Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
One of the most important skills in owning such an energetic breed is knowing how to train your German Shepherd to come when called.
It’s not enough to just get their attention, but your German Shepherd must be trained to a reliable recall so they return to you…
Don’t frantically chase your GSD around while stressed and worried about the busy road and speeding cars nearby.
Learn how to train a German Shepherd to come when called every time using these simple steps.
How to Train Your German Shepherd to Come When Called
All dogs enjoy and need a run off-lead in a safe place at least a few times a week and preferably once a day to help them stay happy.
Letting your dog off-leash to run and sniff on their own keeps them fit and helps get rid of some of their excess energy that might otherwise be used for making mischief.
But remember, it’s your legal responsibility to make sure your dog is under control at all times in public places. So, being able to get your dog to come back to you when called is extremely important. If you want the most reliable recall for your German Shepherd, then you’ll need to follow all of the following steps to make sure your dog understands what “come” means every time.
Each step reinforces the recall command so your chances of having your German Shepherd return to you when called increase greatly if you follow all of the steps in order.
1. Introducing the idea that coming to you when called is a great thing!
Feed your German Shepherd as you normally would (preferably at least twice a day). If you’re concerned your dog might be overweight or put on weight too quickly, slightly reduce the size of their main meals during your recall training period. This is only temporary and you can go back to normal feeding amounts when finished with the training.
You’ll need to find treats that your dog really likes and loves to devour whenever you offer them, such as pieces of shredded, cooked chicken (without spices or seasonings), freeze-dried liver, any other small portion of treat that your dog likes (need more ideas — pick one of these healthy treats for German Shepherds). Keep a small bag or covered cup of these tasty treats in your fridge so you can grab some quickly during the day.
Put a small handful of treats in your pocket and have them ready for your training. Now, at random times when you’re in the same room with your German Shepherd, call them to you in an upbeat, happy voice and give them a treat using “come” as your command word.
After your dog has eaten the treat, say something like “good dog — off you go!” so that your dog will not sit around you and wait for more treats. If they do, don’t reward them just wait quietly for them to go away from you.
Repeat this frequently during the day — calling them to you at times they don’t expect, like when they’re playing with a toy, rewarding them with a treat, and praising them while giving a release command. Do this for at least a week, or until your German Shepherd is coming to you quickly every time you call their name.
If your German Shepherd isn’t coming to the “come” command, then this is a good time to change your recall word to something different.
Try the word “here” or another word you will remember and is easy to say. Some owners prefer to use a whistle, which is easier for a dog to hear when at a park or another busy area. A whistle also always sounds the same which is better for training, even if you’re upset, stressed, or generally just having a bad day.
Whatever you choose — a new word or a whistle — you must stick to it or you’ll confuse your German Shepherd and it’ll be difficult to retrain them.
Or worse, they might not ever learn what you really want them to do and ignore the command altogether!
Tips for Learning How to Train Your German Shepherd to Come When Called Successfully
Never train when your dog is really hungry – this could make them frustrated and it’ll be difficult for your GSD to concentrate on the recall training. Wait a couple of hours after they’ve had their meal to let their food settle to train them to recall.
Don’t skip this stage, even if your German Shepherd puppy already seems to come when called while in the home. You still need to do practice this essential recall training and turn it into a fun game for your GSD. Having a game with your recall training also helps them to bond with you more.
Never, ever punish your German Shepherd dog or puppy during this early training stage for not coming to you when called during a walk. Giving them a reprimand or punishment may undo all your hard work.
Be sure to walk your dog on a long lead until you complete all of the stages of teaching them to come when called so they stay safe and you can help guide them to you if needed.
2. Coming when called, even when your German Shepherd can’t see you.
Now you can have even more fun teaching your German Shepherd to come!
Follow the exact same steps as in stage 1, but call your puppy from a different room or part of your house.
When your puppy comes every time from another room, call him to come to you from the backyard.
At this stage, your GSD is looking forward to trying to find you when you call him and seeking you out for the tasty reward they’ll earn.
Continue in stage 2 for about 7 days.
If your puppy is coming to you every time when you call him, then move into the next stage.
Remember, make sure you don’t skip any stage of the recall training.
You want a reliable recall, and this is how you get there!
3. Keep your German Shepherd guessing to reinforce the recall and have more fun!
In order to get your German Shepherd to come when called reliably, start changing up the type of reward from time to time.
If you’ve been giving small bits of chicken as a treat, try the Ferrari of treats… like these highly-scented freeze-dried liver pieces. This way, your puppy is excited to find you and keeps having fun guessing what reward he’ll get.
Offer a ‘jackpot’ reward as a big prize for coming to you quickly. The ‘jackpot’ is a bigger portion of the treat, rather than the smaller tasty piece he’s used to receiving.
Find your dog’s favorite toy. Maybe that one with the squeaker that he carries around the house to start. Keep it in your hand or pocket when you call your GSD and when he arrives at you after you call him play with him. Playing with the toy is the reward!
