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Ask the Trainer: Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

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Dear Kevin,
My Afghan Hound, Zeph comes when called – if he feels like it. He knows what I am asking but whether he actually comes seems to depend on his current whim. If he knows I really want him that is when he is most likely to head in the other direction – or at least just out of reach. Any suggestions?

Hi Linda,

This is a common problem. I am going to recommend kind of starting from the beginning. What you’ll need is a long leash (30-50ft) and some high value rewards. The long leash comes in handy because it doesn’t allow Zeph to rehearse the old habit of not coming when called. What you’ll do is call him, if he chooses not to come, you will then start to reel him in. (use as little pressure as possible.) Typically once they feel a tiny bit of tension in that direction they start running right towards you. Once he gets to you reward his behavior with that high value reward. I try to always keep rewards out of sight. If you constantly have them in sight he may only choose to come when he sees something. If he does choose to come all on his own when you call him, give him some extra rewards.

I think a game that will benefit you greatly is calling him to you, rewarding him, and then telling him to basically go away. The idea behind the going away part is that he gets to go back and do what he was doing prior to you calling him. At this point it sounds like he knows that you are going to “ruin the fun” when you call him so he is choosing not to come. By practicing calling him to you, rewarding him, and then sending him on his way, he will start coming more reliably every time.

Remember to practice in an environment initially that isn’t too distracting. A good starting point is inside a home. When he is doing great inside, I recommend moving outside to the most boring part of your yard. Continue on with the training until he is doing as close to perfect as possible. When that happens move on to a tougher environment.

To sum everything up, it is about breaking the old habit (not coming when called) and creating the new habit (coming when called.) Using the long leash allows you to break the old habit. If you choose not to use the long leash the old habit will remain and you will not get the desired results you are looking for. Lastly, to teach a dog urgency, what I do is give more rewards for the louder I have to raise my voice. For instance if I yell “come” at the top of my lungs, and then the dog comes and gets a ton of rewards, he is going to start coming even faster when I yell. Once again I just teach that for urgent situations like if you are doing off leash hiking and your dog is 50 feet in front of you and you come across another dog/person. When I yell, “come” it is urgent and I need him to come back. In his mind when he hears me yelling he is going to think about all the reinforcement that comes with it.

Here is a video to help!

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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  1. Avatar Of Ruthmoseley



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  2. Avatar Of Amy Elliott White

    Amy Elliott White


    First, thanks for answering my email last week on retraining a chi to use potty pads/outside on a leash 2times a day. Great advice, all s going great and she took right to going out side twice a day, morning and evening. I am getting some much needed exercise too!!

    I am going to try this lesson as we are outside more now and some times she doesn’t come when I call, but does when I pull gently on her leash. In just want her to be able to do her best to be safe at all times. Will let you know what happens. Thanks, Kevin!! Will let you know how it goes!!
    As always,

  3. Avatar Of Tara



    i have an 8yo (we think) rescue that has lived in his forever home with me for 2yrs. prior to that, he was caged for all 6…never out of it…still researching as he was shipped up from the south through several rescue org., but the likelihood is that he was a breeder, as he is the most gorgeous shiba inu ever!!!
    because of life’s traumas, he is afraid of everything….he is so much better than he was, but, out of the blue, the terrifying scareds come flowing back, and i have no idea what the cause is. he does have seizure disorder and is hypothyroid, both well controlled, but i am concerned that when he is in traumatized mode, and something requires his immediate response to the “come” command (which we practice when some chaos may be going on and he’s hiding in his “safe place”…under “our” bed), that he will not come, as most often, he will not when scared, literally, stiff.
    any input would be appreciated as, most days, he is a love, and obedient, and one of the smartest dogs i’ve ever had. it’s those lessening other times that concern me…one never knows when there will be a need to vacate the premises asap.
    thank you in advance.

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