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Posted on Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 5:53 a.m.

Teaching your dog to 'come' when called is an essential skill that will be a benefit for life

By Julia Levitt


Julia Levitt | Contributor

A good question from interested readers of this blog prompted me to address a very important concern. The main concern was seemingly simple but, as the old saying goes, "there's a lot more here than meets the eye."

The question is: "How do I teach my dog to come when called, especially outside, with distractions such as other dogs, squirrels or cats?"

I know this simple little questions has a lot of layers, but I will try to "peel the layer of the onion.

I always start the "come" command in a distraction-free environment. Yes, there is such a thing. Of course the time is not right to teach this exercise when you are in a hurry, such as when you only have five minutes before you are late for an appointment or the kids are calling you to help them with their homework.

I begin on a very short leash with the dog or puppy sitting in front of me. This way I insure success. The name of the dog is called, then the command  and a very, very small touch — not a tug, not a pull, but a touch with the leash. Here are the steps:

1. Dog in front of you. Sitting is preferred.

2. If the dog is not sitting, the dog must be looking at you. Why? If the dog is not concentrating on you, the dog's attention is elsewhere.

3. Call the dog's name.

4. Call "come" and touch the leash. By touching, I don't mean you should yank the dog off his feet. It's a simple movement with the fingers to alert the dog when the command is given, and movement from the dog is required!

How many times have you seen people call their dog by yelling furiously at the dog then continuing to yell at it after it has come — if it comes at all. Remember ,we want to insure success.

Praise is essential. What motivates your dog? My Wheaten Terrier would jump straight up in the air when she had performed a task. This dog was not motivated by food! Remember know what motivates your dog.

5. Next step: Reward with whatever motivates your dog or puppy, whether that's praise, touching and petting or a treat.

My clients Steve and Ann actually taught their puppy not to come (they are not alone). This is a very common trick.

I always say to people when I first teach the "come" command: Do not skip steps! When you meet with success, do not take your dog off leash.

Of course, though, this is often what happens. Success is met on leash, and the next time I see them, they stand in front of the dog calling it repeatedly to come, and the dog looks at them blankly (or doesn't look at you at all). They have taught their dog not to come.

When should I teach my dog to come? As soon as the puppy is brought home.

The wrong time to teach the command is when the dog runs after another dog, squirrel or human, or when a car drives by. You know the consequences. I've seen them.

This week, Dr. Cheryl Smith from Ann Arbor Animal Hospital came to demonstrate high level obedience training to one of my classes. One of the questions she was asked was, "How long did it take you to train your dog?"

Dr. Smith's answer says it all. "I started training this dog when he was seven weeks old, and he is now 13." Dr. Smith’s dog's eyes never left her, even when the obedience exercises were over. Wouldn't we all love a dog like this?

I can't stress this strongly enough: The time for teaching is not in a crisis situation. With anything you want to teach your dog, you want to meet with success. Start training your dog early with the "come" command, and it will benefit you and your dog throughout the dog's life.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.


Elaine F. Owsley

Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

Our rescue dog, Sarah, had spent three years chained to an apple tree with nor real experience of "coming". I call her treats "prizes" and one night began calling "Sarah, the street lights are on. Come get a prize." When she was good at that I dropped the "come get a prize" part and just called "Sarah, the streetlights are on." (It worked for me when I was a kid.) And Sarah came. She continues to come when I give her the streetlight line, much to the amusement of friends and neighbors.

Julia Levitt

Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

Very clever Elaine! Good for you-Julia


Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

Thanks for the timely advice. I''m on my fourth dog and she is the first one that I have had a problem with when it comes to obeying this command. She was 4-5 months old when we got her from the HVHS so I lost that 2-3 month window. All she really had down was jumping up on people, most likely from her interaction with people coming into her pen. She has gotten better, but I still can't trust her off the leash. I also have to add that i have young kids which impede on my training time and they also had the first member of the household that they could tell to do something. That means that they would use words like sit, come and no with her but not make her perform the related action. Add on to that a head strong and smart dog and it goes without saying this has been the most challenging pet I have had. We still love her to bunches though and it is great to have her in the household. We went four months without a dog before we got her and it was really, really weird.

Julia Levitt

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

What a dog lover you are . as I mentioned to our reader in Ypsilanti-Please join a dog training class. You'll enjoy it and so will you pup-thank you-Julisa

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

My dog comes when called 99% of the time. I am not sure what to do about the other 1% but I worry. Mostly it is a car thing. If she thinks she might have to get into the car, she wont come when I call her. So I stopped using the 'come' command before car rides so I am hoping she will stop associating the command with this activity she doesn't like. I don't have any idea of that is the right thing to do or not. At least she is 100% with a 'wait' command, where she stops what she is doing and stands still until I approach her.

Julia Levitt

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.

Hi- Thank you for your comment. I would suggest you join a dog training class. it's loads of fun and you get to meet like minded people-Julia

Dog Guy

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Effective training like this makes life much more pleasant for the dog as well as for the owner.

Julia Levitt

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 4:32 p.m.

You aren't kidding!

Julia Levitt

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Ah- these toy breeds! What achallenge! I'm with you on that! Julia


Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

This only works if you do not have a stubborn Chihuahua. Otherwise, great article.