|Teach your dog to come when called|
Teach Your Dog the Come Command
Every owner wants a dog that will come reliably when called as it allows the dog to have valuable off leash freedom. Teaching a reliable recall comes easier to some breeds and individual dogs than others, and some dogs may never be 100% reliable. Making a strong start when they are puppies, and reinforcing through adolescence if possible is the ideal situation, but older dogs can be taught a solid recall too although it may take more persistence, patience and repetition.
The number one rule in teaching the recall is this - never call your dog to come to you for something unpleasant. If you have to take your dog for a trip to the vets, trim his nails, tell him off for something or take something from him - go get him. You never want to associate obeying the 'come' command with something unpleasant in his mind. This is best way to undo all your hard work in teaching the recall. It is easier said than done - when you see Sam running around the house with the newspaper it is all to easy to call him to you, take it from him and tell him what a bad dog he is - but don't do it! In his mind he obeyed a command, and then got disciplined for it. Silently approach your dog instead. If he runs away slowly and methodically track him down - chasing him will only turn it into a game. Similarly don't fall into the trap of only using the recall when you are outside to call your dog to you at the end of the walk - he will then associate the recall with the end of fun, and make it less attractive to obey. Instead call your dog to you at regular intervals throughout the walk - praise and treat him and let him go play again.
Make Training The Recall Fun
You can start teaching the 'come' command on the first day you have your puppy home. Hunker down on your knees when your puppy is having a sniff about, call out her name and pat your knees or open out your arms invitingly. Your puppy’s curiosity should get the better of her and she should come over to you. As soon as she does, praise her and give her a treat. If she doesn’t try walking backwards, making silly noises - anything to get her attention. When she comes to you pat her on the head and neck and tell her how well she has done. Let her wander off again and a short while later try it again. After a few repetitions she should be zipping over to see you to get her treat. When you are pretty confident that she will come to you every time, start using the cue word 'Come' when she is actually running towards you, treat and praise her lavishly every time she does. Try to play this game 10 to 15 times a day - it only takes a few seconds, and space the games out throughout the day rather than one long session. Soon she should associate the word 'Come' with the action of running towards you and the reward and praise. You may also want to add in a hand signal here - both arms out to the side works well - as it is at once welcoming and very visible from a distance. When she is confidently coming to you every time start to make sure you pat her neck and put your fingers round her collar before you give up the treat. This way you are ensuring that she will come to you and hang around long enough for you to get hold of her if you need to, rather than grabbing the treat and zipping off again before you can grab the collar. Make handling the collar part of the 'Come' game, but still always let her go play again as soon as she has had her treat.
Dogs progress at different rates, but if you keep up playing the 'Come' game you should be having a pretty good success rate around the home and garden after a few weeks or so. If you will be training your dog for obedience or agility then you will need to teach your dog to come to you and finish by sitting at your feet looking up at you. Don't do this by adding in a 'Sit command' at the end of the 'Come' command - you would be asking your dog to do two things to get the treat whereas really you want the sitting to become a natural part of the 'Come' behaviour. you can do this by calling your dog to you while you are standing up, and as your dog reaches you hold the treat in your hand at dog level, but don’t give it - pull the treat upwards over your dogs head just as you did when you were teaching the sit. Your dogs eyes should follow the treat - and the bum should hit the floor. As soon as it does, praise, handle the collar and give the treat.
Proofing the Recall
Once your dog understands what 'Come' means and is performing the behaviour reliably around the house, it is time to begin proofing the recall in more challenging situations. Take your dog to the park on a long lead and practice the recall out in real world situations, but until your dog is truly reliable keep them on the lead and reinforce the 'Come' command if they try to ignore it by walking backwards holding the long lead. Your dog should then start trotting towards you. If not you will need to real her in. Try to never let your dog ignore your recall command when you are out and about - always back it up, and always be full of praise and rewards when they finally do come in to you, even if you had to reel them in!
It is through endless repetition that the recall becomes reliable. Always keep things positive and try never to be angry at your dog when it eventually returns to you if it has been ignoring your recall, just take a step backwards and repeat some of the earlier steps, or go back to using a long lead, before trying again off lead somewhere safe. Some breeds pick up the recall quickly and with no problems whatsoever, particularly retrievers and other gun dogs who were bred to work off lead returning to their owner over and over again. Other breeds including Beagles may never be 100% reliable off the lead. If your dog is not completely reliable you will have to make adjustments and use common sense when choosing places you allow them to run off lead.