Some Thoughts on Training the "Come" Command
This exercise is referred to as the "recall".
It's simply THE most important exercise to teach your dog.
It's also THE hardest exercise to teach and get 100% accuracy from your dog.
To train the recall you need:
a sound training 'plan'
a good understanding of your dog's temperament
a strong desire to be successful
and a ton of patience
This isn't a simple exercise !!
If you have the luxury of training a puppy, you're in a much better position to achieve success compared to a trainer who is attempting to teach the recall to an adult dog.
Why?.....the puppy has very limited life experience - they tend to stay close-by because they need the security of being close to you.
On the other hand, most adult dogs have lots of experience leaving you in their dust - sprinting away to play with other dogs, chasing cats or wild-life or just satisfying their hunting instincts as they plough across the field with their nose glued to the grass.
The recall is essentially teaching your dog that what you have to offer the dog is of HIGHER VALUE than the object the dog is about to pursue. No easy task if you own a breed of dog genetically engineered to hunt, retrieve or defend.
Still miracles do happen, so get a large dose of personal disciple, persistence and patience and we can begin.............
Training Tip: You have to realise that dogs are generally 'selfish' animals - left to their own decisions, they do what pleases them. So, your job as a cool-headed trainer is to convince your dog that this new 'recall' behaviour IS WORTH DOING !!
I don't mean threatening or physically punishing your dog when he finally does come back to you.
If you do either of these two actions it will teach your dog that you can't be trusted and your dog will never come back when he's called.
So, never punish your dog when teaching the recall. Keep your cool.
Puppies and the Recall......
Food is the highest value item to a puppy at this stage of life, so I use food to teach the recall.
As the pup is performing the recall more consistently I can think about introducing a toy as a shared reward along with food.
But initially it's all about food.
A training tip: get Mother Nature working in your favour....make sure the puppy is hungry, you'll get 50% more effort, concentration and a lot faster learning.
Get your partner or friend to gently restrain the puppy by interlocking their fingers around the pup's chest to form a 'hand-harness'. Meanwhile you approach the pup with 5 or 6 pieces of his favourite food in your hands and you slowly wave your hand under the pup's nose until his sense of smell kicks in and his eyes start to bulge with strong expectations of being fed.
Gotcha......run away about 3 or 4 metres, kneel on the ground, say the pup's name then say your command word "COME" or "HERE". It doesn't matter what word you select as long as you consistently use the same word every single time and everybody in your household uses the same word every single time.
As you say your recall command, your training partner releases the pup and the little scud missile should come bolting across the ground to get to the food.
Notice I have said "the pup comes to get the food", not "the puppy comes to get to you"!
Sorry, at this age and at this early stage of training, it's all about the food - you don't rate (not yet, anyway!)
So, what do you do when the pup arrives?
Well, you have a highly excited, very hungry miniature piranha who just wants to satisfy his survival instincts.
So you become a very calm, softly spoken vending machine that measures-out the food one piece at a time from one hand.
With other hand, you slowly stroke and massage the little beast and gently praise him for coming.
Golden Rule: There has to be something in it for the dog, or why would he bother?
To obey this rule we provide lots of food rewards, slow hand praise, calm voice praise and facial praise (smiling).
I repeat this recall exercise 3 times, each time moving a slightly greater distance away.
After these 3 repetitions I just verbally say 'FREE' and start playing a fun game with the little monster.
Then I relax for about 5 minutes.
After the rest, I do another 3 'recalls' followed by more play with the pup.
Leave it another 5 minutes and repeat the pattern again.
Lots of short, fun repetitions rather than attempting 20 recalls in one session.
Adult Dogs and the Recall.......
This is a whole different challenge.
By now, your dog has had many enjoyable experiences pleasing himself and not listening to your recall command.
So we have to override prior learning with a new, high value experience.
The best way to engage your dog is to give him a reward that truly "turns his lights on" !
You know your dog, if food is the highest value item to your dog then use it.
If balls or toys float his boat, then use these.
There has to be something of extremely high value as a reward to convince your dog that coming to you yields a better outcome than chasing a cat or playing with another dog.
Step 1: Have a second person hold your dog on a lead attached to a flat collar or better still a harness.
Show your hungry dog you have a meal in your hands and run away a short distance.
Call your dog...(If you have used the "come" command previously and your dog has ignored you, then for this new format of training change your command to "here").
Repeat exactly the steps described for puppy recall training with the exception that an adult dog can concentrate for longer periods.
You can do upto 6 repetitions before you break away to play.
If your dog has a stronger connection to balls, tugs or squeaky toys then use these as your motivators rather than food.
To prove your dog is ready to advance to Step 2 with recall training is to test him (at home) with LOW levels of distraction.
The test is to see if he will come directly to you if someone else attempts to get his attention when you give your recall command.
With a second person standing nearby, firmly call your dog.
As the dog moves towards you, the second person calls the dog's name and acts in a friendly manner towards your dog.
Will your dog obey the recall command or be distracted by the stranger?
If he comes directly to you with no hesitation - well done - you can move on with your training.
If he is distracted by the other person, you need more work at Step 1.
