Buster – “Come!” 101.

So it occurred to me that I jumped the gun a little bit talking about Buster’s recall training at the beach.

Buster – Learning recall at the Lake – Notice that Buster is on his 30′ line while practicing recall in a distracting environment.

So here is a “painting by numbers” guide to having your dog come when he is called.

What not to do – Mistakes other people make!

If you want to amuse yourself go to the dog park without your dog and see how many dogs come when they are called the first time when their owners are leaving.

Not that many!


1. Consequences.

If you only work on come when you are leaving the dog park or crating the dog because you are leaving the house, you are punishing the dog for coming. Punishment is defined as anything you do that effects and reduces the frequency of a behavior.

What can you do instead?

Practice the come command several times and, bearing in mind that playing at the park is probably more rewarding than you are, tell him to go back to play again as a reward for coming!

2. Voice Tone.

If you shout his name, growl at the dog, if you bark at the dog, or if your voice sounds remotely grumpy, you are punishing the dog for coming.

What can you do instead?

Use a playful, fun and sing-song voice tone when you say his name so that he looks up at you straight away and his tail starts wagging!

Whenever you say his name the goal is that he looks at you directly and starts to wag his tail. So never use even a vaguely grumpy voice when you use his name. Always use a higher pitch tone that is a kind of yip that is playful and attractive. When he approaches you, be happy! If he likes petting then pet him gently and praise him with your voice. If he is shy and petting is not rewarding for him, please don’t do it! If your voice is not rewarding to your dog, shut up! Rewards are what your dog tells you are rewards, not necessarily what you might think should be rewarding. I have lost count of the number of photographs I have seen of the owner hugging their dog. The owner looking so happy, and the dog looking startled, fearful and intimidated, absolutely hating it!

3. Body Language.

If you unintentionally face the dog, lean towards the dog, lean forward from the waist, stare at the dog, reach towards the dog, extend your head or neck towards the dog or any combination of these, you are punishing the dog for coming.

You are behaving in a predatorial manner, from the dogs perspective, and reducing the chances that he will come towards you reliably, at all, ever.

What can you do instead?

Turn sideways, don’t look at the dog, drop down onto your knees with your butt on your heels like a dog in a sit. Non-threatening. Invitation to approach. He will come in to you even if you don’t say his name or call him.

4. Bribes

If you imagine that your dog will run towards you with unbridled enthusiasm because you hold out a treat. You will probably find that the dog will come eventually, when all the other dogs have left and there is nothing left to do. Because the treat will always be there when he does come.

Introducing food at a park when there are other dogs off leash whose manners you are unfamiliar with is a recipe for setting up a dog fight, might be you or your dog who ends up in the firing line.

What can you do instead?

You can use food as a reward for a correctly executed recall, marking and timing is important here, but do it at home or in a controlled environment (check out the elements of a wonderful recall in the blog “Buster goes to the beach” ). Build a great recall then fade the food. All of this before you ask for performance in an open environment.

5. Timing of the recall

Shouting “Come” when the dog is in mid-flight running away from them towards something very interesting. Shouting “Come” when the dog is in mid-wrestle with another dog or playing “Catch me if you can” with a group of dogs.

What can you do instead?

Watch the rhythm and energy in the play environment. Even with a dog who is easily distracted there are moments (albeit very short ones with some dogs) where the energy drops for a second and the dog looks around wondering what mischief to get into next, that is your opportunity to call his name and get excited, drop to the ground and start clapping your hands and having fun! Be the most interesting and fun thing in his field of vision! Have him come join you in the fun, do not reach towards him and try to grab him!

6. Repetition.

Calling “Come” repetitively when your dog is ignoring you deliberately. If he doesn’t come on the first call, do not continue to call him.

What can you do instead?

Either the distraction level is too high for his level of training, or the distance is too far from you for his level of training, so reduce the distraction, wait for the distraction intensity to drop off or shorten the distance between you and the dog, by approaching the dog. Use judgement, normally if you do not get a positive response from the dog, reduce the distance by half before you try a second recall. Do not call the recall as you are walking towards the dog. You will train the dog to ignore you or avoid you. A recall should be “I stand still and you come to me”, not vice versa!

6. Deliberate Intimidation

If you really think that your dog should run towards you because he fears your wrath then you are hallucinating and probably not reading this blog. If you feel angry or frustrated and you get increasingly frustrated and assertive when your dog doesn’t come he will avoid you.

You are punishing the dog for thinking about coming.

(Not you of course, but you might see this at the dog park.)

So please, set your dog up for success.

You can develop a great recall!

If he doesn’t have an awesome recall it is not a dog problem!

You may be sabotaging your own success.

Check back through these notes and ask someone to observe you who knows this information!

Go for it!

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