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Training Articles

Training "Come" - The three secrets of success

by Maureen Haggerty

The first secret to training reliable recall is associating your “come” command to mean “the most wonderful thing is going to happen to you”. Whenever that word comes out of your mouth, your dog should perk up and run to you the way she does when you say “do you want a treat?” or “go for a walk?”. You do this by only using it when you are happy and by following it up with something fun and exciting to your dog.

Secret number two? Only call your dog when you can, and are willing, to ensure success. If you think your dog may not come, either do not call her, keep her on a leash, or use goofy, enticing noises with a chase-me game and treats to get your dog interested in you. This way, not coming is never associated with your “come” command.

The third secret is: never use your official “come” command if something unpleasant is going to follow for your dog. Certainly, never call your dog to you if you plan on scolding or punishing her. It will backfire on all your work to make “come” a desirable thing.

Training the command.

Start at a close distance to ensure success. Do not be in the position where you need to repeat the command or where the dog has the option to not come.

  • Use a very happy, excited voice.
  • Use a lure (toy or treat) if the dog does not respond on first command. Show the dog the lure, right in front of his nose if you have to, and encourage him to come. This is for training (conditioning) purposes. The use of a lure will be weaned later.
  • Run away from your dog to encourage her to come.
  • If your dog doesn’t readily turn around to come, you are working beyond your dog’s current ability. Either get much closer to your dog, be more interesting, or both. You may also need to lower your expectations. For example, start by rewarding a head turn in your direction. Once you get your dog to look your direction, you have her attention. Run backwards, or run away, use a high pitched happy voice, tease her with a toy and reward lavishly once the dog reaches you.

All this work of being silly and fun with your recall practice will payoff, but the intent is not for you to rely on it forever. We only do this consistently in the beginning to condition your dog’s mind that “come” is a wonderful thing.

After getting a reliable response when you pull out all your tricks, you can start to wean them. Don’t use the treat or toy to get her to “come”, but do go get a reward after she comes. Then after your dog is reliable without the “bribe”, start rewarding afterwards on a variable basis. To keep “come” interesting, on occasion, throw in a jack-pot: when she least expects it, reward her with an excellent chase game, a brand new toy and tease her with it, some treats that she has never had before. This will keep the excitement of the recall alive.

Play fun games to reinforce “Come”.

Play fun games with your dog to reinforce “Come” as fun. Playing these games will also help build speed and excitement into your dog’s response.

  • “Puppy ping-pong.” This is an easy exercise to get kids involved with, and it’s fun for the dog. You need two people. One person gets very excited and calls the dog and rewards her with play and treats. Then this person becomes still and boring, while at the same time, the other person calls the dog with fun and excitement awaiting. Go back and forth, and quit while your dog is still having fun.
  • If you do not have a partner to play with, simply play “Catch me if you can.” Say “Come!” and try to keep away from your dog. Eventually let her catch you and play with your dog. Then run away again.
  • Another come game is “Hide and seek”. Hide in different rooms and call your dog to “come!” This, again, is fun for your dog and easy for kids to practice the command come. Multiple people can play.
  • “Restrained recalls”. Have someone hold your dog back while you call your dog with enthusiasm and run away. Try teasing her with her favorite toy. Then when your dog is squirming and pushing against the restraint to get to you, your assistant releases your dog. Either drop to the ground and open your arms or continue to run away to keep up the momentum toward you. Reward your dog exuberantly for at least 30 seconds when he reaches you.