How Do You Call Your Dog To Come To You?

I would have found it cute if it wasn’t so darn frustrating.

I called Honey to come to me. She just stood there and gave me a look that said, “I think not.”

My “come” cue is poisoned. I need a new word to teach Honey to come to me when I call her.

What do you suggest?

Honey the golden retriever doesn't come when I call her.

If I can’t see you, I can’t hear you call me.

Blaming The Husband

My husband is great with Honey.

Mike carries her up and down the boat ladder all day long. He gives her the best play time in the world. And she adores him.

Honey the golden retriever playing with Mike in the dinghy.

I don’t know what you call this game. But I call it weird.

But he’s a little careless on the training end.

If we’re working on something new, he’s really good. Mike will often notice something I’m doing wrong before I do. And he helps me fix it so we can get back on the right track.

But the every day stuff—being consistent, training every day, reinforcing good behavior? Not so much.

And recall is the worst.

If Mike wants Honey to stop sniffing a dead squirrel, he tells her, “Come.” If he wants her to get her toenails clipped, he tells her, “Come.” If he wants her to pay attention to him instead of the barking dog across the street, he tells her, “Come.”

Are you starting to sense a problem here?

Yup, the cue “come” is absolutely poisoned.

Blaming The Wife

Of course, I’m also to blame.

Honey the golden retriever plays on her back with Pam.

You think you’ll get me to come every time if you hold onto my legs? Ha!

I’m generally good at consistency and regular training. But I stink at thinking of cues.

Sometimes when I tell her to “spin” I mean she should weave through my legs and turn in a circle. Other times “spin” means spin in a circle.

I know they’re two different behaviors that need two different cues. But I have trouble thinking of a cue I will remember and use the same way every time.

I could just assign any arbitrary word and Honey wouldn’t care. If I said “flower” to tell her to spin between my legs and “goat poop” to tell her to spin in front of me, she wouldn’t know the difference.

Of course, I’d never remember to say flower or goat poop because they have no meaning for me.

And so, even though I know that “come” is a poisoned cue, I can’t stop using it. I keep making Honey’s sloppy recall worse.

Starting Again With Recall

It’s time to start training Honey to come to me Every. Single. Time. It’s too important a behavior to get sloppy with.

Honey the golden retriever poses at the Cambridge lighthouse.

I’m the master of the long pose. I don’t know what more you want from me.

But I need a new cue.

  • One that Honey doesn’t associate with any other behavior but coming to me.
  • It has to be simple to say.
  • It has to sound different from any other cue.
  • It has to be something other than “come.”
  • And I have to be able to remember it.

So I look to you.

What word or phrase do you use to tell your dog to come to you? And do you mind if I borrow it?





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  1. How about “Here” ?

  2. We have started to do what Mike does. “Come” has become the term for everything even though we’ve tried to use “leave it” on walks. I’m looking forward to what other people have to say. Sorry this comment is not any help to you!

    • Leave it is a powerful command. Great that you’re working on it with Rae.

      But from someone who has been there, don’t expect her to get really good at this cue until she’s older. :)

  3. Our cue is either ‘come here’ or ‘ici’ the French equivalent. It’s easy to say: E C. I can’t guarantee results, though. I’m a very sloppy trainer when it comes to the recall, and our two dogs are lackadaisical in their responses. Fortunately, we are quite far from the road and our two don’t wander much.

    • I’m lucky Honey also sticks close. The more I think about it, my issue is probably calling her at all to do something she doesn’t want to do (like boarding the boat again when she’s not finished playing).

      If that’s the case, I have to do something involving liverwurst more than I need to find a new word. :)

  4. I can use “come” when we are at home and thump my chest and she comes a running. When we are hiking and I need her to come to me to get away from something I don’t want her to eat or be near – I use “leave it”. “Leave it” to Blueberry means if she runs to me – she gets yummy treats. When that doesn’t work I will throw a treat on the ground in front of me and tell her to “find it” in my most excited voice. It isn’t 100% effective – but it is more effective than “come”.

    • A good reminder to use hand signals. I think they’re much better for dogs than verbal cues anyway. But I’ve never really had a good “come to me” hand signal.

      Not sure I’m a chest thumping kinda gal, though. :)

  5. Have you tried whistling. It’s the only thing that gets their attention because ‘come’ is so overused. And they always know what that means. They’ve gotten out loose before and a whistle brought them back.

  6. What’s wrong with teaching her to be independent?

    • BOL! I’ll copy out your address for her and when she barks at us as we pull out of the marina, I’ll tell her you think she needs to be more independent and to go find you to learn what that means. :)

  7. Ann Cluck says:

    My rescue pup Lady Girl and I are so connected she is always by my side. If she is outside I just say her name and she comes running!!!

  8. Sir Gordon Dog says:

    “Follow” works for us, and then we walk away… and he follows. It’s hard to sound angry, since it’s a sort of songsongy word, and then it inverses the game of chase when we walk away. Gordon’s recall isn’t 100%, but steadily improving. If far away, we do three short claps and a hand signal once we have his attention, again encouraging him to “follow”, not come to, us.

