‘Coming’ When Called Rules

Rule 1: NEVER call your dog to you and then do something to him that he does not like. For example, do not call your dog to you and give him a bath if he hates having a bath. Avoid calling your dog to you and then clipping his nails. Do not call your dog to you and then take him to the vet. Avoid calling your dog to you and then giving him yucky medication.

Rule 2: Generously ‘click’ and reinforce your dog when he comes to you. Even if it takes your dog an hour to ‘come’ to you, reinforce the ‘come’. Don’t throw him a ‘party’ or give him steak, but reward him in some way.

Rule 3: Do not stare at your dog when you want him to ‘come’ to you. Staring is rude behavior in dog culture and may actually keep your dog from coming to you.

Rule 4: Use your body to help your dog be successful: stand sideways or turn your back toward the dog to invite him to play a game of chasing you.


Why does it matter if your dog looks at you? Why teach attention? Attention, when your dog is actively looking at you and waiting for a cue, is the single most important behavior to train.

You can’t give your dog a life saving cue if he is not paying attention. You can’t get your dog to sit when the doorbell is ringing if he is not paying attention. Without attention we have no control over our dogs.

Attention is key to all dog training

Attention Guidelines

Never give your dog a cue until you have its attention. Simply do not say anything to your dog until you first have its attention. This will teach the dog to watch you carefully since he can only get rewards if he looks at you first.

If you lose your dog’s attention, immediately go back to working on attention before training anything else.

Make attention a game for you and your dog. Who wants to just stare at you if it’s not fun? Look for intensity, tail wagging, and click it!

Attention Games

  • First, the dog looks at you, then the games start!
  • Handler counts 1-2-3 then calls the dog. The handler should build excitement for the run to the handler and reinforce eye contact.
  • Handler counts 1-2-3 and then cues “get it” to play a game of tug.
  • Eye contact starts any form of retrieving such as playing fetch.
  • Eye contact and then a game of ‘catch me if you can’ where the dog chases you.
  • Be creative. Invent as many games as you can!

Name game

You want fast responses when your dog hears her name. Teach your dog to respond to her name by pairing her name with a ‘click’ (or say yes) and a reward, ideally food or a tug toy, so that she moves to you. Say her name with excitement in your voice. As she snaps her head toward you, ‘click’ (or say yes) and reinforce with food or a tug toy. Finally, add distance to the game and ask your dog to run toward you when you say her name.

Hand Targeting

Most dog bites occur on human hands. To help prevent this we want our dogs to understand that hands are good. Human hands should always indicate something pleasurable to your dog. If your dog is fearful of human hands, please tell your instructor so your dog can be evaluated and we can let you know if you might need private instruction to prevent your dog from possibly biting a human hand.

One way for your dog to learn that hands are good is to teach hand targeting. You can prompt hand targeting by hiding your closed hand behind your back and then quickly opening your hand and flashing it in front of your dog’s nose. Most dogs will sniff your hand or move toward your hand. ‘Click’ and reinforce this. Gradually require that your dog touch her nose to your hand. Once you consistently get the dog to touch her nose to your hand, begin presenting your hand from a variety of angles. When your dog is consistently successful from a variety of angles, you can name the behavior “nose.”

If you are not successful with this, speak to your instructor. Your dog may be afraid of hands which is a potentially serious issue.


Mini recalls
Place your dog in a small room or small fenced yard. If your dog is overly distracted by being outside, do not begin working on the mini recall exercise until he notices you and is done exploring. Put a leash on your dog. In an excited happy tone, say your dog’s name and “come”. When your dog responds, ‘click’ and reinforce. Do this three times.

Now wait until your dog is momentarily distracted, like sniffing a blade of grass and then call him to “come” to you. As you call your dog, turn your back to it and run away from your dog, inviting it to chase you. Use high-pitched tones and smile! You are playing a game with your dog. When your dog comes to you, ‘click’, reinforce and tell him he is a genius.

If he does not ‘come’, find a way to set the dog up for success—make it easier. Continue to make it easier until the dog can succeed. Build on success. Add distractions like toys and food in enclosed Tupperware container. Use these to call your dog away from. Start out with very easy distractions, like a rock, and gradually build up to more tempting distractions.

At least 50% of the time, withhold your ‘click’ and reinforcement until you are holding the dog’s collar in your hand. This avoids accidentally training a “drive-by” when your dog comes to you but then zooms past you not allowing you to make contact with his body.

Restrained recall
Person ‘A’ holds the dog back as person ‘B’ runs away from the dog. The dog will strain to get to person ‘B’, as picrestrained recalltured at left, and when the dog is straining, person ‘A’ releases the dog so that it runs full speed to catch up to person ‘B’. When the dog gets to person ‘B’ the partying begins!

