The #1 concern of our doggie parents who come to our school is that their dogs will not come when called.
If this sounds familiar, the first thing to consider is whether or not the word ‘come’ has been poisoned by using it to stop something fun, for punishment, or if you’ve called it in obvious anger. That is not much of an incentive for your dog to run to you when he hears the ‘C’ word! If ‘come’ has become a "poisoned" word, stop using it and choose another word or phrase to let your dog know you want him to come to you. “Let’s Go!” or “Here!” will work just fine.
Now, you have to determine if your dog knows what "come" means...
If your dog has no idea what “come” (or your new word 'here', 'let's go', etc) even means you can lay down some foundational skills by rewarding your dog just for acknowledging the word. Here’s how you do it: have several high-value treats handy and with your dog standing right next to you say in a very enthusiastic voice ‘Come!’ then give your dog a small piece of treat. Do this several times until hearing the word ‘come’ elicits a very happy response and acknowledgement of you. Your dog should now understand that ‘come’ is a word worth paying attention to.
Now that your dog understands the word ‘come’ ('here', 'let's go', etc), try this exercise: With your dog at your side, in your most excited, happy voice say ‘come!’ and then run away as fast as you can. Your dog’s natural inclination to chase after you and the excited ‘come’ should be enough to get your dog to run after you.
As soon as your dog starts running after you, say ‘yes!’ which will let your dog know he is doing exactly what you want him to be doing. Run just a few more feet, stop, then give your dog a treat. Repeat this sequence several times until your dog understands the game. If your dog isn’t racing after you, try increasing your excitement or running faster (or both). If your dog is very timid, you may have to decrease your excitement if you think you might be scaring your dog by your crazy over-enthusiastic running away from him.
When your dog is reliably chasing you when you say ‘come’, toss a few treats on the ground while you are both standing still. While your dog is eating the treats, walk several feet away, cue ‘come’ then run away as fast as you can. Reward your dog with a treat when he reaches you. Repeat this exercise again, increasing the distance you walk away from your dog before calling him. This exercise is not only fun, it will help build a rocket-fast recall, works to improve your dog's focus and impulse control!
See if you can slowly start adding distractions while still having him come when you call and run away. Once you have reached this level of success you can feel more comfortable trusting your dog to come to you off – leash in safe, open areas (like dog parks, dog-friendly beaches, etc.).
Just remember when teaching anything new, keep it fun and remember to never poison the cue (‘come’ or any cue word) by using it in a negative way. If learning feels like a game, he will be much more receptive and excited about the learning process.