Your new puppy is home now and getting settled into his and your new routine. Whether he’s your first dog or joining a menagerie of pets in your home, there are certain basics that will help the transition. The ability and willingness to come when called is right at the top of the list. Lassie was one of the most well-trained dogs ever, but your Max can still compete with her.
The first thing to remember when teaching a dog to come is that this may be a new concept for your dog. Most dogs, unless they’ve been abused or frightened, will come some of the time. Dogs are curious, and they like to know what’s going on. If they suspect there’s a treat involved, they’ll come. If there’s someone or something that interests them, they’ll come. But you need them to come every time and without fail. Their safety might depend on their ability to obey this simple command!
Know your plan before you start. Consistency is key, so you should begin to use the word “come” as soon as the dog is in your home. Always use it while teaching this command and make sure the animal is consistent before you move on to the next stage. Be exciting and enthusiastic when you call your puppy so that he has a reason to come at the sound of your voice. He needs to get to know you so be exciting and enthusiastic and you’ll encourage good behavior.
First Step: Start Small
When you begin to train your puppy, make sure he is no more than a few feet away from you when you say “come.” Get down at his level if possible. Once he begins to respond consistently, you can increase the distance between you. Be warm and enthusiastic and when he does obey, immediately give him a small treat and praise him. Treat him as a long, lost friend. Make it a fun experience for him to come, and soon he’ll be doing it over and over again. Dogs love to please their masters.
Once your puppy comes to you, always touch him on the neck and collar. Getting him used to being touched will greatly assist you when you need to put him on a leash or pick him up for some reason. Touch him lovingly, and that will be an additional treat he receives when he comes on demand.
A Word of Caution
Even if you’ve called your dog until you’re blue in the face and totally exasperated, don’t be angry when he finally comes. You want him to associate coming to you with pleasure and reassurance, not something unpleasant. This is a good exercise to teach you patience, and soon he’ll be coming every time.
If you call your dog when he’s having fun, such as at a dog park, and then snap a leash on him and take him away, he won’t be motivated to obey. Vary the routine by calling him, rewarding him and then sending him back to play. Make him guess whether or not it’s play time or going home time. He won’t want to risk losing a treat, so he’ll come to you.
Second Step: Reinforcement
Once you’re doing well with the first step, you’ll need another person who the dog is comfortable with to help you. The operative word here is comfortable and not just familiar. Take turns sitting eight or ten feet apart on the floor. One of you should hold the dog while the other calls to him using his name: Max, come!” Make it exciting for the dog! By the other person holding the dog for just a few seconds and then releasing him to run to you, it will increase the dog’s excitement. If he can’t get there, the desire to do so builds in his mind. Take turns with this game, and make it fun and playful. Reward Max with a treat when he comes to you. Do short stints of this game so that he doesn’t get tired of it. It’s better to quit while he’s still eager to play while you’re teaching a dog to come.
A variation of this game is to include a toy that you can throw back and forth to each other. Remember, once the dog comes to you, touch his collar and neck. This is important so that if you have to attach a leash at some point, your dog is not uncomfortable. You want it to be commonplace for him to be in your space and feel you touching his collar.
Third Step: Hand Signals
When your dog sees your hand signal, along with hearing your verbal command, it helps him to understand even more. Also, if he would happen to be some distance from you or perhaps there is loud wind or another distraction, he will know what to do.
To add hand signals, call your dog from a distance and add a hand signal. As usual, praise and reward him when he comes. Practice this from different areas of the room and varied distances until he begins to associate the hand signal with the command.
Fourth Step: Move Outside
Once you’re getting consistent results inside, move your training outside. There are many more distractions outside, including other animals. If Max is enthusiastically chasing Sophie around the yard, don’t interrupt. Wait for a lull in the action, and then call to him and use your hand signal. Make sure you exuberantly praise him and give him a reward. This is even more important outside than inside. Release him to go back and play so he doesn’t associate the command with the end of his fun. If your dog isn’t responding, do not chase him unless it’s an emergency. Also, do not reprimand him.
These steps will build a solid foundation for your dog to always come to you. We’ve all seen dogs and puppies who refuse to come when called. Not only is that not fun for the owner, but it can put the animal in real danger if they are running toward a busy street. Remember with all of these steps to not make your sessions overly long. Most importantly, have fun, and use this training to build an unbreakable bond between you and this special friend!
Would you like some additional resources to help your dog? Videos too?
Check out this step-by-step training guide, complete with how-to videos, from Victoria Stilwell, the Queen of Positive Dog Training. https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/recall-come/