How to Teach Your Dog the Come Command
There are several reasons why the come command is so hard to master. Getting your dog to return to you is asking him to stop doing something very fun and, instead, do something considerably less fun. Dogs are opportunists who live in the moment. They know that romping with friends or tracking a scent is probably more thrilling than staying with you. For dogs with a strong predatory drive, the sight of a cat or squirrel may be irresistible. Certain breeds of dogs are instinctive runners or trackers. They are hardwired to bolt. Some individuals may never be safe off-leash.
But for the average dog, learning the command to come is within reach once we confront the human factors that can contribute to this misbehavior of not coming. Let's put ourselves in your dog's, um, paws, and think about why he might not be coming when you call him.
- You may not have taught your dog what "come" means. It's possible that your dog doesn't know what you want him to do when you call him — repeatedly yelling, "Dasher! Dasher! Dasher!" and then pitching an angry fit doesn't exactly send a clear signal.
- You may be acting inconsistently. It's possible that you've allowed your dog to disobey in the past. You call your dog several times; he ignores you, and you eventually give up. Sound familiar? Inconsistency is the enemy of successful dog-training.
- You may have unintentionally reinforced his disobedience. Your dog may have discovered that, by charging around just beyond your reach, he can engage you in a brilliant game of chase. What fun! He has received great positive reinforcement for not coming to you.
- You may have unintentionally punished your dog for coming to you. If there's ever been a time when your dog hasn't come to you immediately, and when he has decided to return, you have punished him, you have reinforced his desire not to come when called. Your dog doesn't understand when you yell at him or angrily snap on a leash and drag him out of the dog park, that you are responding to his initial failure to come. To him, the punishment occurred because he came to you.
How to teach your dog the Come command:
- Call your dog by saying “[His name], Come,” and use the leash to guide him to you.
- When your dog comes to you, give him a treat, pet him, and praise him enthusiastically. You can — and should — pet your dog when he reaches you so that coming to you is a pleasant experience for him.
- Hold onto his collar and pass the leash to your partner, who says, “[His name], Come,” guides the dog in, gives him a treat, and praises the dog. Keep working on this exercise until your dog responds on his own to being called and no longer needs to be guided in with the leash.
- Repeat the exercise with your dog off-leash, gradually increasing the distance between you and your partner to 12 feet.
Specifics for Teaching Your Dog to Come
The best time to teach the come command is when your dog is a puppy. Puppies crave closeness and will naturally bound over to you at the slightest invitation.
Try sitting in the middle of the floor while your puppy meanders around the room.
Occasionally give the come command, and reward him with snuggles and effusive praise when he complies. He'll soon get the idea!
Later, you can practice putting him in a "Sit/Stay" (once he's learned these commands) and backing up several feet, then giving the come command. Work on increasing the distance and changing the venue for these drills.
Eventually, move your practice sessions to a large, securely fenced-in outdoor space. You can gradually introduce distractions such as toys, people, or other pets so your pup can learn to return to you in the face of other temptations.