Pet Care Corner: Why Won’t My Dog Come When Called?


By Deborah Hicks


Of all the questions I get as a dog trainer, this is the one asked most often. My client’s tell me that their dog comes “sometimes” or “when he feels like it.” They tell me that when they call him, he looks at them and then keeps on doing what he was doing. They tell me he has “ selective hearing.” They tell me they have to call him five or six times before he decides to come to them. And boy, are they mad at him for misbehaving like that. So when he finally comes, they grab him by the collar and say, “You BAD DOG you!” and take him inside.


Pets2So why do you think your dog won’t come? Under what circumstances does he ignore you? Why do you have to call him so many times before he comes? I liken this to when I was a child and I was outside playing (back in the day when we played outside all day on the weekends and everyday after school) Anyway, I remember that my mother would call me and I would pretend I did not hear her because I was having fun and did not want to come inside yet. Then she would call again, a little louder this time. I knew from experience that I did not have to respond until her voice got to a certain level and had that “tone” that indicated she was mad and then I came running. Do you remember how that was? By the time I got there she was pretty mad but she got over it and the next time she called me and I was having fun I did the EXACT SAME THING. I knew that I could wait until she was mad before I had to come in. She did not enforce coming the first time she called. And she never had a welcoming smile when I got there even if I came the first time she called.


Now, back to your dog! Do you see any correlation between my story and your inability to get your dog to come to you the first time you call him? What do you do when you call him and he does not come? And when he does come, what does he get in return for getting there?


One of the most important commands a dog must learn is “HERE!” (I use here instead of “COME” because it has a nicer sounding tone and can sound exiting when said in a happy voice.) Coming when called can save your dog’s life and so you must be sure your dog comes on command. It is really quite simple in theory: YOU must be more exciting than what the dog is currently doing. You must say the word in a happy, excited voice. When he hears the word HERE, he stops what he is doing and comes to you because you are going to make his return exciting. He can’t think that all the fun is ending and you will reprimand him and then make him go inside.


So, since he is already used to only coming the fifth or sixth time, you need to change his perception of what coming to you will entail. Start inside first, using the word HERE often throughout the day. Use it when he is out of sight in another room. Use it when he is lying on his bed with his chew toy. When he gets there, praise him and give him a small tidbit or a wonderful petting on his neck. Make him happy he came to you. Then, let him go back to what he was doing. Let him see that checking in with you when you call him is not the end of his fun. After he is coming every time you call him inside, then move outside and do the same. When performing this outside, start by using a long lead. Call him to you, give him a second to think and react, and if he does not come, you reel him in. He has to know that when you call him, he MUST come when outside. Do not call him two or three times first. Just call him, wait for him to respond and then reel him in if he doesn’t come on his own the FIRST time. And when he gets there, no matter whether he came on his own or not, be happy, rub him wildly, give him a special treat and tell him what a GOOD DOG he is! Do this over and over every day with the long lead, until he comes every time on his own. He WILL start coming back to you over and over again. I can practically guarantee it!


Remember to make training fun for you and your dog. When you are stressed or angry, your dog knows and he acts accordingly. Try to interact with your dog when you can give him the patience and loving tone he so deserves.


Good Luck!


Deborah Hicks, Behavioral Specialist



Deborah is a new resident of Mars Hill, NC, formerly of Atlanta. She has been helping dogs and their owners with behavioral and obedience training for more than 10 years in the comfort of their own homes. Visit her site at Deborah can be reached at 828-689-8745.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker