long line, you can finally attempt to give him a little more freedom. Drop the long line on the ground, and let him explore at his leisure with the line dragging behind him. This way, if he does decide to ignore your come command, you can easily catch him by running after him and stepping on the end of the line.
- If you haven’t already started to phase out food rewards, this is the time to do it. You can begin to replace them with effusive praise or playtime with a favorite toy. In any case, there should always be something good waiting for your dog when he comes to you. You can condition him to respond to come to you automatically if you always make it beneficial for him.
Janice Biniok has written numerous articles and books on companion animals. She is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and has an English degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has been training and communicating with dogs for more than 35 years, but her five years working in the sport of canine musical freestyle impressed her with the dog’s ability to learn an amazing number of human commands.