Mastering Recall: Train Your Dog to Come When Called

Get your dog to come when you call

Have you ever called your dog, had them look you dead in the eye, and then run the other way? 

I’ve been there too! It’s beyond frustrating and a little scary. Here’s how to make sure it stops happening to you:

  1. Only give your dog as much freedom as they can handle consistently.
  2. Use the right equipment. 
  3. Be more rewarding than what’s distracting them.
  4. Don’t be boring and don’t punish your dog (you likely are without realizing it)
  5. Why getting this handled should be your top priority.
  6. You can’t do this alone.

I’m going to teach you how to call your dog so well that your dog will start thinking: 

“My human is a ninja! I dropped a delicious goose poop and ran straight to them… and I liked it! What is happening to me?!”

How often do you restrict your dog’s freedom? Your dog’s bad habit (the one that is making you crazy) will continue until you give the right amount of freedom.

Pro Tip: If your dog doesn’t come when you call at home on the first try every time… your dog shouldn’t be off leash yet. 

Your dog needs to earn that privilege with good behavior. Restricting your dog’s freedom of movement and teaching them to use that freedom in less annoying ways is the key!

You have to do this in the right way and at the right time of course.  Your dog needs to connect the consequences to having ignored you. If you sound or look upset when you’re teaching your dog these rules it often backfires.

Use the right tools for the job. 

Like cutting a board in half with a power saw versus doing it by hand, having the proper tools will shave weeks off of the dog’s learning curve!

Here is a list of tools I often use to train dogs to come when called:

  • Short leash (6’)
  • Long leash (15’, 30’)
  • Treats
  • Playful, inviting body language
  • My happy voice
  • Movement (me moving away from the dog not towards)
  • Toys (balls, ropes, squeaky toys, Chase It, tugs)
  • Starmark collar, martingale collar, prong collar, flat collar, head collar, harness
  • Electronic collar
  • Tie out or tether

I don’t use all of these with every dog, but I do use several of them with each dog. Training your dog to come when called is a process and there are important stages that most dog owners skip over completely.

Your dog needs to understand the following in order before coming when called on a hike every time you call will be possible:

  1. “Fido come!” paints a very clear picture in your dog’s mind. It doesn’t mean different things at different times. Your dog must have no doubt what is expected when you say “come”. 
  2. In different locations the word “come” means the same thing. You can’t practice in your backyard a few times and then expect your dog to understand the same rules apply on a hiking trail. Your dog will be terribly confused why you’re upset when they ignore you unless you’ve practiced in different locations first.
  3. No matter what fun thing shows up, staying connected with you is more important. Being more important to your dog than a squirrel is no easy task, but it must be done! Your dog’s quality of life and safety depend on it. If your dog ignores the word “come” at the wrong moment it can mean injury or death; you have a responsibility to train this skill to your dog. Also, think of all the fun adventures your dog will miss because you know you can’t trust them to come when called.
  4. Your dog needs to think the word “come” is the best word ever invented! You want your dog to think, “I hope I get called in because if I come in quickly I get rewarded, and then I get to go right back to running around”! 

Not knowing how to be more rewarding than a squirrel makes teaching the “come” command impossible.

When you call your dog, you MUST sound happy and look happy! Use a happy, playful voice so your dog doesn’t think they’re in trouble and they will want to be closer to you. 

I can’t tell you how many people yell at their dog “COME HERE” and either get ignored or the dog comes back fearfully, neither of which is good. When your dog has to decide between something awesome in the environment or you, help them out, be a fun person to run over to. 

Do NOT go towards your dog with a stern look on your face. That screams to your dog that they are either in trouble or at minimum their life is about to get boring.

You are competing with powers greater than you can imagine! You’re going to need a mentor during this process.

Some of the greatest temptations in a dog’s world are: 

  • Squirrels
  • Deer
  • Skateboarders
  • Trash with stinky food in it
  • Rolling in feces from who knows what
  • OMG another dog!
  • OMG another human!
  • Insert your dog’s Kryptonite here

Your dog is unique, you are unique, your dog is going through a unique stage of their life, the park you’re training your dog in is unique, etc etc etc. There are a ton of variables to account for and you’re going to have a heck of a time getting to the root cause of why your dog isn’t “getting it” all by yourself. 

Most dog owners highly underestimate how complicated it is to teach a dog to come when called with 100% consistency. I know I did! That’s why I’ve spent $$$ thousands of dollars with other trainers to not have to figure it out myself. 

I tried to do things my way for years before I finally spent the money and hired a dog trainer to teach me their methods. Yes, dog trainers hire dog trainers all the time! It saves us years of time and sooo much frustration. I still kick myself for not doing it sooner. 

What I’m saying is, hire someone to help you. Today! You’ll be glad you did and so will your dog.

Have you ever done the following after your dog came over to you?

  • Told your dog to sit
  • Put a leash on your dog
  • Grabbed their collar and took them home
  • Scolded them for having ignored you or for playing keep away

Those are all great ways to teach your dog that coming when called SUCKS! They will be less likely to do it each time this happens.

Dogs hate coming when called by default! You are so boring, you’re always there, they’ve sniffed you a million times, and now they’re outside in the great outdoors and you want them to come over to you? So you can tell them it’s time to go home? Yeah, not thanks! Hard pass!

Anything you ask of them when out in the field should be short and have an awesome reward at the end. Then you let your dog get right back to whatever fun thing they were doing. This is key in order for your dog to not hate the word “come”!

Oh and when it’s time to go home, don’t use the word “come” because it’ll get paired in your dog’s mind with something they don’t like.

To summarize, here are my steps:

  • Say, “Fido come!” while using a happy voice and playful, inviting body language.
  • As soon as they arrive and politely sit, give them a great reward!
  • 0.5 seconds later say “let’s go” in a happy voice and they should be bouncing around the field again.

Coming when called is the holy grail of dog training, because it fixes so many other behavioral issues once you get it down.

If your dog eagerly comes when called 100% of the time it says so much about your relationship. It says your dog:

  • Finds following your lead extremely rewarding. 
  • Believes all of life’s best things come from you.
  • Has its needs being met on a consistent basis. You can’t get a happy, reliable recall otherwise.
  • Loves and respects you.
  • Has an owner who understands dogs to a degree most people never bother to figure out. Your dog is one of the lucky few.
  • Has an owner that rewards a solid effort appropriately.
  • Has an owner who lets their dog be a dog regularly.
  • Has an owner who is a ninja. They have somehow made the most boring task in the world fun! 


When you’re ready to have a dog that comes when called the first time, our professional dog training in Salt Lake City is here to help. Here’s how we can work together: