Training Puppies and Dogs to Come When Called

A total recall–one that works no matter what, one that takes your breath away with its speed, cheerfulness and style, one reliable enough to attract a dog away from a group of other dogs or even save his life–is accomplished via a carefully planned program starting in infancy, preferably by his breeder.  Very young puppies, those five or six weeks of age, would not dream of running away.  So it is here where the idea should begin that coming when called is a highly rewarding experience…

What if you are not a breeder or if the dog you are tired of chasing down is an older puppy or a grown dog? The job will be more difficult and more frustrating, but it can be done.  Simply modify the program by using a lead whenever necessary.

Never rush ahead and skip steps.  Omitting steps means courting failure.  While you may think your dog is dumb, there is no dog so stupid that he doesn’t
“get” the instant and heady reward of running free while you stand there screaming for him to come. So don’t take chances.

Rather than being divided by commands, the CALL program is divided b elements (consistency, attraction, logic, leadership) so that its logic, I hope, shines clearly through.


The dog who is always made to come when called and is praised well for his effort will always come. The dogs who is allowed to not come when he is called will consistently not come until he is good and ready. If what you really want is a reliable (no matter what) recall, you must be consistent in your expectation and in your follow-up. This means that when you call your dog, he must come, even if you have to go and get him, put on his lead  but patiently back up, calling “come, come, come” until you reach the spot where you called him in the first place.  This said, let’s proceed with the fun part of the program.


Let’s go back to those baby puppies, who will very easily be convinced that you are the most attractive object in their environment.  This is a terrific beginning for recall work. Begin with the following games:

Have the puppy follow you, indoors at first, then out of doors if you can. Walk slowly. Click your tongue. Call out in a cheerful, cooing high voice, “Puppy, puppy, puppy, come!”  And so it begins, day after day, walking around with a puppy following along behind you.  Change direction. Bend and let puppy catch up for kisses.  Do not stop practicing just because the puppy follows well.  We want him to form a strong habit, so keep going.

Next begin recall games.  These can and should be continued for the life of the dog:

Crouch and Call–When your puppy is exploring or playing with a toy, crouch, throw your arms out wide and call him sweetly.  As he nears you, scoop him up for kisses and quickly let him go.  Surprise him this way several times a day.

Crouch and Call II–With a mate or a friend, take two positions, the distance apart determined by the age of the puppy.  Now, each person crouch and call the puppy back and forth, following this pattern: Call the puppy, praise and kiss the puppy, hands off the puppy, second handler calls the puppy, etc.  Do not expect the puppy to leave the person petting him. (Let go!)

Run and Call–Get your puppy’s attention (with a sound you make yourself or a squeak toy), then run away, calling him to come. finally, turn, crouch, scoop, and kiss. With tiny puppies, run in slow motion, taking only a few steps. With grown dogs, try this out of doors and “run off” to the end of the lead when your dog is heeling. It will really wake him up.

Hide and Call–Admit it. You know you love to act like an idiot around your dogs. Now you can, with education in mind.  Hide in your closet or behind the couch or shower curtain and whistle or call your dog to come. Once should be enough. Now, heart pounding, wait. When he finds you, fall down laughing, and praise! (With grown dogs, begin with a sit stay; with puppies, just wait until the puppy is distracted, then leave the room to hide).  This game adds speed and motivation to the recall. It’s fun too.

Come and Sit–As your puppy gets older, you can add a more formal recall to your game plan. Teach him his sit stay, then call him to come.  Ask him to sit. Now praise! You can also do a “come and sit” without the initial sit/stay, but, of course, your puppy should learn the sit command before you begin this.

Please remember that everything you teach your puppy makes him better able to learn the next thing, and that the more you teach via games, the happier a pair you’ll be.

Logic  Think Dog

Don’t follow the dog rule of not calling your puppy for negative events because it’s a rule you read or heard. Follow it for its logic, its dog logic.  When training and playing with your dog, always take a moment to see the logic of what you are doing from his point of view. By thinking like a dog, you will always get things right!

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