Many Are Chosen. FEW COME WHEN THEY ARE CALLED. Canines 3:17

by Camilla Gray-Nelson

golden lab running across grass

Few dogs come when called.

You can’t argue with the Word of Dog. But I’ll give you some tips to help get your dog’s COME recall on the fast track to salvation.


If there is one command that gives owners grief, it is the COME command.  They scream, they threaten, they beg, they chase, they bribe and cajole – and their dogs still do not come when called.  Why is the COME command a universal problem for dog owners? There are 2 big reasons:

Reason #1 – Dogs Seek Good Results and Avoid Bad Ones

When you call your dog with the COME command, he assesses whether the result of doing so will be good or bad for him.  He doesn’t have a conscience, a sense of right or wrong!  For a dog, it’s “Do I, or Don’t I”, not “Should I, or Shouldn’t I”.  Dogs don’t know “should” from “Shinola”, so to speak…

If you are yelling and threatening in your tone, of course your dog won’t come!  Would you come to someone like that?  We will always have better results calling our dog to COME with a happy, inviting voice.

Reason #2 – Dog’s Associate “Come” with Negative Results

It’s not hard to see how reprimanding your dog for his failure to COME promptly can backfire, by creating a negative result for the dog when he gets to you.  If you lecture, finger wag, punish or withhold reward for a lack-luster recall, you will associate the COME command with everything worth avoiding.  By contrast, you must ALWAYS be the safe, happy place for a dog to willingly come to you – even if it takes 3 hours to get him to respond.  A dog doesn’t come because he doesn’t trust the person asking.  Don’t prove him right.

Obviously, yelling and punishing a wayward pooch creates avoidance, but there’s another, more subtle negative association often at play with dogs that don’t come when called.  Think about this one. Most dogs only hear the COME command when it’s time to leave the dog park, or leave the fun they are having in their yard. “Come” has begun to mean “the end of fun”.  Remember our Reason #1, above for why dogs don’t come?  Dogs AVOID anything perceived as negative.


Have a plan for Enforcement BEFORE You Call

For a dog, the meaning of a command is defined by what he is allowed to do when he hears it. If he is allowed to continue playing when called to Come, he learns that “Come” means “keep playing”.  Obviously, when you give a command, you need to be in a position to make it happen.  If you can’t enforce the Come – don’t ask for it!  Just go get your dog.  I spend a lot of time with dogs on long cords around high distractions, so that I can define for them the meaning of the Come command and the necessary response before I ever ask for it at a dog park.  People fail with their dogs because they are always asking for obedience without having a follow-through plan.  Having a plan gives you power!

It’s Always a Party When Your Dog (Finally) Comes

After you’ve invited your dog to Come with a happy, engaging voice, follow-through on your promise and give him a party when he arrives. After all, you’re inviting him to leave the party he’s at and come to yours.  Make sure you have better food and better entertainment, so he’s not disappointed.  At first, he may take his time responding, until he develops greater trust that you are not going to bait-and-switch to reprimands when he gets there. Over time, he will respond faster and faster when he learns that “Come” always means fun…(and that he has no other option).

Call More Often When It Doesn’t Matter

Remember the fire drills in grammar school?  We loved them, because there was never a fire!  Teach your Come command the same way.

Call your dog to Come at least 6 times a day for nothing other than a cookie.  Follow through and get a response.  Then send him right back to what he had been doing before you called. There’s no fire, and no end-of-fun.  Your dog will be amazed…and thrilled. There will still be precise, structured rules for response (like our stand and walk, single-file, slowly to the playground), but a good result (fun, cookies and celebration).

When It Does Matter, “Jackpot” the Reward

When you really DO need your dog to leave the dog park or yard, try having a very special “jackpot” reward waiting at the end of your Come command. A bite of string cheese, or a piece of cold hot dog has always done the trick for my dogs. (CAUTION: If you are calling your dog away from a group of other dogs, be sure to give the treat when you are safely back at your car or away from the others. Many a dog owner has inadvertently started a dog fight over tasty treats).

Good luck!

– Diva

PS:  If you like my blog, please follow it by clicking the “Subscribe” icon in the upper right corner!

About Camilla Gray-Nelson

When I started training dogs professionally, it was women who sought out my help. Responsibility for the family dog typically falls to them, after all. Their homes were in chaos; they were yelling at their dogs – and their kids – and couldn’t control either one. The life skills of personal power that I learned as a child (and assumed everyone else had, too), turned out to be rare among my clients. Since that time, it has been my personal goal to share Nature’s message of quiet power with women (and men) everywhere to help them become more effective not only with their dogs, but in their greater lives as well.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer alley October 24, 2010 at 4:41 am

I am doing my ironing this morning and came to one of the last shirts in the pile, an old and beloved tee shirt I have had for years. By now it is a filthy rag, but I can’t bear to get rid of it. As I do so often these days, I decided to use google to see if it would lead me anywhere, and lo and behold I came to your website. Not only did I really enjoy what I read, but I am also hoping you can tell me if it is possible to procure a new shirt, since you must know about them. Or perhaps the tee shirt predates your writing, wch I see is dated august 2010.

Well, any info you might have would be welcomed. Thanks for helping. Now I’ll
Get back to reading your treatise on the command Come, wch is so true and obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t occurred to me. Very nice reading! Jen alley

Camilla October 24, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Hi, Jen!

I’ll bet we have the SAME T-shirt in our respective closets! In fact, it was my T-shirt that inspired the “Many are Chosen” title of the blog re: recalls that you read on my website. Unfortunately, the source of that T-shirt shall remain a long-gone mystery to both of us. It’s been hanging in my closet for over 10 years! Hey! I’m happy to ship you mine – it’s still in pretty good shape.

I’m so glad you are enjoying my blog posts on Dog Talk Diva! Lots of practical, real-life advice for all dog owners, but ESPECIALLY us women. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the top right corner, and you’ll be able to keep up with all the posts as they are published. I’m just about to write Part III of “Power Sappers” today. Enjoy!


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