If you’ve ever spent time around cows, you know that they can be skittish creatures who often keep their distance from humans. But getting a cow to come to you can be done with some patience, the right treats, and a solid understanding of cow psychology.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer to getting a cow to come to you: Use food rewards like grains or vegetables to positively reinforce the cow approaching you. Move slowly and avoid direct eye contact to seem non-threatening.

And be patient – it may take multiple sessions for the cow to warm up to you.

Understand the Cow’s Nature

Cows are prey animals and instinctively wary

As grazing animals, cows are inherently cautious and Alert as they are vulnerable to predators in the wild. Having evolved for thousands of years as potential prey, cows tend to be suspicious of unfamiliar objects, sudden movements, loud noises or strange situations that seem out of the ordinary.

Their instinct is to shy away or flee from potential threats until they decide things are safe.

Cows have excellent memories

One thing that aids a cow’s survival is their impressive ability to memorize faces and recall past experiences. Cows can recognize and remember certain human handlers that have treated them well over many years.

If someone was kind and gentle with a cow in the past, that cow is likely to trust that person and voluntarily approach them later. However, unsettling interactions also leave lasting negative impressions.

Interestingly, one 2019 study showed that cows have exceptional facial recognition capacities, able to distinguish familiar cows from unknown ones even after being separated for significant periods of time. Their great memories help them identify friends versus strangers.

Cows are motivated by food rewards

As ruminants, cows spend upwards of 8 hours per day grazing and eating to properly digest their plant-based diet. This means cows are always interested in high-quality foods. Offering treats is a simple way to capture their attention and curiosity.

Classic favorites are fresh-cut grass, vegetables, fruit slices or nutritious pellets.

Gradually offering tasty snacks over successive interactions helps cows start associating a particular person with positive experiences. In time, some cows become so comfortable that they excitedly approach their human friends, whether treats are immediately visible or not, anticipating more good times.

Create a Safe Training Environment

Training a cow to come when called can be a rewarding yet challenging endeavor. However, with patience and by creating a safe, distraction-free environment, you can increase the likelihood of success. Here are some tips for setting up an optimal training space for your bovine buddy:

Work in a small pen or enclosure

Cows feel more secure in confined areas where they can clearly see the boundaries. Start by working in a small pen, paddock or stall—somewhere with fences on all sides. This removes the risk of your cow wandering off during training and helps her focus on you and the reward.

Eliminate loud noises or other distracting stimuli

Cows startle easily, so remove anything from the training area that could scare or overly excite your cow. Keep dogs, farm machinery, radios and other livestock away during sessions. Even normal barnyard sounds like a tractor or chickens clucking can be distracting.

Consider training during her nap times when the environment is quietest.

Have patience and move slowly

Cows are observant but cautious animals. Make slow, fluid movements when interacting with your cow to avoid spooking her. Speak in a calm, soothing tone and pause between cues to give her time to process. Training requires immense patience.

Always end sessions on a positive note, rather than from frustration. With consistency and positivity, your cow will learn to trust you.

Creating a safe, relaxed atmosphere removes stress and sets your cow up for training success. While teaching a cow to come when called requires time and effort, the payoff of having an obedient, trusting bovine can make the hard work worthwhile.

Approach training with realistic expectations and celebrate the small wins along the way.

Use Food to Reinforce Coming Closer

Getting a cow to come to you can take some patience and positive reinforcement. Here are some tips on using food to encourage a cow to gradually get closer and closer to you:

Offer small amounts of grain or veggies by hand

Cows love treats! Start by holding out a small handful of grain, chopped veggies, or another tasty cow snack in your palm. Let the cow approach and eat out of your hand. This helps the cow associate you with something positive.

Some good starter treats include oats, barley, chopped apples, carrots, or squash. Always start with just a small amount so you don’t overwhelm the cow. Work up to giving larger treats over multiple sessions.

Gradually increase distance from you

Once the cow is comfortable eating from your hand, start backing up slightly so the cow has to walk closer to reach the food. Keep increasing the distance in small increments over multiple training sessions until the cow will walk confidently up to you.

Go slow with this step and be patient. Cows tend to be wary of new things, so it may take days or weeks before a cow voluntarily approaches from several feet away.

