The “come” command–also known as the recall–is one of the most important skills to teach your dog. Not only will a solid recall help you avoid those embarrassing games of catch-me-if-you-can when you’re trying to leave the dog park, but it will help keep your dog safe off-leash.
How to teach “come”
- Start by practicing indoors or in a fenced backyard, where there aren’t too many tempting distractions. If your dog sticks to your side like glue and you can’t get far enough away to ask her to come, have a friend hold your dog while you take a few steps away from her.
- With a treat in your hand, back up a few feet, squat down, and open your arms in a welcome gesture, waggling the treat and telling her “come!” in an enthusiastic, happy tone of voice.
- As soon as your dog starts moving in your direction, praise and encourage her in a warm, positive tone: “Atta girl! Gooood dog!” If she stops or starts wandering away from you, immediately stop the praise. When she starts coming toward you again, start in once more.
- When your dog makes it all the way to you, offer the tasty treat as well as enthusiastic praise and pets. Then tell your dog, “Go play!” and let her go back to whatever she was doing for a minute or so.
- Repeat the exercise.
- Once your dog has practiced the recall a few times, start offering treats sporadically, only after the fastest recalls. Eventually you can phase out food rewards completely–although praise and pets are of course always appreciated, and they help cement in your dog’s brain that coming when called is a good thing.
If it’s not working
If your dog hasn’t had a chance to figure out what this recall business is all about, don’t reprimand her for not responding. Just call her name, ask her again to come, and start jogging backward, away from the dog, to stimulate her to follow. Clapping your hands may also convince her that this is a fun game she wants to join. Start praising the dog as soon as she moves toward you.
If you’ve been practicing the recall for a while, you can tell her to come again in a sharper tone. If she obeys, praise her and show her the treat in your hand, but don’t give it to her. Back up a few steps and ask her to come, and give her the treat if she obeys. This shows her that she needs to come on the first call if she wants the reward.
If she doesn’t come the second time you call her, remove any tempting distractions, such as another dog or toys nearby. This helps teach her that when she doesn’t obey the recall, the fun ends.
With the “come” command in particular, we owners are often the ones causing the problem. Consider whether you’re making these common mistakes:
- Expecting too much, too soon. To teach a really solid recall, you want to add in extra challenges very gradually, and make it easy for the dog to get it right. If she gets it wrong, she’s practicing a bad habit–namely, running away when you ask her to come. If you need to get your dog but know she probably won’t respond to your recall, just walk up to her and snap on the leash.
- Punishing the dog once she gets to you. This is the cardinal sin of teaching “come.” It doesn’t take a canine genius to figure out that if a scolding or punishment is waiting for her when she comes, she’d really rather head in the opposite direction, thank you very much. Never punish your dog when she comes to you, and call her in an upbeat tone of voice. If you sound furious, your dog is less likely to obey.
- Using the recall only to do something unpleasant. If your request to come is usually followed by shoving your dog outside, leaving the dog park, subjecting her to a bath, or any other item on a dog’s list of least-favorite things, she’ll quickly learn to dread and avoid it. Practice recalls often during walks, games, and trips to the dog park, and then let your dog get back to the fun.
- Moving toward your dog when you’re calling her. This can seem like a fun game of tag for your dog–and you’re it. Moving away from your dog when you call her, on the other hand, will lure her to follow you.
To set your dog up for success, you’ll want to start out easy and gradually make it more challenging. Begin teaching the recall indoors or in a fenced yard, then outside on a leash, then outside with a longer leash, and then outside on a leash with a distraction added to the mix–someone throwing a ball, a friend’s dog romping around, and so on. If your dog’s recall disintegrates, make it easier–standing closer to your dog perhaps, or taking away a few of the distractions–and try again.
The ultimate test is the dog park, a place of fascinating smells and fun playmates. When you first practice the recall in the dog park, start with your dog on-leash and ask her to come several times, rewarding her with a treat and praising her whenever she responds.
You can let her off-leash once she’s obeying consistently, but call her back to you periodically, praising and rewarding her when she arrives. Then tell her, “Go play!” and let her go back to the fun and games. If most recalls end with a treat, a tummy rub, and then a release to go back to her playmates, she won’t ever come to dread–and ignore–the sound of your voice yelling, “Come!”