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How to Teach Your Dog to Come to You
Published: August 17, 2022
Breanna Norris, KPA-CTP
Robin responds to hearing his name.
Photo Courtesy of Breanna Norris, KPA, CTP

Recall training should create memories of fun, fast returns to you. A recall taught with positive reinforcement is fun for your puppy or newly adopted dog and is a great way to bond with them.

Start teaching your puppy this life-saving skill when you bring them home. Training recalls and building good habits require high-value rewards: special treats, games, or praise and play.

Begin training recalls in the house at a distance of one to two feet. Always show excitement when they come to you to establish happy associations. Do not expect your dog to run to you successfully from 100 yards without getting distracted. Add distance slowly. 

Teach recalls using games to create a strong, positive association. These games can be played for a few minutes daily and should be fun for you and your dog. Change up games so your dog is comfortable and is having fun or make them more challenging by playing in a new location.

  • Name Game. This is a perfect game to start practicing recalls and the rules are simple. Say your dog’s name or nickname and give a treat. They do not need to come to you or even look at you. Do this a few times a day and your dog will learn that when they hear their name, something good happens. Try playing in different rooms or outside in the yard.
  • Catch Me Game. This is a fun game that can be played in just a few minutes with a pocketful of treats. Play in the house or a fenced-in yard and begin by walking around without calling your dog. When your dog comes within reach, give them a treat and move away. If they “catch” you by coming within arm’s reach, reward them. 
  • Chase Me Game. Toss a treat on a towel or in a bowl and allow your dog to eat the treat. As they finish the treat, turn, and quickly move away. When your dog catches you, give a treat and move away again. Once they are quick to come to you for the treat, start calling their name as they are running to you.
  • Your Dog’s Favorite Game. Offer to play their favorite game, such as tug or ball. Call your dog close to you for safety using their favorite tricks or hand targeting. Food toys such as snuffle mats are a fun reward for fast recalls. Focus on your dog and have high-value treats when practicing recalls. Set your dog up for success by keeping the training sessions short and fun. If bored, your dog may seek entertainment elsewhere. Running back to you should always be met with a celebration. If you ignore or scold your dog for returning to you, the recall may become slow or stop happening.
Robin knows his treat is soon to follow.
Photo Courtesy of Breanna Norris, KPA, CTP

Begin teaching recalls inside the house. As your dog continues to successfully return to you, practice in the yard where there are a few more distractions. As they continue to do well, add more distractions by changing the location. Keep in mind you may need to adjust the treats, time of day, or location if:

  • Your dog hesitates to return;
  • Your dog loses interest;
  • Your dog stops and sniffs.

Some dogs learn that running away is more fun than coming back. Once a dog has started chasing livestock, visiting the neighbor’s dog, or eating trash, they are more likely to continue these behaviors because they are fun. Keep your dog leashed or fenced.

  • Do not allow an untrained dog to run off leash. 
  • Do not call them to you for a scolding. This will teach the dog that coming to you means something bad will happen.
  • Do not call them to you to do something they would dislike, such as taking them to the bathtub. 
  • Do not practice more than two to three times per session or it will become boring and create bad memories. Even if your dog appears to be enjoying the game, stop while they are having fun. 
  • Do not expect long-distance recalls until smaller distances are successful.  

Recall training should be fun. If your dog does not recall reliably, please contact a qualified positive reinforcement-based trainer or board-certified veterinarian.  

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