    • Follow is a good word. You’re so right that we need to use words that sound attractive.

      Honey usually has excellent recall. But I’m realizing that I need to up my game to get her to come to me when I’m asking her to stop doing something she loves–like playing ball and going back on board the boat.

  9. It is so easy to poison a recall cue! I know a lot of people use “HERE!” I would go back to square one with some very high value treats and teach a new word. Only use the new word when you are 99% sure that Honey will come. If you’re not sure if she will come then don’t say the new word. I would also recommend working with her on a long line until the new word is more of an automatic reflex.

    • My biggest problem is that I tell my husband not to tell Honey to come unless he absolutely knows she’s listening to hime. I need to find some very high value treats for HIM first… :)

      And thinking about this more and reading the comments is helping me clarify that I mostly have a problem when I’m asking her to come back aboard the boat after play time. Which means to me that I definitely have to make the boat more fun for her. Perhaps after she plays ball OFF the boat, we play tug ON the boat.

      That might work even better than treats.

      I gave away my long training line when we moved onto the boat. But I don’t have trouble with her wandering off. She simply stands still and stares at me. :)

  10. I like “here”, to teach it I put a fist in the air with a treat hidden inside my fist, whistle for attention, yell, “HERE!” and when the come I drop my fist, they nose touch it because they can smell the treat and then I open my hand and reward them. :-)
    To start you begin with your dog just a few feet away, throw your hand up (the movement usually attracts their attention) say “Here” and drop your fist, reward your dog for coming. Slowly increasing in distance, I hope this makes sense…let me know if it doesn’t and I can break it down further. It has worked wonders for Jack though because he knows that my closed fist means a treat is inside so he really comes running.

    • I use the same method. It is especially good for my mostly-deaf boy as he still knows what it means even without hearing the word. And it works at quite a distance.

    • Hand signals work great and that’s an especially good one because it includes the signal and the treat at the same time. I’ll definitely give it a try.

  11. Soon to be heard from the Husband:
    “Honey, antidisestablishmentarianism! Antidisestablishmentarianism, Honey! Honey?”

  12. You have received some good comments and new words to try. I ALWAYS reward the Come because it is one behavior that could save my dog’s life. And, of course, the one time it does, I will not have a treat handy (even though I wear a treat bag) so we will have to run to the market so I can buy a steak!

    • If only we could communicate to our dogs that they might have a steak in their future if they come in an emergency. :)

      • Ah, now I have more information. First of all, I’m a trainer (sorry, all) and we teach our dogs to come for something good. If it is to stop play or to take a bath or to get nails clipped (something not so good), we should go get our dogs. Also, I tell my clients that their dog’s name should be music to her ears and to use their dating voice (for kids, I say to use your happy voice). And dogs will go to the high value target – with Honey I now know that it is staying playing on land rather than going on board, so having an activity she loves (tug more than fetch) for something done only on boards is exactly it! Good Luck!

        • Thanks, Skye.

          Your comments are just the reason I write the blog. I find I learn from every comment (especially the ones from trainers). And the process of writing things out helps me think about what’s going on.

          Unlike dogs, I’m very slow at processing what’s right in front of my nose. :)

  13. I use a variety of cues for recall, which doesn’t make much sense on paper, but works well with my dogs. “Come”, “Let’s go!” (for off leash Nola if she’s behind me), “with me” (off leash Nola ahead of me), a hand slapped against my thigh, a lifted hand closed into a fist. Then there’s a whistle and “here!”. Those mean your butt gets over here right. this. second.

    • Love it. I also have lots of cues. “Let’s go” for let’s start walking on leash. “With me” for walking by my side.

      I’m thinking I need one of those whistles, though.

  14. It’s easy to ruin a cue. I think the only thing that has saved us is my tendency to tell Nala exactly what we’re doing (Hey, sweetie, want a manicure? Wait up, dear, I need to dry your feet. Okay, I’m just going to brush you a bit, then you can run away) and to use any number of stupid nicknames. (And in fairness, of the things I listed, Nala only dislikes being brushed. She thinks nail trims are great fun.)

    Our recall cues are:
    “Where’s my puppy?” or “pup-pup-puppy!” – I only reinforce this one sometimes, and it means–hey, I can’t see you but I fully intend to keep walking. Come find me! Sometimes I reinforce it with food, but often we just keep walking forward, or we play together, or we interact a bit before I dismiss her (although if she asks to keep playing, we’ll do a few tricks for treats).
    “Naaaa-laaaaa” or “Nalanala!” – One of the reasons that we kept Nala’s name is that she already loved it. It was easy to condition a whiplash head turn for her name. When I sing it out in a high voice, it means “come right here this instant,” and I reinforce it heavily, every time, with a jackpot of fifteen seconds of food and fun. I make sure to reinforce recalls right between my knees or my feet, so Nala always comes right up close so that I can grab her collar if I need to.

    • I love that you talk in such detail to Nala. I do it with Honey too. And it’s amazing how much a smart dog will understand.

