Teach a Dog to Come

Here are a few things to remember when teaching this command:

Use it sparingly. When it’s over-used, dogs stop paying attention.

Don’t chase your dog if she doesn’t respond! Practice on-lead for now.

Never call for negatives. Do you have to brush, bathe, or isolate your dog? Don’t use “Come.” Avoid using it if you’re angry. You’ll only freak her out.

If your dog runs away, don’t repeatedly call or correct her! I know the frustration of marching around in the middle of a cold, wet, rainy night looking for your dog, but if you call or discipline your dog, you’ll only be teaching her to run from you.

Use a different command to bring your dog inside. Coming in from outdoors is a big drag, paralleled with being left alone or ignored. Using the command “Come” would make it a negative. Instead, pick a command like “Inside.” Start using it on-lead when bringing your dog into the house. Quickly offer a treat or ball toss.

Are you having some problems with these first few exercises? Here are some situations my clients complain of:

My dog comes, but he’s so excited that he jumps all over me! That reminds me of Jerome, a big chocolate Labrador Retriever, whose enthusiasm could knock anyone flat. When his owner called him in group, the entire class—dogs, people, and all—ducked for cover. It’s a positive problem, though, so don’t get me wrong. To tone it down, command in a calmer voice. As your dog comes, lean forward with your arms outstretched like an airline flagger. This blocking posture slows the dog down. Stand as she approaches. Say “Shhh” as she gets closer. Stand tall and click your heels to finish.

My dog stops three feet in front and either veers to one side, licks my face, or tinkles. You’re probably bending over. Try leaning back when you call. Bent pos­tures communicate play, confrontation, or submission. Straight posture communi­cates leadership.

My dog comes too fast for me to reel in the lead. Another problem with an easy solution. As soon as you’ve said your command, scurry backward. This will give you added time to reel in the lead.

My dog looks so depressed when I call her. Either you’re commanding too harshly or not enthusiastically enough. Use low tones, not cross ones. Also increase your animation. Make it seem like more fun. Say “Come” and run backward or kneel down for the big effect.

Distraction Come:

Does your dog get excited when she hears “Come”? Good job. Now you can start encour­aging focus around low-level distractions and increasing the distance from which you call her. Here are some ideas (see if you can add to the list): try it in front of the TV, in the backyard, in front of the kids, and during mealtime. In a quiet hallway/garage, attach the Flexi-Leash® and increase your distance slowly.

Using the “Come” command around distractions is a taller order than your living room version. Most dogs try to pay attention to the distraction and you at the same time, which is impossible. If your dog’s torn, say “No” and snap the lead when your dog turns toward the distraction. Praise him when he focuses on you: “Good Dog!”

Though “Come” is the command of the hour, don’t forget to sandwich each exercise between a couple of normal “Sit-Stays.” If you call your dog from each “Sit-Stay,” he’ll anticipate your request and since you can’t correct a dog that’s coming at you, you’re stuck. Prevent the problem by working a few “Sit-Stays” between each “Come” command.

Are you having trouble getting your dog’s attention around distractions? You’re not alone. It’s a hard nut to crack. My advice: stick with it. Don’t give up. You must commu­nicate that there’s only one way to “Come” and that is to sit directly in front of you. Practice in a quiet room for a day, enthusiastically praising your dog’s focus. Next try it with your TV on:

  • Leave him: “Stay.”
  • Pause at least a minute (building up anticipation).
  • Pause at least a minute (building up anticipation).
  • Flag him in. If he sits straight, praise him happily!
  • If not, side-step from the distraction, snap the chain firmly, and say “No.”
  • Encourage and praise any focus immediately.

Work up the distraction chain slowly. If your dog’s too stimulated, practice around simpler distractions for a while. There’s no rush. It’s not a race. And whatever you do, don’t get frustrated! Frustration kills enthusiasm.

“Come” is a funny thing. If used too much, dogs resist it. When your dog understands the command, avoid using it all the time. Say it infrequently and make it extremely rewarding! (Don’t forget your other commands too: “Inside” for coming indoors, “Let’s Go” for follow me, and “Heel” for staying at your side.)

Use “Come” in two of the following situations daily. You can add to the list (only two “Comes” a day though): when your dog’s distracted on a walk; during regular teaching or with the Flexi-Leash®; indoors, as your dog’s waking up from a nap; as your dog’s getting out of the car; or when the neighbor’s jogging by.

Here are a few more common questions:

My dog comes on the Flexi, but then veers by me. Are you fudging on the final step? Your dog must return to you, sit in front of you, and look up. Remind him with a few beginner “Come” exercises on his Teaching Lead®. When he’s cooperat­ing, go back to your Flexi-Leash® and correct him if he races by with “No” and a leash snap. Bring him into the proper position and praise as usual.

My dog looks at me like she’s too busy to be bothered. Kind of amazing to see her thought process. Just tug the leash, say “No,” and encourage her to you with praise.

If there’s a distraction, my dog will walk sideways and sit on my feet to keep focused on it. Clever dog. Trying to please everyone. Not exactly what the dog trainer ordered! When your dog takes his eyes off you, side-step away from the distraction as you snap the lead and say “No!” Keep stepping and snapping until you get through. Don’t settle for less than perfection if you’re striving for that off-lead “Come!”

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