We have all seen the dog who follows his guardian around with devoted attention, never looking at a distraction and coming to heel at even a whisper of command. Well, for the brief window of our observation, it can seem like that is the relationship we are witnessing. Of all the skills we teach our canine friends, coming when called can be charged with the most emotional consequence. If my dog runs after a squirrel, does that mean he is not attached to me? If my dog follows a scent and won’t lift his head when I call, does this mean I am not a good leader? If my dog leaves our yard through an open gate, does this mean he does not like our home? It is a big disservice to yourself and your dog if you start making these wild leaps. Dogs live in the moment. They are programmed to notice change in the environment and acting on it. How they react depends on their personality, breed, level of training and a host of other complicating factors. We can’t change their personality or breed characteristics very much but we can make sure that the training we have in place is effective and relationship building. Now to the point, what is the best way to teach coming when called?
Let’s start by making sure your new puppy (or dog) really knows his name. Before each meal, take a small handful of his food, say his name in a neutral tone of voice. As soon as he looks at you, “good pup” and reward with the portion of his meal. Repeat a few times before each meal for about a week. The goal is to have your pup whipping his head around to look at you whenever he hears his name.
Next, start teaching your puppy the “C-O-M-E” word up close. You only want to be a couple of steps away, say your puppy’s name and “come”. As soon as he waddles over to you, reward with a yummy treat. Gradually build distance in a safe place. Either inside the house or fenced yard.
Now you can add some fun games:
Say “Puppy, Come” and run away a few steps as he waddles over. Puppies love to chase us.
Hide behind a tree or chair say “Puppy, Come” and praise as he searches for you. Don’t make it too difficult!
Say “Puppy, Come” and toss a toy as he comes toward you.
The next step is to add some distractions. These drills are best done on leash or long line so you can control the consequences. When out on a walk, practice saying your puppy’s name and rewarding when he looks at you. Add a quick “come” and then run away from him. He is on leash so he has to come along. Reward when he gets to you. (Check out our come fore video clip on www.mypuppytracker.com)
Here are some very strict rules for a reliable coming when called cue:
The C-O-M-E word is only followed by things your dog likes. Anything else like, crate time or nail clipping or coming from the yard, should never come after the recall word. Use another word like “inside” or “house” or whatever you want but COME should only be associated with things your puppy likes.
Do not chant your puppy’s name or COME at your puppy, ever. They will tune out. If your puppy is not looking at you when he hears his name, go back to the mealtime routine above.
No dog has a perfect recall. You may see some impressive recalls at times but all organic beings make choices. Keep your dog safe and on leash or long line unless you are positive the environment is suitable for practice.
Please comment below if you have specific questions about your dog’s recall or if you have ideas that may be helpful for all of us.