      I do think I’ve gotten lazy on making ALL my recall cues fun. Honey is so good most of the time that I may be guilty of taking her for granted.

  15. I use my dogs’ names in a high pitched voice, so it sounds different from everyday speech. But of course you need to practise it regularly and keep it sacred for it to keep working.

    “Here” or “with me” are also good.

    Have you heard of Susan Garrett’s Recallers? It’s an online class dedicated to teaching a solid recall. It’s running at the moment, and last I heard they were opening for free guest passes any time now. Worth looking into.

    • Honey is very good at paying attention to her name.

      The more I read the comments and think about this, the more I’m realizing that my bigger problem is that I haven’t made EVERY time she comes to me a wild party. Sometimes I just load her back into the boat.

      I’m familiar with some of Susan Garrett’s classes but not one on recall. I’ll check it out.

  16. You could try “Here” and a simple pat on your thigh. And, no, I don’t mind if you borrow it. I haven’t used it in a while. Not since my sweet Callie got so sick.

  17. Pam our trainer at Heavenly Hounds here in Princeton ( uses “Front!” and the expectation is seated in front of you. Great and works so well for us.

    • So glad you have a good trainer nearby. It’s wonderful to have a smart expert by your side.

      While out walking today, I called Honey to me and she sat right in front of me like in an obedience ring.

      As I explore this in writing and reading comments, I think there’s something else going on that I missed. I’ll probably write about it soon.

  18. I struggle with come with Harlow – she wants to be with other people and other people always pet her when she runs up with them. She has to stay on leash. It’s only at agility that she has issues. We use come, but yeah – not a lot of results.

    Monty and Harlow

    • One of the toughest thing I find is to keep Honey’s personality in mind when I’m training. Like Harlow, she loves other people. And I need to figure out how to work that into our training.

      Luckily, we have such good pups that if they’re a little disobedient it’s not usually a big problem. :)

  19. Well I’m certainly not the one to ask. Rumpy NEVER comes when called….. UNLESS I have a cookie in my hand. You’d think after all these years we’d have mastered that one. But no.

  20. I have the same problem with my 14 month-old dog who has figured out that come usually means she has to leave the fun thing she’s doing for something boring I want her to do. In puppy school we learned dogs grow to ignore come and in case of emergency we should use the word “touch.” For some reason they love words that start with the letter T. For that reason I often call Bailey with the word Treat…. but I have to be prepared to pay up with a tasty treat when she comes.

    • I’ve also heard to use an emergency recall word that is different from the one we use every day. But I never heard the idea that dog’s are more motivated by “t” sounds. I’ll check it out with Honey.

  21. How about forgetting the verbal commands and go for clapping your hands twice. I started doing this with Haley years ago and the sound travels farther than my voice if I have to call her from a distance. Honey might respond more enthusiastically to hand clapping and you wouldn’t have to remember the name of the command.

  22. As you already know, I don’t always react to “come”. I usually appear if someone says “cheese” or “chicken”, but you’d have to mean it.

  23. P.S. You could try training to a dog whistle if it’s convenient to always carry one.

    • Since I’ve been forgetting to keep treats with me, I’d probably definitely lose a whistle. :)

      But carrying a rotisserie chicken around would probably do the trick. Thanks, Clowie.

  24. I never call my dogs to me when we’re doing something unpleasant. I go and get them when it’s time for a bath or a nail trim or a trip to the vet. But they’re small, so it’s much easier for me to pick them up than it might be for you…

    If I want my stubborn pug to “come,” I yell the word in this super-high, very annoying voice while jogging away. He usually thinks of it as a game, and he wants to get to where I am going before I can get there. I’ve used it when he got loose in front of the house (running after kids) and it worked like a charm.

    • Yup, Jean, I think you’ve really gotten to the root of my mistake. Honey always comes to my side except when I’m trying to walk her away from my husband or when I’d like her to stop playing and come back on the boat.

      I definitely have to up the fun factor to get back on board.

  25. When we started formal training with Luke, we had already ruined “come” for him, so our trainer suggested using “here”. We sometimes confuse ourselves because the girls still know “come”. But surprisingly, Luke now responds to both words! Um, most of the time, not always. Like Sharon above, we sometimes have to resort to “treat” and then pay up!

    • Smart Luke! And smart Jan. Because you’ve made yourself so much fun that Luke will come to you no matter what you say (most of the time). :)

      The more I think about this, the more I realize my biggest problem is not making going back on board the boat as much fun as play time off the boat. I definitely need to get working on that.

  26. When the person wants a dog to come around here she says, “Want a biscuit?”
    And the dogs come flying.

  27. My rabbit comes when I call out chocolate – she has an actual problem. She is addicted to the stuff!

    (Her own rabbit chocolate, although she has been found on more than one occasion trying to lick out any left over chocolatey containers I may have!)

    • What in the world is rabbit chocolate? And since Easter sees bunnies made of chocolate, would that be a form of cannibalism?

  28. I yell “come”, I jump up and down, I sing, I have been known to dance – I guess I do whatever it takes to get him (Jax) to come back. Harley is much better – I call and he comes right back. I’m hopeless.