“My Dog Only Comes For the Word ‘Treats’”

What happens when you say your recall word? Does your dog come? Do they come RUNNING? Most dog owners long for a dog that will drop everything and race over at their beck and call, but most dogs might wander over, if it’s convenient. The owner is left fuming mad, and the dog is unsure of whether this is a safe time to come or not. The reason why your dog will come for the word ‘treats’ and not for the word ‘come’ is that you didn’t confuse the meaning of the word ‘treats.’ You didn’t say it over and over again when you didn’t have a treat to begin with. You didn’t say ‘treats’ when what you really meant was ‘bath time’ or ‘we’re leaving the park’ or ‘I’m going to work.’

Your recall might look like this Husky who won’t come.

But if your fantasy is for your dog to come RUNNING when you call like this:

Teach Your Dog To COME RUNNING!!!

Don’t let Pavlov’s dogs drool in vain! If Pavlov could make his dogs drool every time he rang a bell, then you can make your dog come every time you say ‘come!’ Building a reliable recall is basic science, and by adhering to a simple formula, you can have a dog that comes running when you call!

Make your dog LOVE coming to you

Reward BIG. In fact, act like coming to you is the greatest thing they have ever done! Pretend you were drowning and your dog saved you from the river; give them a whole fistful of treats! At least! Reward them with petting, praise, and genuine affection, whether you called them or not, even if they just rolled in poo… Coming to you should be the most rewarding thing your dog can do!

DON’T make your dog hate coming to you

We will also be careful to avoid associating the cue ‘come!’ or coming with bad experiences. Don’t chastise your dog if they are coming toward you, whether you called them or not. Make sure that whatever they ‘come!’ to is better than what they came from.

Don’t say “come!” constantly or casually and then fail to follow through. If you want them to come when it matters, every recall must matter. Until that big emergency you’re practicing for, say “come!” only during training exercises set up so that your dog comes running to you, clearly associating that behaviour to your cue.

Teach: “Come!”

Emergency Recall Training Exercises


  1. Teach your dog to come and sit in front of you, until they are released or given another command
  2. Teach your dog to associate the above behaviour with the cue “come!”
  3. Set precise and consistent expectations; your dog should sit close enough that you can touch their head
  4. Don’t forget to release!

Exercise 1) Family Circle

One family member holds the dog back with a hug around the chest (not a tug on the collar) while another family member excitedly shows the dog a handful of treats or some other awesome reward before dashing across the room to call “come!” The dog is already focused on running over; all you need to do is let them go! Cheer your dog on as they come, praise them the whole way! Draw your dog’s attention upward as they come toward you with treats and body language. Mark the moment they sit with “Yes!” Reward BIG and release!

Exercise 2) Take it outside

Use a 15-20ft long leash when you first try calling your dog in tougher, more distracting environments. Ensure you have your dog’s attention before calling ‘come!’ Don’t be afraid to work with a leash, you’ll avoid associating “come” with disastrous chasing games where you are left humiliated, trailing a defiant dog.

Exercise 3) Ring the Dinner Bell

Make your dog LOVE the word ‘come!’ Associate “come!” with the very best things in life. Say “come!” when something good is about to happen to your dog:

  • When you introduce a new toy or bone
  • Before their big ‘release!’ to have freedom at the park
  • To call them to their breakfast and dinner
  • When you are about to start a training or play session
  • You spilled something tasty? Call the clean-up crew!
  • Before a walk or car ride, and when exiting vehicles (which keeps them safe too!)
  • When you get out that massaging grooming glove they love so much

I don’t care if your dog is already sitting there drooling at your feet while you scoop the kibble or unwrap the bone. Just hold the dish/bone/toy in the air and say ‘come!’ before you release them to enjoy their reward. Most dog owners have their dogs ‘sit’ before meals, and that is excellent, try using your recall cue instead and you’ll build an amazing recall. ‘Sit’ is implied in your recall anyway. Your dog’s dish of food, a fresh marrow bone, or a new toy are extremely powerful motivators that your dog will come running to get, all you need to do is add the cue ‘come!’ These motivators will come to your dog’s mind when you say ‘come!’ at the park, encouraging the exact behaviour we want, which is a dog that not only comes when called, but comes RUNNING!

Exercise 4) Cheese Ball Recalls

Rub a large treat on your dog’s nose and then toss it in slow motion onto a hard surface no more than 3 feet away. Continue pointing toward it as you say ‘find it.’ Help your dog find it if needed by tapping near it with your foot. Ideally this is a very easy find, your dog should be able to see and hear the treat at first. While your dog is busy finding and eating the treat, run off to the other side of the room. With any luck, your dog will come running over to see if you will be dropping any more treats. Draw their attention upward with treats and body language as they come toward you, marking the moment they sit with ‘Yes!’ and a treat. Now you’ll release your dog and start all over again, tossing the treat right from their nose into a corner or off down the hall. You’ll keep running off and your dog will learn that the game is about running back to you. Once they get the idea, add the cue ‘come!’ the next time they run back toward you. The beauty of this game is that it gets your dog running toward you from all corners of your house and rewards your recall with one of your dog’s favourite games: ‘find it!’