If your dog likes praise and pets, then every so often call him to you with your recall command and, when he comes, give lots of soft pets on the shoulder and back while telling him what a smart dog he is.
Changing the reward every time that you call your puppy makes him try harder to get to you and earn the surprise! He never knows what you’ll give him and hurries back to you when you recall him just in case he earns the ‘jackpot,’ finds you with his favorite squeaky toy, or gets a few minutes of your undivided pets and praise.
Training tip: You can change up your reward for any command that you teach your German Shepherd. This technique works not only on the recall!
Keep an eye on how fast your dog returns to you when called.
Notice his speed — when he understands exactly what it means to come when called you should notice his speed becomes quicker once you give the come command.
At this point, move on to the next stage where you’ll try the command outside in a public place, working your way up to an even better recall with a few distractions.
4. Teaching the come command in the big outdoors.
Many German Shepherds will need extra recall training once you begin to teach them the come command in the big outdoors. The outdoors is full of distractions —squirrel— and it can be difficult for your GSD puppy to pay attention to you.
Begin by finding a quiet area away from other dogs and people. You could place yourself either in an area in an unused portion of a park or even in your front or back yard. Wherever you choose, make sure there aren’t many distractions to start with.
It’s very important that your German Shepherd gets the come command right when in this stage outdoors. So, slowly build-up to the higher level of distractions and increase the distractions — but only if he’s returning to you when you call him.
Keep your puppy on the long line so that he isn’t out of your sight and can’t accidentally run away. Now, let him roam and sniff to the end of the lead so that he’s a bit distracted in the environment.
When you’re ready, call your dog to you. Now, just wait and don’t pull him with the lead to you. You want him to come of his own choice. Also, don’t keep saying ‘come’ if he doesn’t come. You don’t want to wear out this command so your GSD doesn’t listen to you.
You can place yourself lower on the ground, crouching down, while getting their attention. Also, many dogs and puppies enjoy when their owners clap their hands to call them to help your command stand out. Try both of these methods if your GSD doesn’t return on the come command so you seem more interesting to him.
When your German Shepherd comes to you after your command, reward him! Give lots of praise and their reward, then say “free” or “off you go” (or another unique command) to let them go sniffing again and explore on their long leash.
You must repeat this step several times during your walk. Your German Shepherd needs to learn that coming to you doesn’t mean it’s the end of his fun walk.
Tips for Better Success Training the Come Command Outdoors
Train in different locations, such as a different park than you usually train, a hiking trail, your neighbor’s yard, or an unused playing field. Using different locations with a variety of distractions that you work up to (kids playing, other dogs, etc.) helps to train your dog to come wherever you call them.
Never scold or punish your dog for not coming on command. Your German Shepherd may associate you with punishment and will begin to avoid returning back to you.
Always offer praise or rewards when he comes to you after you give the command, no matter how long he takes or how inpatient you become.
5. Letting your German Shepherd loose while staying in control.
I know it’s a big step to let your German Shepherd off-leash and getting them to return to you when you want.
But, if you’ve followed all these steps in order and took your time to train your GSD, then you’re ready for the leap to letting them loose.
First, make sure your dog is returning to you every time when called on the long line in the outdoor training before letting him off the long leash and loose. Start in a quiet area again. Do not go to a park with lots of other dogs, screaming kids, and squirrels to chase!
You don’t want your GSD to forget their previous training because you gave them too many distracting challenges too soon. Build up the number of distractions slowly. If you rush your dog by upping the level of distractions too quickly you’ll find yourself chasing your dog around the park… don’t be that owner!
Let your dog go for a short sniff or exploring the area nearby you. Now, call him back with excitement in your voice. If you’ve trained him well he’ll be happy to return to you.
Give him your praise and rewards and then send him off to play and sniff again. Keep repeating your come command at different distances and keep the training positive.
Play short recall games with your dog on his walks. Take his favorite toy with you and offer up a game with it when he comes back to you when called. Keep it fun to return to you and make yourself interesting to your dog. You have a lot of competition with all the smells and sights outdoors.
Tips for Letting Your German Shepherd Loose and Off-Leash Outside
Don’t only leash your dog to go home when he’s loose and out having a good time off-leash. At least 10 times on your walks call him to you, place the leash on him for a minute to walk with you, then unleash him to have loose lead time again. This keeps your dog from thinking the come command simply ends his fun time.
Once you’re sure your dog knows his recall/come command, start to slowly reduce the number of treats you give when you call him. Remember to keep praising him every time he returns to you, though. And don’t stop the treats altogether — continue to give him treats at random times to keep his interest peaked.
Walks are one of your German Shepherd’s best times of the day – keep yourself involved with your dog by being active with them on their walks and they will want to come to you happily!
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
You need German Shepherd training to get the best behavior from your dog and enjoy a happy life with them. Read these posts to find out what type of German Shepherd training works the best for your breed.
Your German Shepherd’s health, as well as your dog’s specific breed history, contributes to their overall life span. These posts will help you become aware of your dog’s health problems and how to help solve or improve them.