As a trainer, I often get calls from people who want to know how to teach their dog to reliably come when called.
To teach the dog to come when called (or improve a less than stellar recall in a dog), start with some basic exercises and avoid doing things that take away from the training. Initially, train in a safe, fenced, distraction-free area.
Make a note of what your dog finds rewarding. It might be high value treats like dehydrated meat, or toys or a game of tug.
Build a strong relationship with the dog by using rewards in all training. Studies indicate that dogs trained with rewards are more attentive to their owners and do not display the stress signals that dogs trained with compulsion do.
If you are using the dog’s name to call her, make sure you reward the dog every time she responds to her name. Sometimes the dog hears her name in so many situations where she does not have to do anything, her name becomes meaningless so, for the recall, use her name and a word like “come”.
Use games to help the dog learn and incorporate play into training sessions. Studies indicate that play helps dogs learn more quickly.
Here are a few exercises:
- With the dog or puppy in the middle, two or more people call the dog back and forth using the puppy’s name and “come” or word of your choice once and then reward the dog when he comes to the person calling him. To avoid confusing the dog, the last person to ask the dog to come should look at the next person who will ask the dog to come. This avoids having more than one person call the dog at the same time.
- Hide and seek. When the puppy is not looking, hide nearby with good treats, call the dog and reward her when she finds you. Keep it easy for the dog.
- When walking with the dog on leash, take a couple of quick steps away from the dog (keeping hold of the leash) and call her. Reward the short recall. This helps the dog start to generalize that she should return to the person when called wherever they are.
To help the dog succeed, it’s important to avoid situations that negatively impact the training so here are some tips on things to avoid:
- Avoid calling your dog if you don’t think your dog will come–for example, if your friendly dog wants to greet visitors at the door, don’t call her just then as she is unlikely to come and she is then practicing NOT coming when called. With practice and training, you will be able to call her away as she progresses with the recall.
- Avoid calling your dog if she has misbehaved and then chastising her for the perceived prior transgression. The dog will quickly associate the punishment with coming when called and will be justifiably reluctant to come to the owner again.
- Avoid creating the impression in their dog’s mind that coming when called will end the dog’s fun. For example, a dog is having a great time playing with some dog friends, and the owner calls her. The dog comes when called and the owner snaps on the leash and takes the dog home. This happens again the next day. Pretty soon the dog learns that, when playing with friends, returning to the owner means the end of fun and the dog becomes more and more reluctant to come when asked to. Instead, call the dog away, reward her and then let her return to playing.
As your dog progresses, make it more challenging by increasing the distance of the recall or adding a distraction. I use a long line to keep the dog safe while we practice coming when called in a variety of locations. Long lines come in a variety of lengths. As your dog gets more skilled at coming when called each time, you can move on to calling her over longer distances and with a distraction.
Jane Bowers, B.A., CABC, CPDT-KA
Jane Bowers has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. Her company is Dogs of Distinction Canine Training Inc.Jane has a monthly newspaper column on dog related topics and is a former host of a live call in TV show on animals. She is a strong advocate for force free and humane training methods for all animals.
Jane has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the Certification Council of Professional Pet Dog Trainers and as a behaviour consultant through the International Association of Behavior Consultants and through the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. These organizations require a minimum number of continuing education units be obtained to retain certification. She is also a professional member of The Pet Professional Guild, an organization committed to force free training of animals and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to being better trainers through education.
Jane is the content creator of the online course Assessing and Interpreting Dog Behaviour, which is a course for law enforcement personnel who meet unfamiliar dogs in the course of their duties. She is the author of Perfect Puppy Parenting, a guide to raising a happy, confident, well-behaved dog.
Jane spent 17 years working for Customs Border Services and in joint teams with US Homeland Security and the RCMP. She spent a further 8 years working as an Animal Control Officer and Bylaw Enforcement Officer.
Jane lives on a small farm with dogs, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. The dogs each came from situations that prevented them from living in their original homes. The dogs range in size and age and with the dog training and behavioral work, whether it’s participating in the development of an online training course, working with a client’s dog or tracking a lost pet or animal.