When people enroll their puppies in any type of training class, they almost always have one or both of these complaints as their number one reason for attending: "I can’t keep him from jumping on everyone" "He doesn’t come when I call him"

In this article, I will help you to understand how new dog owners (and sometimes repeat offenders, too!) consistently train their dogs NOT to come when they are called!  I will also show you the right way to teach your dog to come running when you call.

Picture this:
Daisy the puppy is having a grand time digging in the just-watered garden.  Mud is EVERYWHERE, plants are uprooted, and Daisy has a wonderful Petunia hanging from her mouth as her owner rounds the corner of the house.  Daisy, seeing the rigid, angry body language that her owner is displaying, takes off.  Owner then says, “Daisy, COME!!!!!! You bad dog; COME HERE RIGHT NOW!!!”  Daisy slowly creeps toward Owner, sensing impeding doom.  Owner grabs her collar harshly, and drags Daisy to the scene of the crime.  Owner then proceeds to tell Daisy what a cur she is and what a dastardly deed she has done, and  how COULD she have even thought she could get away with that, anyway.  Daisy, in the meantime, makes a HUGE mental note (hmmm: this "COME" and "COME HERE" command really means bad news.  I think that is something to avoid at all costs in the future!)  Sometime later (could be a day, week or whenever) Owner calls Daisy to come into the house.  Daisy, being a very resourceful puppy who remembers her lessons well, hears “COME HERE” and ignores Owner.  Owner calls again.  No response.  Owner, a little more angry, steps out of the house, looks for Daisy, who is behind a tree, and calls again:  “Daisy, COME HERE!” sounding a little more irritated.  No response.  Owner then really loses it, runs outside after Daisy, reaches and grabs for the collar, and DRAGS Daisy into the house muttering “STUPID DOG!! How come you don’t ever COME when I call you?!  Puppy makes another mental note (Hmmm: seems to me my memory of “COME HERE” is still accurate – don’t want to respond to that – after all, “COME HERE” means I am in BIG TROUBLE!)

And picture this:
Owner knows to teach Daisy to COME, he must use the command often, and praise when Daisy comes.  So, with full intention of practicing COME, he takes Daisy into the backyard and lets her go.  “Daisy, COME”, he says.  Daisy looks up, gives a little waggle of her tail and chases a blowing leaf.  “Daisy, COME!”, Owner says, a little more stern.  Daisy, hearing this tone in his voice, looks back – a little sorry – and thinks for a second: “Nope, I don’t think so”, then grabs a stick and runs around the yard.  Owner, getting REALLY angry, storms after Daisy, chases her, grabs her and says, “I TOLD you to COME!!  DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS???!!”  Of course, Daisy says to herself.  It means I’m in trouble!  The sterner my owner’s voice gets, the more trouble I’m in.  I think I’ll just chase a leaf or grab a stick to relieve some of the stress I’m feeling.

The RIGHT and FAIR way to teach Daisy to COME!

Remember, dogs know ONLY “dog language” when they come to live with us.  WE must teach them our language.  In the above examples, Daisy did not learn OUR translation for the word “COME”.  She learned “COME” meant “angry owner – I’m in trouble now.  Better scram out of here!”  We want Daisy to learn that “COME” means “Get your buns to me in the fastest way possible – NO EXCEPTIONS!”  Puppy needs to understand that COME means GOOD stuff – ALWAYS!

Rules for "COME"

Whenever the "COME" command is used (during the stage where the dog does not yet understand what come means) a leash MUST always be attached to the dog, with YOU at the other end.  NEVER give a command you cannot follow through or control.

NEVER use your recall word ("COME", or whatever word you choose) to call your dog to discipline him, correct him, tell him what a bad dog he is, or for any negative reason.  Bad deeds MUST be caught IN THE ACT in order to correct.  If you still need your dog by you for a negative reason, give him a firm SIT command and go get him.

No matter how MAD you are, "COME" should ALWAYS end positively – with happy praise, food or whatever.  When my Golden, Bailey, was a puppy, I had a difficult time getting her to come in from the yard.  She had more fun out there than in the house.  One particular rushed day, she wouldn’t come inside, and I was ANGRY.  I brought my long line outside, IN MY NIGHTGOWN, and hooked her to it.  I practiced 5 or 10 recalls, with a positive tone in my voice, but the words I used were NOT nice (remember, dogs don’t understand English unless you teach them what the words mean – FIRST, they understand tone).  “Bailey, COME, you stupid idiot.”  “GOOD DOG, you JERK!”  All were said happily, and I was able to vent my anger and still teach her what was right.

Wherever you want your dog to come reliably, you should practice with your dog THERE.  In the park with other dogs around.  Down the street where his favorite game of ball is being played with kids running around.  EVERYWHERE.

When you practice recalls (COME) with your dog, keep the practice to 5 minimum, 10 maximum per practice session.  Too few and the dog won’t learn the concept well.  Too many and the dog will get VERY bored and tune you out.  Practice sessions should be done at least once daily - up to two or three sessions per day.

