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 ARTICLES > Clicker Training > How To Teach "come"
  Clicker Training  Article:
Article By: Sue Ailsby        Publish Date: 2008-07-10


Level 1

Sue Ailsby


The dog must play the Come Game between the handler and a friend or stranger standing 20 apart. An actual cue to come is desirable but not necessary.

DISCUSSION: If I could only ever play one game with a dog, this would be it. It’s difficult to believe that one easy game can have so many amazing benefits. The Come Game teaches the dog to go to people (aside from the millions of times a day I call my dog, if I ever lose her, I’d rather see her living a long and happy life with someone else than creamed on the road because she was afraid to approach another person). It teaches her to go to the person who’s actually calling her. It teaches her to leave treats that she knows are there. It teaches her to approach people looking down, rather than jumping up. It teaches her to sit to greet people. It teaches her anybody calling her is a great person to meet. It teaches children a useful and fun way to interact with a dog. This is a GREAT game!

For more information on working behaviours without food, you can start at Level Two Sits and Downs.

EASY BEGINNINGS: You can play this with any number of people, but for the sake of discussion, we’ll talk about two. If you’re in a room by yourselves, please play it off leash. If you’re in a roomful of other dogs and people, or out in the park, one person can hold the end of a long line attached to the dog.
Stand a little bit apart how far apart depends on the dog. If you pretty much think he’ll come, stand maybe 15’ apart. If you pretty much think he won’t, stand 5’ apart. Both people have treats and a clicker (or, if you’re playing with a young child or stranger, you can click for both people). Person A calls the dog. Since we’re JUST starting to teach the dog to come, DO NOT say the "C" word ("Come"), or use the dog’s name. There are lots of other ways to call a dog "Puppy, puppy, puppy!" or "Yo, doggy, doggy" use your imagination.
While Person A is calling the dog, Person B is looking UP at the ceiling. Why? Because even an untrained dog has difficulty moving away from a person who’s staring at her.

So, Person A calls the dog. When the dog is partway to him, he clicks and drops a treat between his feet. Doesn’t matter if it bounces, you’ll get better as you go along. Dog eats treat. End of round 1.

Now Person A looks at the ceiling. I don’t see a dog, I’m not interested in a dog. Person B looks at the dog and starts calling her. The dog doesn’t want to leave Person A because Person A gave treats. LOOK AT THE CEILING. Person B keeps calling until he gets the dog to come toward him. When the dog is partway to him, he clicks and drops the treat between his feet. Dog eats treat, end of round 2.

Repeat these steps until the dog realizes that it is the OTHER person who has the next treat.

When the dog figures out the game, he’ll eat the A treat and spin to run to get the B treat. NOW he understands!


Relax, part of this game is People-Who-Have-Food-But-Aren’t-Interested-In-Dogs Zen. Keep standing and looking at the ceiling. If the dog absolutely won’t leave because she’s so interested in your treats, the other person could come over, stick a treat in her face, and do ten or twenty Rapid-Fire Reinforcements to change her mind.

This is a normal thing for young puppies, whose eyes aren’t mature enough to follow something dropping across their field of vision. And it’s pretty common for older puppies too. Try using hard treats or kibble on a hard floor so she can hear the treat fall. Or make a big arm motion here it is, here it is, aaaand THERE it is!

We’ve played this game with dogs who had years of training NOT to come behind them. One dog was so suspicious of the entire event we started by making a noise to get him to look at a person, then tossing the treat right at his feet. After several minutes of that, he was able to take a step toward a person to pick up a treat, then two steps, and within fifteen minutes he, too, was racing joyfully back and forth.


The time to add a cue is when you’re getting the behaviour you want ON A VOLUNTEER BASIS. What this means is that you can say anything you want to get the dog to come to you, but do NOT say the "real" words you want to use for the rest of his life. For myself, I want the dog’s name and "Come" to be her "real" come cues, so I don’t use those when I’m teaching her this game.
Sooner or later, the dog will figure out what’s going on, and will start anticipating that, after one treat, the other person will call her. Then she starts grabbing one treat and running for the next one. NOW she’s volunteering the behaviour you want, NOW you can start telling her what the real words are. So, as she’s turning to come to the next treat, call out "Stitch!" or "Come!" or whatever word you want to use.

There’s a real benefit here for kids. Dogs usually know that kids are pushovers, while mom and dad are involved in housetraining and other unfortunate events, so usually a dog will start volunteering to come to a child before the parents get the volunteer behaviour. At that point, someone can say to the kid "Wow, she must like you best! You’re the very first person who can say ’Come’ to her!"

When you say your cue as she’s turning to volunteer a come, you aren’t telling her what to do. She’s already doing it. You’re only telling her what it’s called. "Oh, by the way, that thing you’re doing? We’re going to call it ’Come’, OK?"

Play this game every day for a week, then sometime when she’s not thinking about coming toward you, ask her to come. If she comes, EE HAH! If she doesn’t, that’s OK. Play the game for another week. And of course if you play it periodically with her throughout her life, she’ll ALWAYS have a reason to come when you call.


It’s a game! Make better rules! Move further apart (think what great exercise a pup can get playing the Come Game long before she’s able to walk down the street with a loose leash!). Go up and down stairs. Hide in different rooms. Inside the house and outside the house. Play with more people. Play with total strangers. Play with young people and old people and people wearing hats and nuns in habits and people with turbans and people in uniforms. Play by yourself by dropping one treat between your feet and tossing another way over THERE.

You can also change what happens when the dog arrives at your feet. If she comes all the way and you haven’t clicked or dropped the treat yet, what’s going to happen next? She’s right in front of you, looking down. No treat. She’ll probably look UP next, to see if you died, or forgot to click. Nose goes UP, tail goes DOWN, bingo, you have a sit. Or you could play so you have to touch her collar before the click happens. Or put her collar on and off.

Sue Ailsby has kindly allowed us to use her wonderful Training Articles for our TTouch Newsletter. This month, we are highlighting the first level of "come" - one of the most important things you can teach your dog! Future levels of "come" as well as training other behaviours can be found at www.dragonflyllama.com

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