Rover, Come! Successful Recalls Take Practice

Come! It's something everyone wants their dog to do and yet it’s something most people don't fully train. They stop training once the dog responds in their home and get angry when the dog doesn’t respond in the park or in a different location.

As with any behaviour, the different skill levels of a recall need to be taught and practiced. 

Every skill needs to be taught by layering the following criteria: duration, distraction, distance, difficulty.
A lovely response in your house is a very different skill level than being able to come away from doggy friends in the park, or a fabulous scent or a squirrel.

Each criteria should be taught separately before combining them. When outside, use a long line so you have some control when in a new, more challenging environment.

When in a new location, in a quiet area, make sure to practice close to your dog, (reduce your distance, and distraction). Gradually increase the distance he has to run to you. When he’s successful in that location, gradually practice closer to other people or dogs. If he’s not successful, don’t get mad. Adjust your training plan.

You don't go from learning the keys on a piano directly to the concert hall playing Chopin successfully. Mistakes are made along the way. Practice is essential. Difficulty is gradually increased until you get what you want.

The most common errors when teaching come are:

  • Not rewarding the dog for coming when called, every single time

  • Not using high enough value reward for coming when called

  • Calling the dog to you immediately followed by something he doesn’t like including crating, yelling at, leaving the house, ignoring, cutting nails, getting in the car to go somewhere unpleasant.

  • Chanting the cue over and over

  • Not practicing

For successful training keep the following in mind:

  • Always reward your dog for coming to you. Even if he has a shoe in his mouth!

  • Always reward with something your dog wants at that time.

  • Practice in many different places including different rooms of your house, front yard, back yard, on a walk, in the park (away from others)

  • If you are not willing to bet $50.00 your dog will run happily to you when you say come – don’t call him!

  • Go get him or use another word to call him

  • Every time your dog runs happily towards you there should a party!

It doesn't matter what word you teach. Just make sure you teach it properly. I prefer to not use any command/cue for a long time. I use physical prompts such as patting my thighs and running away from the dog to get him to run to me. When I have a really nice response to that, I will begin to add my cue “come!” just before I run away. I will continue to use the cue in situations where I know the dog will be successful before I gradually increase difficulty.

Successful recalls require lots of practice in many different conditions. Be patient. Practice. Be realistic in your expectations. Always have fun when practicing Come!! It should never be a punishment.