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Teach Your Dog to Come When Called

Posted by Jennifer on November 21st, 2010

dog-running-jerry-xuRecall is when your dog or puppy comes to you when called. It is THE most important thing you can ever teach your dog. Even if your dog obeys nothing else, having them come to you when called can save their life or avoid a dog fight or other dangerous situation. First, decide how exactly what word(s) you’ll use to call your dog. Keep it simple. Everyone in your household should agree on exactly what word or words will be used. Imagine your dog escaped and is running into traffic! Would you yell: “Come!” or “Here boy!”? To teach your recall word, you will start out by saying it in a strong, confident tone. Not a high-pitched inviting-to-play-tone. Remember, if your dog is running into traffic, your tone is going to need to be heard, and likely won’t be fun and high pitched! Keep reading to learn more tips on teaching your dog a solid recall.

Tip #1
If you have already tried to get your dog to come with you using the word “come” more than a few times and it hasn’t been working, PICK A NEW WORD before starting this training! “Treat”, “front”, “here”, or “cookie” are some ideas. Once you have them completely trained to recall for the new word, you can add in the word “come”, so “treat come” and then eventually go back to just “come.”

Tip #2
Do not say “come” unless you know your dog will obey. If you tell your dog “come” and the dog does not “come” then stop saying “come” and go and get your dog. If you cannot go and get the dog then it is your mistake for misjudging your dog’s readiness for that situation, not the dog’s mistake.

Tip #3
Use a whistle sound with your mouth only if everyone who will ever be calling the dog can do the SAME whistle as loud or louder than they can yell a word. Training recall with an actual metal or plastic whistle works, but chances are you will not have it handy in an emergency situation. Clapping is good, but only if you never use a clap to tell a dog not to do something (like jump on the counters).

Next, find something your dog really likes for a reward and lure. Treats are the easiest, but some dogs are disinterested in treats. You may have to try many kinds of treats to find one that they really, really like. Or try doing the exercises below at mealtime, carrying their food bowl. Doing these exercises right before a meal is much more effective! Some dogs really do prefer verbal praise or a toy to a treat. If your dog is not interested in any treats you try, nor in praise or toys, you may need the help of a trainer or behaviorist to work on getting them comfortable eating treats or food from your hand before training recall.

Recall Exercises:

For our treat-loving friends, divide up the treats (or their meal) into 10 or 15 portions or pieces. Start by just feeding the dog a few treats out of your hand and praising them. Then take a step backwards and show them the treat, encouraging them to take a step forward to get the treat. The first day, just repeat the one step back and then treat 10 times. Around the room or yard you walk backwards for those ten treats, rewarding each step towards you!

The next day, as you step back, say your recall word (we are going to use “come” for the rest of our example) and reinforce the treat-giving with verbal praise. So, you take a step back at the same time you say “come”, show the dog the treat to lure them to take a step towards you, and reward the step with a treat and a “good dog”. Repeat this exercise around your home and yard where they are comfortable. Do this for a few days, once or twice a day. You can add in reaching down to touch the dog’s collar too, if you want the dog to come when called to have a leash attached. Then you can start taking more than one step backwards before feeding the dog the treat. So step-step “come”, stop, treat,”good dog”. Step-step,”come”, stop, treat, “good dog”. Next day, add in more steps.

When your dog is following you around attentively waiting for the treats, you are ready to move on to training recall when his attention is not on you. Do a few rounds of recall with treat reward. Then stop and do something boring to the dog, as if the session were over, but only long enough for the dog to get a few feet away from you. Then give your “come!” command, and have the treat ready for reward when he does! Gradually over the next week, lengthen the times you are doing something boring, getting farther and farther away from the dog. You can also randomly reward the dog “coming” to you throughout the day too, repeating the word as they approach and giving them a treat. If the dog gets involved with something really interesting, lets say, picks up a toy, or is watching a squirrel in a tree, and you say “come” and if they do, make the reward for coming to you REALLY big, with lots of treats and praise.

Now you are ready to increase the distractions by going outside! You can practice “come” on with a 10-foot line attached to their collar (NEVER off leash until totally trained) outside your home, or even on a 6-foot lead out on a walk, anywhere you might be going with your dog. Try to do the first few sessions outside your home in low-excitement area, such as on your block where you walk all the time, and then graduate to areas with more going on, such as a park or areas with lots of people and other dogs. You don’t want to make the whole outing be about recall, or it will be too much repetition and quickly become boring. Limit to a max of 3 recalls per outing. Begin the verbal praise with the first step towards you, and give the ‘payoff’ treat reward when they actually get to you.

It can take many weeks of practice to train your dog to recall with multiple or very compelling distractions. But practice makes perfect, and a solid recall makes it possible for you and your dog to safely enjoy many more activities and a richer life together.

Photo by Jerry Xu

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