Reward every step closer with food

Anytime the cow voluntarily moves even one step in your direction, immediately reward that behavior with a treat. This reinforces that approaching you leads to good things.

Pretty soon the cow will associate you with the yummy treats they love! Using food rewards is an extremely powerful and positive way to get a cow comfortable approaching you.

With time, patience, and consistency, your cow will likely learn to eagerly walk right up to you. Just resist overdoing the treats, which can cause health issues. Moderation is key to a happy, healthy cow.

Avoid Scaring the Cow

Make yourself small and non-threatening

When approaching a cow, it’s important to appear as small and non-threatening as possible. Cows are large animals and can feel intimidated by humans standing upright at full height. Bend at the knees or crouch down to appear smaller.

Avoid direct eye contact, as staring directly at a cow can seem aggressive. Also avoid spreading your arms wide or making any sudden, jerky movements. Move slowly and talk in a calm, quiet voice to help reassure the cow.

Avoid direct eye contact

Intense, direct eye contact can make a cow nervous, as they may perceive it as aggressive or threatening behavior. So when trying to get near a cow, avoid staring straight into her eyes. Quick glances are ok, but locking eyes for more than a few seconds could cause her to startle.

Look slightly away or keep your eyes cast downward when interacting. This forms a non-threatening posture that makes the cow more comfortable in your presence.

Don’t make sudden movements

Cows tend to startle easily, so it’s vital to move slowly and deliberately around them. Never run, wave your arms around, or make other sudden, erratic motions. Not only could this scare the cow away, but it may even prompt a defensive reaction if she feels extremely threatened.

Instead, make slow, telegraphed movements giving her time to assess what you’re doing. Speak in a calm, soothing voice and pause cautiously if she seems nervous. This gentle approach prevents overwhelming or frightening her.

Getting a cow to trust you requires patience as you demonstrate you aren’t a danger through your calm demeanor.

Be Consistent and Patient

Training takes multiple short sessions over time

Cows are large, powerful animals that can sometimes be intimidating. However, with patience and persistence, they can become comfortable around humans. When training a cow to come to you, it’s important to break up the lessons into multiple short 5-10 minute sessions spread out over days or weeks.

Rushing the process or trying to do too much too quickly will only stress the animal and delay progress. Take things slowly and let the cow warm up to you at its own pace.

Start by simply spending quiet time near the cow so it becomes accustomed to your presence. Offer treats by hand when the cow draws near to associate you with something positive. Over time, take a few steps back and reward the cow for approaching you.

Increase the distance incrementally, continuing to reward and praise the cow when it moves toward you. Remain calm and patient if the cow seems uncertain. With regular small sessions, the cow will learn to trust you and voluntarily come when called.

If the cow loses interest, take a break and try again later

Cows have short attention spans. If your cow stops responding or loses motivation during a session, don’t force the issue. Pushing too hard can undo your progress. Instead, give the animal a break and try again later when it’s more focused.

End each session on a positive note with praise and a treat so the cow leaves with a sense of accomplishment.

You may need to change up your training routines to prevent boredom. Alternate short sessions of different activities like coming when called, leading on a halter, allowing handling or grooming, or loading into a trailer.

Keep things interesting by practicing in new locations around the farm or pasture. With patience over regular short sessions, the cow will look forward to interacting with you.

Eventually the cow will associate you with rewards

With consistency, cows will make the association between you and positive rewards. Food treats are powerful motivators, but cows also enjoy praise, brushing, or just your friendly presence. After many 5-10 minute sessions of working together and ending on a high note, the cow will begin to see you as a positive part of its day.

To reinforce this, make sure you always reward and praise the cow during training, even as you gradually increase your expectations. If you maintain this positive association, the cow will continue to cooperate. Be patient through any setbacks, focusing on building trust.

In time, the cow will be happy to see you coming and will readily approach you seeking the reward and companionship you represent.


Getting a skittish cow to trust you and come near takes time, consistency, and an understanding of cow psychology. But by making the environment feel safe, using food rewards for positive reinforcement, and avoiding actions that scare the cow, you can teach even the most wary bovine to willingly approach you.

With enough short training sessions, your cow will look forward to interacting with you and enjoying the treats and affection you provide. So be patient, move slowly, and let the cow warm up to you at her own pace.

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