Ping pong

Played with two people and one dog. Person A and person B both have treats. Person A and person B stand 50-feet apart. Person A calls the dog, clicks and reinforces, then Person B calls the dog, clicks and reinforces. A variation of this game is when one person starts hiding while the other person is reinforcing the dog. Increase distance and level of difficulty as your dog progresses, building on success. The most important thing is for both you and the dog to have FUN!!!!

Hide and seek

The beginner version is played with two people and your dog. A helper holds on to the dog while you hide. Then after a few seconds your helper releases the dog while telling the dog “find (insert your name)”! When the dog finds you, ‘click’ and reinforce with food or a toy. The advanced version is played with only one person and your dog. Ask your dog to stay. Then you hide. When you are hidden, release the dog with “okay,” and ‘click’ and play when he finds you. It may be necessary to give the dog some help by sporadically calling its name.

Emergency recall

‘Coming’ when called is potentially life-saving. No cue is more important. It is a great idea to teach an emergency recall. To train an emergency recall, give your emergency cue and give the dog a handful of her favorite treats. Sporadically repeat this throughout the week. Slowly build up to giving the emergency recall cue in more challenging situations, always setting up the dog for success. Training your emergency recall is a life- long commitment. If you want the cue to be effective, you will need to practice it at least once a month for the life of the dog. Some trainers use the word “emergency” as an emergency recall while others use a whistle and still others use a certain tone and volume of their regular ‘come’ cue. We recommend you use a word rather than a whistle.

Retrieving Games

If your dog knows how to retrieve you can use playing ‘fetch’ as a means for practicing your recalls. Toss the toy away from you and when the dog begins to bring the toy back to you, run away from your dog as fast as you can. This will make coming to you fun and encourage the dog to run after you at full speed.

Proofing Games

Proofing is the art of teaching a dog to perform a behavior regardless of what is happening in the environment. Proofing always sets up a dog for success. If the dog fails, you cut what you just attempted in half and try again. Good training avoids failures and sets up the dog for success.

Recall Past a Toy

Ask the dog to ‘sit-stay’ and then walk away from the dog placing a toy far away from the dog. The dog, you and the toy should form a triangle. Call the dog to you, and ‘click’ (or say yes), when the dog passes the toy. When the dog reaches you throw a ‘party’. Gradually build up to more toys and, as the dog is successful; you can start placing the toys in the dog’s path. The toys represent distractions and you are teaching your dog to come to you despite them!

Recall Past a Food Bowl

Same game as ‘Recall Past a Toy’ but instead you’re using food. Place the food in Tupperware containers that have holes in them so the dog can smell the food but not eat it. Alternately, have an assistant hover over the food so a foot can be placed over the food, covering it, preventing the dog from eating it.

Set up your dog for success. If your dog doesn’t care about toys, start with the toy game above and build up to the food game. If your dog is crazed for toys, start with the food games. Throw a party when your dog makes the choice you want!

Handler Body Position Game

Teach your dog to ‘come’ when called regardless of your body position. Start with the easiest body position and build up to the more difficult ones:

  • back turned, running away from dog
  • back turned, standing still
  • side of body facing dog, running away
  • side of body facing dog, standing still
  • facing dog, running backward
  • facing dog, standing still
  • sitting in a chair
  • laying on the ground

Parallel to Other Dog

Recall your dog to you as another handler with another dog does the same thing. Both dogs are moving in the same direction. Start with more distance between dogs and build up to less.

Opposite Direction as Other Dog

Same game as above, but this time the dogs are moving in opposite directions. To set up for success, start with a lot of distance between the dogs. Gradually build up to closer distances.

Come Over or Through an Agility Obstacle

Dog recalls to handler over a jump or through a tunnel. This is a fun way to practice “coming when called” and to make things look different to the dog.

Recall set ups (Leslie Nelson's game)

This is an advanced game only for dogs that know how to ‘recall’. Leslie Nelson developed this game. Play this game only if the dogs understand the cue “come”. Dog ‘A’ will be asked to recall and she will be dragging a leash on the ground during this game. Dog ‘B’ is on a leash next to the anticipated area of reinforcement (where the handler will run to or be standing after calling the dog). The handler of dog ‘A’ has highly desirable food treats. Instructor has dry and less desirable food treats. Instructor allows dog ‘A’ to sniff the treats she has and immediately after, handler of dog ‘A’ calls dog to “come”. The moment the dog is called, the instructor breaks eye contact and stops feeding dog ‘A’. Dog ‘A’ now has a choice to recall to her handler or to stay with the instructor. If the dog recalls, ‘click’ (or say yes) and jackpot treat the dog. If the dog does not recall, the instructor steps on leash and the handler of dog ‘A’ goes and feeds the highly desirable treat to dog ‘B’, while lavishly loving on dog ‘B’. If it is possible to see a dog’s jaw drop, this game can prompt that behavior. After one failed recall, some of our clients’ Jack Russell Terriers must have vowed to never let that happen again and their recalls have been perfect since (with proper maintenance training).

Happy Clicker Training From Angelica Steinker.