How to Train a Dog to Come – The Skill You MUST Know
by Jessi Larson
Dogs just love to explore the wide world around them, which makes it all the more important to learn how to train a dog to come when called.
We’ll show you how to teach your pup this essential – and potentially lifesaving! – command in no time.
Teaching your dog this skill is important for so many reasons. For starters, you’ll get your dog to come to you when needed, whether it’s to go for a walk, come back inside the house, step away from visitors, you name it.
It’s also critical if your dog if veering off into danger. For example, one time our dog Toby jumped out of my car in a busy parking lot when he was a puppy. He started to run around the lot, which was full of cars driving around. It was my worst nightmare!
Fortunately, we had taught Toby to come when called, and he returned safely.
We’ll show you how to master this skill in our guide to how to train a dog to come.
Training Guide: How to Train a Dog to Come
Dogs are a man’s best friend. With this in mind, it seems that they’d instinctively want to come to their owner when called, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
This can be a problem, especially because dogs tend to run off after every sound or movement, easily distracted and hyper-aware of the things happening around them.
You need your dog to hear the command to come and respond instantly, especially if they’re headed off into danger.
Learning how to train your dog to come is essential. It will prevent them from getting in trouble and could literally save their life.
If you can train your dog well, this one simple word has a whole lot of power. It can even allow you to take your dog off their leash in certain public situations without worrying that they’ll run off.
If you follow these tips for how to train a dog to come, your dog will learn to return to you and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your pup will come back on command.
Steps to Get Started
Prepare a Reward
Dogs love rewards! This is great for training because it enables you to provide positive reinforcement when your dog listens to you.
The best type of reward: A small dog treat that is delicious and nutritious.
Whatever you choose, try to keep it nutritional and bite-sized so you don’t overfeed your pup.
The other reason we recommend small treats is so your dog can chew them up quickly, otherwise you’ll just spend most of your “training” time watching your pal eat.
We love Zuke’s Mini Naturals as a training treat. They’re healthy and small in size, so you can give them to your dog over and over again as you work on how to train a dog to come.
Other rewards for a job well done include a click if you’re clicker training, affection from you or a positive verbal affirmation.
These rewards help your dog learn that when they obey your command, good things, fun things, or yummy things will happen.
When you get started with your training, you’ll want to be indoors and away from distractions.
Remember, dogs get distracted very easily, which is one of the main reasons this command is so important. By keeping your dog indoors, you’ll be able to minimize things that would distract them from learning.
After you’ve mastered this command indoors, you’ll be able to take them outside and practice with distractions.
Make it Fun and Positive
The best way to train your dog with anything is to make it into a positive, fun activity. If your dog is enjoying the training, they’ll pick it up easier.
If you treat it like a fun game you’re both playing together, your pup will be much more successful when you work on how to train a dog to come.
How to Train a Dog to Come
Now that you’re prepared, let’s dive into how to train a dog to come. These simple 8 steps will walk you through everything you need to know.
1. Start at a short distance
Always start at a close distance, say around 10 feet. This makes the process straightforward and easier to understand when your dog is first getting started.
You’ll gradually move back farther and farther as you progress in the training, but for now, keep it short.
2. Instruct Them to “Come”
Next, make eye contact with your pup and say the command “come” in a clear, confident, positive manner.
You can say their name to get their attention but always follow it up with the “come” command so they know what’s expected of them.
3. Add Some Encouragement
As you instruct your dog to come to you, act excited and encouraging. This can include clapping your hands, patting your legs or another action to get their attention.
Make sure you continue saying the command “come” the entire time until your dog gets all the way to you.
4. Give Them a Reward
When your dog does get to you, provide a positive affirmation such as exclaiming “Yes!”, then give them a treat. If you’re using clicker training, now would be the time to click.
These actions provide positive reinforcement and signal to your dog that it’s a job well done.
5. Extend the Distance
Once your dog is getting a hang of the process, take several steps back and repeat the process from a longer distance.
You’ll eventually work your way to starting in a separate room where your dog can’t see you.
6. Repeat the Process
Repetition is key to training success. Before you go outside, practice over and over again until you feel your dog gets the hang of the process.
7. Introduce Distractions
Dogs get distracted easily – by toys, people, other animals, new objects, you name it.
To help your dog overcome these distractions and focus on the command, add in small distractions into the room when practicing. This can include a chew toy, ball or another object they like.
After the new element has been added, repeat steps 1-7 until mastered.
8. Take it Outside
Once you’re confident in your dog’s ability to come when called, head outside and practice outdoors.
It’s always good to first practice in a contained area if you can, like a fenced in yard.