Soon you’ll be able to toss the treat farther and run to the very farthest corner of your house before calling out ‘Come!’ Now you can take this game outside.

Failed Recalls

  • A) Get your dog to sit at the spot where you called “come!” ASAP, act like it is a big emergency; let them know it is important!

Some ideas to attract an errant dog:

  1. Add extra body language; crouch, clap, kiss, etc.
  2. Wave your arms, motion will allow your dog to see you from a distance
  3. Run away from your dog, making as much noise as possible
  4. Offer a target; teach your dog to target your fingers with the cue “touch”
  5. Cheer on any movement in the right direction
  6. Walk over to your dog calmly and deliberately, and walk them back to the spot where you called
  • B) Repeat the exercise immediately, ensure that your dog is set up for success
  • C) Finally reward, and don’t forget to release!

Never chase your dog. If they have a habit of running away from you, practice walking toward them, stepping on a long leash if they bolt, and praising if they don’t. Touch their collar as you give them a treat, perhaps asking for a quick trick, release, and repeat. It can be fun to teach your dog a special cue, such as a play bow or tickle fingers, to indicate that you’d like to play a chasing game, but first and foremost, your dog’s safety requires that you can easily walk up and grab their collar without them running away from you!

Reinforce Your Recall Off-leash

Reward your dog for coming toward you when you move away from them on trails or at the park. Pretty soon, your dog will be coming over all the time to see if you have a treat, and to wonder where you might be hiding! Now that you’ve got the behaviour you want, name it! Add the cue “come!” when you see them coming back for more, and ensure their visits include sitting, tricks, and always, a big release! Coming to you should be part of the fun of being off-leash, your dog should anticipate being rewarded with more freedom.

Don’t Ruin Your Recall Off-leash

Ready to leave the park? Don’t call “come!” Avoid associating the leash or coming to you with leaving the park. Put on your dog’s leash and walk a few steps before taking it off again a few times during your stay at the park. Your dog won’t even notice when you keep walking all the way home sometimes. Use this same tip to avoid ruining your recall in your own yard. If your dog prefers the freedom outside to coming inside, don’t call ‘come!’ from the porch, when what you plan to do is lock them inside and go to work. Try calling ‘Come!’ a couple times while they enjoy the yard, rewarding them with more freedom, practicing putting on and taking off the leash and doing short trick lessons. Walk them inside when you are ready to go, then give them a big reward when you get inside, like breakfast. Making a meal routine is very powerful. As your dog gets better at coming to you while you train in the yard, you’ll notice that they will also happily come back to you on the porch, and expect their meal. Your dog has learned a great lesson, the yard isn’t just about smells and pee, it is also a fun tricks zone where they can earn rewards for listening. They have also learned that ‘come!’ only makes the yard more available to them. You’ll be tempted to stop rewarding them, or to call using your emergency recall word from the porch every single day again, but your recall is too important for that nonsense.

Don’t train above your skill level. Calling “come!” while your new puppy is across the field playing isn’t going to work…yet. In the meantime, use the tips under ‘failed recalls’ to get them back to you if you can’t wait to be off-leash until your recall is reliable. Just want your dog to come closer? Not wanting to bother with the whole sit and release and big reward this time? -Then just make kissing noises, slap your leg or something, but don’t dilute your recall word.

“When will my dog come without treats?”

Never quit making them love coming to you. Keep it interesting, they shouldn’t expect liver every time, but they should expect something. They should be dying to know what kind of reward you have, and they should know exactly what is expected of them. Make sure your dog comes and sits for each recall, and make sure each recall is rewarded BIG.

“Why is it so important that my dog sits when they come?”

‘Come!’ should mean something specific. If today, we expect our dogs to come running over and sit directly at our feet, and tomorrow it’s good enough if your dog simply comes close to you… then soon, they come close but walk right by you, and eventually, your dog doesn’t bother coming at all. They look up from whatever they were sniffing, and seem to be thinking ‘what does this guy want? Should I bother going closer to find out?’

If ‘come!’ actually means: RUSH over, sit at my feet, and wait for your next command, then your recall will actually be useful in an emergency. Imagine that you are at the dog park when a fight breaks out, you call your dog, they race over and sit in front of you, dying to know if you want to have a wrestle, or do some tricks, or give them a bone. They are safe, waiting for your next command.

Want help teaching your dog to come? Contact us, and get amazing results!