A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

On Getting Your Dog To Come When You Call Him

As far as basic obedience goes, “come” is a pretty easy command to teach.
You excitedly call your dog toward you, maybe tugging the leash or offering a treat. When he comes, you praise him. Eventually you attach the word “come” to it, and there ya go, you have taught the recall command. But that’s not what people have trouble with. What really frustrates dog owners is a) getting the dog to respond no matter what, and/or b), maintaining the command.

How many people start out in their training with a beautiful response to the recall, only to have it deteriorate to the point where they’re lucky if the dog even flicks an ear when they call him? I’m in the process of fixing a broken recall with one of my own dogs, so I feel your pain. Whether you’re just starting to teach your dog to come or fixing a broken recall, there are some things to keep in mind.

The Golden Rule of The Recall:

When in the process of training it, never utter the command “come” unless you can enforce it. See, the trick is to convince dear Fido that he does not have a choice in the matter, and that when you call him, he comes, no questions asked. How? By making the recall such a habit that he doesn’t even have to think about it. You accomplish this with…

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

First, you practice at home with Fido on leash. Minimal distractions. After he’s responding 100% of the time, take the leash off. Then you practice out in the neighborhood – there are more distractions here, so put the leash back on.

Once he’s responding 100% of the time in the neighborhood, take the leash off and put on a long line ( a long training leash or clothesline). Then you take him to a park. There are even more distractions now, so he’s back on leash. Seeing the pattern here? Every time you up the distractions, you go back to square one, with the leash on.

Practicing doesn’t have to take up all of your time. Just do a couple sessions per day where you work in 10 – 15 recalls each.

Make sure that really good things happen when he comes to you.

Give him treats, throw a ball, tell him what a genius he is.

Then (and this is equally important), let him go back to whatever it was he was doing before you called him. You don’t want him to learn that coming to you means the fun is over. So call him, praise/treat him, then encourage him to go back to sniffing that fascinating bush.

No dancing allowed, Fido.

Ever seen a person call their dog to them, only to have the dog run up to them just out of arm’s reach, and then gleefully dance away? The dog thinks it’s hilarious and it’s kind of funny to watch, but it sucks to be the person involved. To avoid this situation, teach Fido that “come” means “come here and let me grab your collar.” When training the recall, call him to you and make a point of touching his collar before you reward him.

Or if you’d prefer, you could teach him that “come” means “come here and sit still at my side.” Both techniques serve to prevent Fido from learning the recall dance.

Do not recall him off leash unless you are 90% sure he will listen.

Let’s say you’ve only been training on leash with moderate-level distractions. You take Fido to the dog park and let him off leash. He is having a great time socializing with his buddies. Now, you know that there is absolutely no way he is going to come back to you when you call at this point. So don’t stand there going, “Fido, come! Come! Fido… come on! Let’s go!” while Fido cheerfully ignores you. Remember the golden rule? You can’t enforce it in this situation. All it will teach him is that “come” is optional. So walk over and grab him (nicely) yourself.

Now, let’s say that instead of him being off leash, you have him on a long line. He’s socializing with his pals again. You say “come,” gently reeling him in if necessary. When he gets to you, tell him he’s awesome, then quickly let him get back to the other dogs.

The other Golden Rule of the Recall:

Never ever under any circumstances, call your dog to punish him. Doesn’t matter how angry, tired, frustrated or cranky you are. Calling a dog to yell at him or angrily stuff him in his kennel is the quickest way to ruin your recall. Fido won’t know that you’re punishing him for digging up your lawn. He’ll think you’re punishing him for coming to you.

You can see how this might be a problem.

On a similiar note, don’t call your dog if you are, for any reason, about to do something unpleasant. If Fido hates taking a bath, don’t call him when it’s time to wash him. If you are heading off to go to work for eight hours, don’t call Fido to lock him up in his crate. This will have the same effect as punishment and will make Fido wary about coming to you in the future. In situations like these, you’ll have to just go and grab him yourself.

To recap:

-Create a strong recall by practicing often when you can enforce it
-Start with minimal distractions and work your way up
-Don’t call your dog when you know he’s gonna ignore you
-Make sure nothing but good things happen when he comes to you

Use these pointers consistently, and I guarantee you you’ll see improvement in your recall work. So have fun training, good luck, and let me know how it turns out.