Almost every phone call, email, or conversation I have with someone about their dog’s training needs includes the statement “And he just doesn’t come when I call him!”. Teaching your dog to “come” (also known as a “recall”) is not just a nice trick, it is often a life or death matter. We need to be able to get our dogs to return to us, rather than chasing after cars, following wildlife, or running up to greet a potentially dangerous dog.
Teaching a solid recall does take time and effort, but the pay off is priceless! I like to break it down in to several smaller steps that build on each other. The most important step is to make sure you NEVER use your dog’s name or your cue for “Come!” in a negative manner. That means you should never use your dog’s name to scold them or fuss at them, and you should never ask your dog to “come” to you before you do something they won’t like (such as trim their nails, make them leave the dog park, bring them in from playing, give them a bath, you get the idea!). We must make this promise to ourselves, because we always always always want our dogs to associate their names and our cue for “come” with GOOD WONDERFUL AMAZING things! If you ask your dog to come to you, then do something that does not make them happy, they are less likely to come to you the next time you ask them to. Dogs do what works for them….so make “coming when called” work! Praise them, give them treats, play with them, and just have a big party every time they DO come when called, and they are much more likely to come when called the next time.
Many of us have used the word “come” when we were about to do something unpleasant to our dog, We have also used “come” and our dog may have ignored us or not come. In other words, our dogs do not associate “come” with happy things, or think it means nothing. If this is the case, I strongly suggest picking a new word to use when you want your dog to come to you. Some suggestions:
-PUP, PUP. PUP,PUP
– a whistle
Always begin in a QUIET and distraction free location. Once your dog learns each step, you are ready to slowly add more distractions. If your dog doesn’t know how to come when called in the living room, they definitely won’t do it out in the real world! In the meantime, if you are going to be out where you think you may need your dog to return to you, try using a long leash (they range from 10 foot long and longer) to give them room to explore, but to also enable you to bring them back in to you if necessary. I suggest a long training line over a retractable leash, as retractable leases can easily break and can be very dangerous.
Practice each step for one week before adding the next. This may look like:
Week One: 2 to 3 one minute session of Name Game daily.
Week Two: 2 to 3 one minute sessions of Name Game and 2 to 3 one minute sessions of Follow Me daily.
Week Three: 1 one minute session of Name Game, 2 or 3 5 minute sessions of Follow Me, and 3 rounds of Restrained Recall daily.
Week Four: 2 or 3 five minute sessions of Follow Me, 3 rounds of Restrained Recall, 1 to 3 one minute sessions of Whiplash Turns daily.
Every household has different schedules, so try to fit your training time into your normal routine. A dog can learn a lot in just 15 minutes spread out over the day. If you watch the news everyday, try practicing during commercial breaks. Or try doing some “Follow Me” in the kitchen while you wait for dinner to cook!
Once you are ready to take the games outdoors, you can add all the steps into your potty and exercise walks as well as regular play sessions. The more fun you and your dog have while working on recall, the more likely you are to practice, and the more likely they are to come when called.
Step One: NAME GAME – The name game is our foundation for training our dog to come reliably. We want to teach our dog that hearing their name is really awesome and predicts that treats are coming. This game will also help your dog to learn to quickly look to you when you say their name.
1)Have several treats ready in your hand. Stand in front of your dog.
2) Say your dog’s name in an upbeat happy way. Deliver the treat immediately. Work fast. Use a high rate of reinforcement. We are not marking and treating (M/Ting) we are just conditioning a good association with your dog’s name.
3) Repeat several times each day for the next couple of weeks. 2 to 3 one minute sessions a day every day will really go a long way! We want to associate your dog’s name with good things. Remember to never call your dog to you and do something yucky. Go get them. *Never* use your dog’s name to scold them.
Video Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_d6xkvmLgg
Step Two: FOLLOW ME :ADD THE CUE -Start in a very boring area of your house where there are NO other distractions. Begin saying your dog’s name and walking backwards a step or two so that your dog has to follow you to get their treat. Move backwards and sideways, and slowly add more steps before your dog receives their treat. Move fast, move slow, keep it fun! Remember, it’s a game! When your dog is reliable following you, you’re ready to add your brand new shiny cue! “Buffy. Pronto! 🙂 “
Step Three: RESTRAINED RECALL – This builds off of the last two steps and helps create excitement in your dog when they hear their cue to come to you. This does require someone to help, so recruit a family member or friend for this step. It’s not necessary, but I think it helps a lot!
- Have someone hold your dog gently by the collar or chest. Instruct them that as soon as you say your cue (“HERE!”) they should release your dog.
- Walk away and get your dog’s attention, show them you have goodies.
- Call them excitedly with their name, make a big fuss and get them very excited, while your helper is still holding them. When they are really trying to get to you, say your cue!
- Your dog should come RUNNING to you, Reward lavishly when they get to you.
Remember that practice makes perfect and the more your dog comes running to you the better they get at it.
Step Four: WHIPLASH TURNS – another way to add quicker reaction times to those pesky recalls:
- Toss a treat and tell your dog to “get it.”
- When she has eaten the treat call her name and say your come word.
- As soon as she turns to head back to you MARK with a click or YES and then deliver a scrumptious treat when she gets to you.
Repeat the sequence several times.