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How to Teach Your Dog to Come When Called

Training Tip Tuesday With Jodi

By DCSPCA Canine Lead Trainer Jodi

Out of all the canine commands, teaching your dog to “Come” might be the most important. This single word can help protect your dog in any situation. When a dog responds to our cue to “Come,” we call it recall.

The trick to teaching recall is to help your dog practice it successfully over and over.

Repetition rules in recall training. Your goal is to create so many successful training repetitions that turning and racing toward you becomes more like a reflex: When they hear the recall word, their body automatically turns toward you and they happily race back to you.

The first step is designed to be simple for the dog, and to introduce the pattern of behavior into your dog’s mind. Practice in an area with low distractions like your home or backyard. I do this by enthusiastically luring my dog toward me while quickly backing up about five or six steps and saying his name and "Come": “Hendrix, Come!”

Recall is a relationship-based behavior. Your dog’s willingness to do it depends entirely on how much they trust that returning to you will be worth their while. If your dog is ambivalent about their relationship with you, their response to a recall cue is likely to be ambivalent, too.

Here we see Jodi working with MAGIC.

STEP 1: With your dog on a regular four- to six-foot leash, move backward as swiftly as your dog will follow, keeping your treats within licking distance. After five or six steps, stop and reward them generously. Use lots of tiny treats paired with praise and petting for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat this process five times in a row at least three or four times per day.

STEP 2: After about 5 days of diligent practice, keep all the steps the same except the part where you hold the treat within licking distance of your dog. We don’t want them to think they have to see the treat in order for the recall word to be rewarding. Conceal the treats in your pocket or treat pouch, but be sure to reward them just as generously.

After about three weeks of regular, on-leash foundation training, you’ll likely find that your dog is happily running toward you as you call them and move away. Congratulations! You’re building a solid foundation! Keep doing what you’re doing, but now we’re ready to introduce the concept of purposefully turning away from a distraction.

A dog’s ability to turn away from distractions (in favor of running back to you) will make or break the recall. When a dog is off-leash, it’s especially easy to become distracted. We need to teach the dog that coming when called—leaving really interesting stuff behind—is still worth it.

STEP 3: With your dog on a leash, walk them up to a low-level distraction like a familiar bush or tree. Allow them to investigate and as they do, step behind them and go to the end of your leash, keeping it loose. Be ready with treats hidden in your hand behind your back. Happily call their name and "Come." The second their head begins to turn around towards you, move away from them, giving them the opportunity to chase you for a few steps. Jackpot your dog with praise, petting, treats, and general celebration lasting 15 to 20 seconds.

Begin incorporating this in your daily walks and remember that repetition rules.

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