Teaching your dog to come when called is one of the most important commands, and you should begin working on the command as soon as your puppy responds to his name. It can literally be considered a potentially life-saving skill, so it deserves more attention than many of the others.
It should first be said that no dog is ever 100% reliable. There are many variables present that will affect a dog’s recall reliability, which is why a 100% recall is not a realistic goal. That being said, you should work towards your dog’s highest level of recall, which is ideally at about 90% or higher.
The come command is all about establishing a habit. Your puppy has to have done it so many times that there isn’t even a second thought about hat is being asked. That means you have to practice… a lot. The more you practice, the more routine it becomes for both you and your pup.
Most importantly, make it fun! Your puppy will be more consistent if you keep your energy level high throughout the training, especially in the beginning. Try to use the rewards your pup likes the most, whether it is a meaty treat, toy or a scratch behind the ear. For example, if your dog absolutely loves playing tug of war, consider bringing along a favorite tug toy when you practice. Be goofy and fun! Dogs respond well when you lighten up. I always start recall training with excitement and movement. That means calling your dog’s name, stating the command “come”, and then running a short distance either backwards from your dog or alongside your dog. Once you stop and your dog reaches you, make a big deal out of it! It’s party time, so praise and treat at will.
To get started with the training it is ideal to begin in a controlled environment. The best way to do this outdoors is to use a long leash line, check cord, or you may be able to also use a retractable leash. The leash is an extension of you and allows you to pull your pup towards you if he doesn’t respond to the command. This is key in establishing the habit.
Use the command one time. Don’t get in the habit of repeating the word ‘come’ over and over and over and over ….. Your dog will ignore you. He will just wait to see how long YOU last before you cave and come get him, or give up. Instead, get your pup used to the habit of coming after the first command. The long leash line is an excellent way to do this since you can “assist” him in coming to you right away (tug, tug).
Lastly, remember that you need to be as interesting as the environment around your dog. If you never practice the command or your dog doesn’t see any reason to come to you, you won’t be able to equal the entertainment value of the squirrel in the tree or poodle strutting by. Make your motto come is fun, and you should see some immediate improvements in your pup’s recall!
Next Steps and Troubleshooting
- Taking it to the Streets: Now that you have set a foundation, start practicing in more distracting environments. Remember, this will be more challenging for your puppy, so be sure to have your treat pouch loaded with high value treats.
- Ping Pong Recall: If you have 1 or more people to help you, have them stand in different parts of the house or yard and let your pup have a blast playing the recall game back and forth between each person. This is a great way to strengthen the behavior, and help your pup burn off some energy.
- Earn Rewards: Use this skill as a way for your pup to earn things he wants, like toys, attention, and meals. Ask him to come so he has a way of gaining access to the rewards he craves!