Teach Your Dog to Come When Called

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog runs away when called

Story at-a-glance -

  • Teaching your dog to come when called is essential for keeping your dog safe and can even save his life
  • Scolding your dog when he comes to you, sounding angry or always making him stop having fun, also discourages your dog from coming when called
  • If you repeat the word “come” over and over, your dog learns that he doesn’t need to respond until you’ve said it multiple times
  • If you’ve only taught your dog to come to you in one setting, such as your backyard, he may not respond if you call him in a new environment

Teaching your dog to come when called, otherwise known as the recall command, is something that can save your dog's life — and it's one of the basic obedience commands I recommend all dog owners teach their pets. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most challenging commands, because it means your dog may have to choose between running over to you or engaging in something else that he really wants to do, like chase a squirrel or explore a new part of the forest.

Proper training is crucial for building this trust between you and your dog so that you can feel confident he will, in fact, come when you call. It also allows for more freedom for your dog, ultimately, as you may be able to let him off leash more often (though still be sure it's in a safe space).

If you find the opposite is true, and your dog runs away from you instead of coming when you call, here are some of the most likely reasons why.

Why Your Dog May Run Away When You Call

1. You Sound Angry — Running back to an angry owner probably doesn't sound appealing to your dog, which may encourage him to run the other way. When you call your dog, always use a cheerful, calm tone — even if you're panicking inside. As soon as your dog starts to turn in your direction, praise him, also in a friendly, upbeat tone, and he may even speed toward you.

2. He Was Previously Punished for Coming When You Called — Have you ever had a hard time getting your dog to come back, and when he finally did the right thing and returned to your side, you scolded him for taking so long? This teaches your dog that he may get punished when you call him — the opposite of what you want.

A better strategy is to praise your dog, even rewarding him with treats, when he comes on command — even if it took him longer than you would have liked.

3. You Say It Too Often — If you ask your dog to come to you all the time, it may lose its importance to your dog. Repeating the word over and over in an effort to make your dog move faster may only teach him that he doesn't need to respond until you've repeated it numerous times. A better option is to say "come" one time, then whistle or clap your hands to encourage him.1

4. He's Doing Something Really Fun — If your dog is still in the learning phase, you want to give him lots of opportunities to succeed, which means asking him to come to you at times when you know he'll respond. If he hasn't quite mastered the command, asking him to come when he's involved in a really fun activity is likely not going to get the response you're looking for. Ultimately, of course, the goal is for your dog to respond to your command in all scenarios.

5. You Haven't Trained in Enough Settings — In order to succeed in the ultimate goal of your dog reliably coming when you call, be sure to do training in a wide variety of environments. Do not limit it to your training facility, home or backyard, but instead branch out to different environments so your dog learns to respond in a wide variety of settings. Be sure the environments are still safe spaces, such as a neighbor's fenced-in yard, while your dog is still in training.

6. Coming to You Isn't Fun — Going along with numbers four and five, avoid falling into the trap of only calling your dog to you when it's time to go inside or get in his crate, i.e., only when the fun is over. Sometimes, make a point to call your dog over to you to engage in a fun game, to get a special treat or to take a trip to his favorite pet store.

You can also call your dog, praise him, then let him return to the fun activity he was doing before you called. All of these will teach your dog that coming when you call is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Some Dogs Can't Be Trusted to Recall

Even if you've gone to professional, positive reinforcement training and practiced with your pup many times, be aware that even the most behaved dog may not always come on command. In situations where your dog could be in danger if he doesn't recall right away, use a harness and a leash to keep him safe.

Some breeds and breed mixes also tend to respond better to recall training than others, while others may be completely oblivious to your commands once they're outdoors sniffing around. Be sure to take your dog's breed (or mix of breeds) and personality into account when deciding whether or not he can be trusted off leash.

Either way, however, teaching your dog this command should be high on your list of training priorities. If you're having trouble getting a positive response, talk with your veterinarian, a positive dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist.

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