Tips for Training Success
As you work on the steps above for how to train a dog to come, here are additional tips and tricks that will help ensure success.
Ensure Your Cue is Clear and Positive
Oftentimes people ruin their training cues by overusing them or giving them a negative connotation.
If you’re repeating the “come” command over and over again without results, it will start to confuse your dog or become background noise. If your dog isn’t getting the expectations of your word, take a break and start again later.
Issues can also arise if you yell or sound angry. This creates a connection in your dog’s mind that what is happening is negative, making them not want to obey the command or do so begrudgingly.
Don’t “Punish” Your Dog for Obeying
Sometimes people unintentionally “punish” their dog when they come back successfully.
For example, if you’re at the park and call for your dog to “come,” just to put the leash on them and walk them to the car to leave, a dog will feel as though they are being punished.
If there is something that your dog doesn’t like, don’t use the cue to get them to you at first. This might be bathtime, medicine time or even grooming time.
Don’t create negativity around your cues in the beginning, or they will likely start to ignore them.
Instead, just go to your dog, put them on a leash, and walk them to the activity they don’t like. This will prevent them from connecting your cue with negativity.
Be Patient and Persistent
As you work on how to train a dog to come, you may get frustrated at times. Don’t stress, that’s to be expected. Training a dog is hard work!
If you feel like you’re not making progress and getting frustrated, take a time out and count to 10. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to start up again.
Training a dog requires patience, persistence and consistency. The goal is to continually and clearly communicate your expectations in a calm but confident manner. This sends a strong message to your dog about what you want them to do and how they need to act.
Dogs can sense if you’re hyper or angry, so taking a few moments to center yourself will make the training process much easier.
Final Thoughts on How to Train a Dog to Come
Teaching your dog to come can be fairly easy. Just be diligent, use a clear command, make it fun, and provide positive reinforcement.
But also, keep in mind that it’s a skill you’ll continually work on. Toby faces tons of distractions and temptations that sure are a lot more fun than returning back to us.
Just the other day, a dog walked past our house, and Toby started to run toward it excitedly. We didn’t know the dog, so I commanded him to come back to me. He eventually did, but he hesitated for a while.
The next day, Toby get a refresher on how to come the moment he is called.
Your dog should learn the skill quickly, but it’s always a good idea to periodically refresh their knowledge.
That way the next time your dog runs off after a squirrel, you’ll be able to call them right back to you!
Watch a Training Video
As you learn how to train a dog to come, sometimes it helps to see the process visually.
Dog trainer Zak George offers positive, fun and informational training videos on a wide range of topics, including how to train a dog to come.
We recommend you check this out so you can see the process in real life and pick up additional tips and tricks he has to offer.
The more education, the better, and this is a great resource on how to quickly teach your dog to come.
Top Dog Training Books
Figuring out how to train a dog to come is just one small part of the overall training process.
Training a dog is so important because it provides a solid foundation for how they should behave for the rest of their life. Hard work in the beginning makes your life easier for years to come!
For additional training support, we highly recommend the books below. They provide tips and tricks for developing a dog that is well-behaved and pleasant to be around.
1. Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution
You’ll remember Zak George from the video above on how to train a dog to come. If you liked this dog trainer’s style, he’s got even more great advice in his book Dog Training Revolution.
This complete guide to raising your dog brings an inventive approach to the subject matter that will keep you engaged.
The book The Art of Raising a Puppy includes invaluable information and advice every dog owner should know.
We read this book when we first got Toby and highly recommend it! It’s been a top-selling dog training book for years, and after using it for our dog, we can see why.
The book How to Housebreak Your Dog in 7 Days teaches you infallible methods that will help housebreak your pup and make life so much easier for you.
House training a dog is exhausting. And frustrating. And messy. This book will make the process so much easier.
We purchased 101 Dog Tricks for our dog Toby a number of years ago. He had learned basic commands and we were looking for other ways to keep him mentally stimulated.
After all, dogs are super smart creatures, and teaching them new tricks is great for their mental and physical health. The process is also a great bonding experience for you and your pup.
If you have children in your home, Puppy Training for Kids serves as a great introduction to caring for a dog.
They’ll understand all the responsibilities involved with owning a dog and help you in the training process.
Our guide to how to train a dog to come is designed to help you quickly and effectively teach your dog this important, potentially lifesaving skill.
Of all the commands you can teach your dog, this is perhaps the most important, in addition to teaching your dog to stay.
You can find more training resources at our training center.
Also, if you have a new dog and are looking for additional resources, don’t forget to check out our puppy guide.