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  • Getting your dog to reliably come when called is known as recall, and it’s important for all dog owners.
  • Some reasons dogs don’t come when called include distraction, confusion, or fear.
  • Gradual training and positivity are ways to help build a reliable recall so your dog will come when called.

There are few things more frustrating for owners than calling your dog and being ignored. Some pups listen perfectly in the house, but getting them to leave the dog park? Forget it.

Why Dogs Don’t Come When Called

Much like toddlers, dogs can be easily distracted, and they need to learn things in a variety of environments, with varying levels of distraction, for it to really sink in. This is called “proofing.”

If your dog isn’t coming when you call, they may not have generalized the command to all environments. Your dog may truly think that, when you’re sitting on the couch and say “come,” it means to come over to you, but only in the living room.

When training your dog on a new command or cue, start in the least distracting environment possible and gradually work your way up to more exciting places, like the park. For example, if you’re teaching your dog to “come,” start in one room of your house. Now, move to another room. Then, the backyard. Next, the front yard. Then, the park down the street. See what we’re getting at? Your dog should be able to come when called at least eight or nine times out of ten in each environment before you move to another setting. Another way to practice at home is to make a game of training.

Smooth Fox Terrier in a field

Your Dog Doesn’t Want To Get In Trouble

Another reason your dog might not listen is because they’ve gotten in trouble in the past when they’ve come to you. Maybe they ran off to chase a squirrel, or maybe they were just busy sniffing the corner of the yard, but if you use a frustrated or angry tone, your dog is going to associate coming to you with being in trouble.

No matter how upset you are at your dog, fake it. Use a high-pitched, happy voice and reward them when they come to you. This will make your pup more likely to come the next time you call.

Tip: If you have used “come” with an angry tone in the past, choose a different word and start over to give them a positive association with coming when called.

Your Dog Doesn’t Think It’s Worth It

Why in the world would your dog want to come back to you when there is a super exciting dog to play with at the park? Or a squirrel to bark at? You have to make yourself more interesting than whatever else is out there.

That means you’ll need to find out what your dog loves above all else. For many dogs, it might be a high-value treat. For others, it might mean getting to tug on a toy. Whatever your dog is into, give them lots of it when they come to you. For example, try using hot dogs or a special toy only as a reward for coming when called. When your pup obeys the command, have a party and shower them with the treats!

Your Dog Thinks the Fun Is About To End

Of course, there are times when you have to go home from the dog park or come inside, so your dog doesn’t get a choice. However, if telling your pup to “come” always means the fun ends, they’re less likely to want to do it.

An easy way to prevent this is to call your dog, reward them, then let them go again. The Premack Principle is a theory developed by psychologist David Premack that states that high-probability behaviors will reinforce low-probability behaviors. Your dog will learn that if they come to you, they get a high-value reward, then will get to go back to what they’d rather be doing anyway. It’s a win-win for them to listen and perform the low-probability behavior, which is to come when called. Over time, your dog may even start checking in with you on their own, just in case there is a treat waiting.

Tip: If you decide to do this, come up with a release command like “okay” or “go,” so your dog knows they’re free to go again.

When To Stop Using Rewards

Whenever you first start teaching your dog something new, you should be a “vending machine”. Each time they do what you ask, they get a reward. Over time, you can turn into a “slot machine”, meaning that your dog gets rewarded randomly for performing the behavior. It’s fine to start rewarding randomly once your dog has learned to listen every single time you give the command.

Other Tips To Teach Your Dog To Come When Called

  • When teaching your dog to come, say their name once and the command once (“Fido, come!”). Don’t keep repeating their name or “come,” as your pup may tune you out, and the command may eventually lose any meaning.
  • Start out using a six-foot leash and then graduate your dog to a long line to make it more challenging. This also allows you to safely give your dog more freedom. If your dog ignores you, don’t reel them in with the leash. Instead, use it to walk yourself closer until your dog comes to you. You want it to be their choice to come when called, not something you force them to do.

Last but not least, no dog is perfect. Never let your dog off-leash in an area where they could get hit by a car, lost in the woods, or end up in some other sort of trouble.

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