Don't attempt Step 2 work if the dog is not 100% solid on Stage 1, it will only end badly !!
Golden Rule: Don't give the recall command unless you can control the outcome!
Step 2: Walking in the street/park with your dog on a long lead or Flexi-lead you allow the dog to move ahead of you.
Then call his name, give your recall command and praise as the beast comes flying back to you.
Repeat our reward system - food, slow hands, calm voice and facial praise.
Use the FREE command to allow him to continue walking around.
Repeat this recall training multiple times during your walk.
We obey Golden Rule No 2 by having our dog on a lead so we can control the outcome when we give the recall command.
Practice this controlled recall exercise in areas where you know that other dogs aren't going to rush up to you and create havoc.
Let the general environment be the main distraction for your dog.
You're not ready to test your recall command in-front of other dogs, yet.
Step 3 involves using other dogs at a fair distance away from you as the distraction.
Always have your dog on a lead.
Make sure you obey Step 1 Golden Rule: there has to be something in it for your dog - so make sure you ALWAYS provide genuine rewards for coming when called.
Be consistent with this behaviour, it really matters in this exercise.
Step 4 involves returning to your backyard to see if your dog values you and your rewards above those offered by other people.
The test:- have a friend or family member hold some crappy dry food in their hands.
Get them to entice your hungry dog to follow them as they walk away.
As your dog follows them, you then recall your dog.
Will he choose you over the person who has just grabbed his attention with food?
If yes, great news.......repeat this same exercise 5 times then give your dog the FREE command and start playing a game with him. Well Done !!
If your dog fails to come when called, you need much more training at Steps 2 & 3 and definitely change the food/toy rewards you are currently offering your dog as a reward for coming.
Now we up the stakes and repeat the previous exercise but your friend will have some cheese in their hands instead of dry food.
On command, will your dog come to you and ignore the cheese offering?
If yes, congratulations, you have done a superb job developing a strong connection with your dog.
If not, you need to back-up and re-train Step 3 and the first part of Step 4.
Maybe consider varying the rewards you provide your dog to generate more interest in you.
This format for training the recall takes quite a long time to get the results we want.
Don't give-up, as I said, stay determined and be patient.
Step 5 involves setting up a meet & greet session with another dog.
Both dogs should be on leads and hungry.
Both dogs will be training the recall exercise, so they can not only gain individual success but also watch the other dog obey the recall commands given. (Dogs learn a large amount of information by observation).
The dogs should be reasonably close to each other & you now give your dog the recall command without jerking the lead.
Can your dog give-up a socialising opportunity to come back to the handler without lead help?
Hopefully yes....if not, we come to the hurdle that is known as "consequences" (corrections).
Let's be honest, with all the success you've had to date, your dog clearly knows what the "COME" command means.
There is No question about this.
So, not coming-when-called is not a mistake, it's disobedience and in dog training disobedience can't be ignored.
If you have a sensitive dog, the consequence (correction) for disobedience may simply be a voice reprimand.
For the tough, nuggetty dogs it may mean a firmer level of correction.
Either way, if you're not sure about what is appropriate, get some advice from a professional trainer to help you at this level.
Don't just guess, it may destroy all your hard work achieved up to now.
Even if you've had to apply an appropriate reprimand for disobedience, you still reward your dog when it does make the correct choice and comes to you. There has to be something in it for the dog.
Be consistent with this.
Keep practising controlled recalls away from other dogs (who are on leads) until your dog will come bolting back to you without hesitation.
Remember: NO PRACTICE - NO SUCCESS.
Don't expect sensational performance from your dog if you haven't done the hard practice.
Step 6: Upto now this work has been done on-lead.
Our next hurdle is to set-up (nearly) off-lead situations to see if the dog is reliable.
I walk my dog in the park on a longish lead, allowing him to move ahead say 5 to 6 feet.
Then I drop the lead and do a recall.
I shuffle backwards to stimulate the dog to chase me and I lavishly reward the dog's effort for coming when called.
I pick up the lead and continue walking.
I do dozens of these 'off-lead' recalls during my walk, always in a safe area & always first checking that another dog is not coming towards us.
This training is really for the handler, not so much for the dog.
It gives you experience in calling your dog without having a lead in your hand and in a location that is the 'real world'.
Multiple repetitions are required before I allow the dog to move greater distances away from me before I give my recall command.
It's a slow, steady development process, always with a hungry dog.
No leaping ahead and hoping all will work out okay.
It's no great advancement to move to recalls totally off lead.
But that said, I never put my dog in a situation where my recall command may fail.
In other words if you haven't got to Step 6 with your training, don't go to an off-lead dog park, release the dog and hope that your limited recall training will work for you.....you will be bitterly disappointed with the outcome.
Be practical, be smart. Your dog is only as reliable as your training will allow.
We have to learn to read and understand the dog's behaviour to become successful dog trainers.
Be patient, be consistent and be disciplined in your approach.
Select the most appropriate training system that suits your dog's temperament.
Most importantly, don't have any performance expectations when you train.
Let the dog's actual performance surprise and delight you.