The two most common complaints I hear from my clients are “How do I get my dog to come to me?” and “How do I get him to walk nicely on the leash”. Let’s start with the first one first…
For starters, getting a consistent recall from your dog can mean literally mean his life or death. It is probably the most important cue we teach our dogs and often, the most ignored. It is ignored because he heard us say it but he was doing something much more fun than coming to us so he didn’t come, and thus, learned that cue was optional.
There are a few VERY IMPORTANT THINGS to remember about getting a great recall:
- When you are teaching your dog a recall, never say the word “come” unless one of two things is happening: One, your dog is on a leash or two, he is headed straight for you. Otherwise, he will hear you say it (trust me, he DID hear you) but may choose to ignore you thus deeming the cue optional.
- When your dog comes to you, you are HAPPY – no matter what he just did or how long it took you to get him back to you. If you scold/yell/are upset at him when he comes to you, he will definitely think twice about coming to you next time.
- Continue to treat your dog with a high value reward for a long time. This is not something to start intermittently rewarding for quite a while. You want him to know it is always good when he comes to you, he will get something good and may even get to go play/sniff/run again!
- Don’t call your dog to “come” to have him do something he doesn’t want to do like get a bath, toenail trim or to leave the park. You may need to simply go get him for those tasks.
- It’s never too late! If you have been saying the word “come” and it is now being ignored go ahead and start over using a new word such as “here” instead.
There are two effective ways to teach your dog to come; one is on-leash, the other is off-leash. On-leash is generally how we practice in group classes but really, I think off-leash recall training may be even more effective (not to mention more realistic!).
- On leash:
- Have your dog on a long leash
- Put your dog in a “sit”, “down” or “stand”
- Tell him to “stay” (hand signal=stop sign to the face)
- Back up – start with a short distance and gradually move further away
- Release him with “ok” and tell him to “come”
- Since he is one a leash it is OK to say the word “Come”
2. Off leash:
- Start in a small enclosed area (inside your house or yard)
- Call your dog to you by saying anything BUT the word “come” – say “over here”, “let’s go”, call his name, whistle, make a crazy sound, fall to the ground, wave your hands in the air etc. You may need to get animated to entice your dog to come to you.
- When you dog starts running towards you can encourage him with “good!” and reward him with a yummy treat.
- Repeat this as you extend your distance and increase the distraction level meaning, if you started in the house now do it in the back yard, then at an enclosed off–leash area and so on.
- Continue to call your dog (saying anything BUT “come”) in intervals less than 2 minutes (at 20 sec., 30 sec., 1 min, 40 sec. etc).
- Each time he is headed toward you encourage him; you may need to become “fun” and animated – dogs love fun! Then, as he gets to you gently grab his collar while simultaneously giving him a yummy treat and then release him “ok, go play”.
- I like to grab his collar for two specific reasons: 1. He becomes desensitized/comfortable with a collar grab which is rude behavior on our part but something that will happen to your dog – you will grab him and so with others in his lifetime and we want him to be OK with that poor behavior on our part. 2. He doesn’t learn to come to you and stay just out of reach by dancing 4ft in front of you!
- Often, we only tell our dogs to come when we are taking them away from something they like but with this approach your dog learns to come to you, get something yummy and STILL gets to go play.
Another great option for teaching a recall is with a whistle! With your dog close to you, blow the whistle (not too loud at first, particularly is your dog may be wary of the sound) and then give your dog a treat. Continue to whistle then treat. Start getting further away from your dog, whistle and then treat when he gets to you.
Think of recall as filling a savings account of repeated behavior and build your account! The more times your dog comes to you and it is a great experience for him (treats! happy/fun person!) the more likely it is they will come to you when it is more difficult for them (other fun thing happening – dog play, squirrel, garbage to eat…). You will never get 100% on a recall (no animal gives a 100% guarantee on behavior, humans included) but we can certainly get better odds by having more successful repetitions 🙂