The #1 concern of our clients whose dogs attend our center is that their dogs will not come when called. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry- it can be an easy fix to get things back on track!
The first thing to ask yourself is whether or not the word ‘come’ has been poisoned by using it to stop something fun (like leave the park or play session), for punishment, or obvious anger (you just discovered he peed on the rug and you want to discuss that with him). If your dog has learned that the word ‘come’ = fun is about to stop or “come” = mom sounds mad, that is not much of an incentive for your dog to run to you when you call him. If your dog associates the word ‘come’ to bad things happening or good things stopping, choose another word or phrase to let your dog know you want him to come to you. “Let’s Go!” or “Here!” will work just fine. Resolve to never call your dog to you in order to punish or deliver bad news. If you must leave the dog park, call your dog to ‘come’, give several treats as you leash up your pup, then have another high-value treat when you get to the car or walk a few steps away from the park. Make going home with you just as wonderful as playing in the park with his friends.
What if you have a young dog or a new dog in the family and they do not know what the word ‘come’ means? If you don’t think the word “come” has been poisoned for your dog, then work on some foundational skills by rewarding your dog just for acknowledging the word. Have several high-value treats handy and with your dog standing right next to you say in a very enthusiastic voice ‘Come!’ then give your dog several small pieces of treat. Do this several times until hearing the word ‘come’ elicits a very happy response and acknowledgement of you. Your dog should now understand that ‘come’ is a word worth paying attention to and good things will happen!
Now practice with your pup: while your dog is at your side, you are going to start moving away from him quickly and in your most excited, happy voice say ‘come!’ Your dog’s natural inclination to chase after you and the excited ‘come’ should be enough to get your dog to run after you. As soon as your dog starts running after you, say ‘yes good boy!’ which will let your dog know he is doing exactly what you want him to be doing. Run a few more feet, stop, then give your dog several small treats. Repeat this sequence several times until your dog understands the game. If your dog isn’t racing after you, try increasing your excitement, the speed at which you are moving or both.
Once your dog is reliably chasing you when you say move and say ‘come’, toss a few treats on the ground while you are both standing still. While your dog is eating the treats, walk several feet away, say ‘come’ then run away as fast as you can. Reward your dog with a treat when he reaches you. Repeat this exercise again, increasing the distance you walk away from your dog before calling him. This exercise is not only fun, it will help build a quick recall, works to improve your dog’s focus and their impulse control!
Continue to practice recall in different situations and at random intervals throughout the day. Whether you are in the house or outdoors call your dog to ‘come!’ and be prepared to reward him as soon as he comes to you. If you need to get their attention, be more exciting than what they are currently involved in. My favorite veterinarian behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar suggests that to make your dog want to come to you, try making yourself more exciting than another dog’s butt. Which makes sense! Make a silly movement, dance, wiggle your arms… make yourself fun and inviting…worth coming to! If learning feels like a game, he will be much more receptive and excited about the learning process. And so will you! And you will be on your way to a very reliable recall.