Come When Called

Probably nothing is more important to teach your Wheaten than to come when you call him

When the weather is awful and you want him to come in the house, you’ll need this.  You’ll need it even more the day he escapes from your house or fenced yard – something likely to happen at least once – and goes barreling toward a busy street.  Then you’ll really be glad you spent time teaching this.

Come is a BIG concept to teach.  At the sound “come”, the dog must stop what it is doing…..turn toward you….and quickly come to you, and preferably sit in front of you.  These are several behavior patterns the dog must do for one crummy word “come”.  So, make it easier by teaching this in parts.

All in a Word

First, have you already ruined that come sound??  When you said it, did you do something unpleasant that the dog did not like?  Did you use it it cut toenails, pull out mats, give it a pill, yell at it for chewing something?  Why should your dog respond this time when something bad happened the last three times he came when called?  Say come only when the dog is ALREADY coming to you, not when it is going the other way.  If you think you have ruined come, you may need to change to something like To Me or Here or Front.  Come should ALWAYS mean something positive to your dog.

When to Start

As usual, this exercise works best when taught right from puppyhood; six weeks to four months is the best age to start.  If the puppy is taught early that come is fun and rewarding, you will have fewer problems later in his life.  This approach works for an adult, but it will take longer and the dog may periodically revert back to its old catch me ways.

Who Should Do It

This method works best if there are two of you to play the game.  Use a long line as a security line, especially if you are doing this outside.  Begin the training in a safe environment with few distractions.

Why a Game

Dogs like to chase things – kids, cars, balls, cats, and anything else that moves.  It is a natural behavior for them.  The more we work with their natural behavior, the easier training will be.

How to Play

Have someone hold your Wheaten by the collar.  Stand two to three feet away from your dog, closer if it is a young puppy.  Hold your dog’s favorite treat in your hand close to your knees.  Shuffle quickly backwards as you say come, using lots of encouragement and praise.  As the holder lets go of the collar, the puppy should follow you with his nose at the food.  Once the puppy catches you… STOP!  Keep the food at your knees or at head level for the dog so he stays focused on the food.  Using the hand not holding food, gently and slowly reach under the dog’s head and take hold of the collar.  (Never go over the top of the dog’s head.)  THEN, give the dog the food with lots and lots of praise.

  • If he didn’t follow you…
    Check your feet. Did they move backward?  Your movement backward is the most important thing.  It is the movement away that attracts the dog to you and incites his chase instinct.
  • If he came but bounced away…
    The food gives the dog a focal point so the dog will end up in front of you.  If you just give food to the dog at this point and then lunge for the collar, you’ll scare a puppy but an older dog may simply bolt.  By keeping the dog focused on food until you get your hand on the collar, you prevent the dog grabbing the food and taking off.  Food is the reward for the dog AFTER you have the collar in hand.  Do not reach out and hand the food to your dog.


  • Don’t forget to MOVE BACKWARDS.
  • The food is held at your KNEES.
  • It is HAND in the collar, THEN give the food.
  • STOP when your dog gets to you.  If you keep moving you will inadvertently be encouraging the dog to jump at you and bite your feet etc.

Got it?  Next Steps

If that worked well, move back a few more steps from the dog and shuffle quickly back again.  The holder should let the dog go as soon as you say come, and let the long line run through their hands with no tension unless the dog tries to run past you.  The holder should grip the lead just as the dog tries to go past you, stopping the dog in front of you.  Focus the dog on the food at your knees and gently reach under the head to the collar.

More Success

If all goes well, in a few days with a puppy, or a few weeks with an older dog, you should be able to be 20 feet away from your dog when performing this exercise.  You call and then move backwards and the dog will come running to you.  Still using the food at your knees, you should be able to get your dog’s collar in your hand.  The puppy or dog will not object your touching the collar because he now associates it always getting food and praise after you have it.  This has now become a chase game for your dog, wherein he chases you and is rewarded for catching you.  This should be lots of fun for your Wheaten.  If your dog does not have bright eyes, tail up, and at least a trotting gait as it comes in to you… please review above.  Once your Wheaten is playing the Come game very well, you can gradually reduce the food on a random schedule.  Never totally eliminate food.  Your dog should never know when you may have something wonderful for them.

Getting Really Good

When you start doing this in places that have more distractions, shorten your distance and don’t forget the GOOD food.  You have to become more exciting to your dog than sticks, blowing leaves, or birds.   Don’t forget that long line just in case the neighborhood cat is more exciting than you are!

Adapted from articles by Carol Crouch previously published in Benchmarks.

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