Don’t always practice recalls with food as a reward.  What if you are outside without your training clothing on – without food in those pockets?  Your dog has come to expect food.  Hmmm: don’t think I’d come!

If your dog gets out of your house, yard, or car without your control DO NOT CHASE HIM!  He will just think of it as a game and keep running.  Instead, YELL his name to get his attention and TAKE OFF in the OTHER DIRECTION!  Then YOU are IT in the “game” and he will chase after YOU instead.  Then, pounce on him at the first opportunity.  Don’t bother to use COME either – you will almost certainly be ignored by your dog then.  You can practice this emergency exercise in the safety of your backyard too.

Teaching “COME”

In order to teach the recall (COME), you need two very important pieces of equipment: something around the dog’s neck and something connecting you with the dog.  I like to have any kind of collar around the dog’s neck – anything from the buckle collar you already have his ID attached to (you DO, don’t you?), to slip collars, martingales, and – in many cases – a prong collar.  The line between you and your dog may be as short as your 6 foot training leash or up to a 30 foot long line.  You can incorporate a “Flexi”-type lead into this, too.  The only time this WON’T work is when you start dropping the long line to test your dog’s understanding of “COME”.  The “Flexi” will “chase” the dog and scare him!

Practice first with just the long line (NOT attached to the dog).  The idea of the long line is to gather up the slack as the puppy is running toward you WITHOUT “reeling” him in like a fish.  Keep one arm straight out in front of you, palm up.  Run the long line over that palm.  The other hand will grasp the end of the long line, give tugs to the puppy and either toss the line out behind you or gather the line up as the puppy runs to you.  This is the guide that keeps the puppy on his way to you once you have called him.

Clip the long line to Puppy’s collar and let him explore in your backyard, walking freely.  You’ll want to try this there first, so you won’t feel foolish if you don’t look good!  Have the other end of the line in your hand.  Once Puppy gets interested in something (tree, leaf, toy or other dog):

1. CLEARLY call Puppy’s name
2, Clearly call "COME" (or whatever word you want to mean “come to me” when you say it (“here”, “come”, “by me”, etc.).  If you want "COME" to be your word, do not use “COME HERE”.  That is a different word to Puppy and will confuse him.
3. Give a tug on the on the line (which should, in turn, tug his collar).  Puppy should turn to look at you and start toward you.
4. Back up and work the long line (as you have practiced above) and tell the Puppy what a great puppy he is WHILE HE IS COMING TO YOU!  Once he has reached you the praise will be too late to convey the concept properly.
5. If Puppy has not looked up at you and continues sniffing the tree, or whatever, give a firmer tug on the line as you call again: “Puppy, COME!”  Any time he slows down or appears distracted, give another tug with cheerful encouragement.


A moving target is much more interesting to Puppy than a stationary one.  Standing in one place will  look very boring to your pup in the training stages.  Once you call your puppy, back up quickly, creating a target.  Puppies love to chase!

Two people can work this recall exercise as well.  The Handler uses the long line (as above).  The other person (Holder) holds the puppy and releases when the Handler  tugs the line after “Puppy, COME!”.  After puppy reaches Handler, the end of the line can then be tossed to the Holder and the recall can be reversed with the Handler now becoming the Holder.

Variations on a theme:

Restrained recall
This is worked with two people.  The person holding the puppy continues to hold Puppy even after Handler has called and tugged.  After a couple more calls, Holder then releases Puppy.  This usually gets Puppy very excited, and anxious to run to Handler – and this is the response we want!

Turn and Run
Remember when I told you if Puppy gets loose to call and then run?  Well this can be done on a long line too; with or without a Holder.  This should be A LOT of fun for Puppy!  Call “Puppy, COME!”, tug, then turn and run!

Dealing with Problems:

Even with line attached, Puppy veers right and left, etc.
Turn to face the direction Puppy has taken, give another tug on lead and back up while continuing verbal encouragement.

Puppy cringes and doesn’t want to come to you
Use gentle leash tugs and crouch down.  Use a high pitched voice in an encouraging tone and lots of praise words (see my tone of voice article for proper praise tone) “Yes, that’s it!” “Yay!” “Let’s go, atta girl!”

Pup is in yard, not on a lead and won’t come in.
Get a huge biscuit, dangle it out the door and yell “TREATS!”  When puppy comes in the door, give him a tiny biscuit and put the huge “visual aid” biscuit on top of the refrigerator until you need it next. 


The tug on the leash is the message to your dog that tells him which direction you want him to move, and that you DO want him to move.  Soon enough, if your tug is good, puppy will be beating your tug after he hears the word “COME!” – THAT is when you know he is starting to understand what “COME!” means! 


Pam Young, LVT CDBC CPDT  
Dog Gone Good LLC
Dog Behavior Consultant
Personal Dog Trainer