10 Tips for Getting Your Dog to Come When Called
We’ve all been there: You’re out on the beach or at the dog park, and when you cheerfully call, “Spot, come!” your dog blithely ignores you, or worse yet looks you straight in the eye and then runs away. A good recall is one of the most important skills you can teach your dog. Here are some ideas for getting a reliable recall that will work in the real world.
1. Always use the same command. If sometimes you say, “C’mere, Spot” while crouched down with arms outstretched, and on other occasions you call, “Sir Spottington, COME!” while pointing at the ground with stiff regimental posture, and at yet other times you whistle while patting your leg, Spot has to learn at least three different words, postures, and motions for one behavior. Set your dog up for success by being consistent with the words and gestures you use to call your dog.
2. Choose the right time and place to practice. If you’re just starting, a rowdy dog park or the sidelines of a children’s soccer game are not good environments for training any new skills. Start at home and slowly expand the locations where you train, making sure that the areas are safe and escape-proof when you get to longer distances.
3. Take baby steps. Start very close to your dog (just a couple of feet) slowly extending the distance for attempting a recall, and only after he is consistently successful at the shorter distances.
4. Keep your training sessions short. You’ll get a lot more out of six 10-minute sessions per day than one grueling 60-minute one. You want your dog to look forward to training, not dread it.
5. Be patient and don’t pull on the leash. Wait for your dog to choose to come to you so you can reward him. Dogs learn by association, so don’t use the leash or lead-line to pull your dog to you when you call him. If every time you say, “Spot, come!” you yank on his leash, Spot will learn that “Spot, come!” means “Mom’s going to pull on my leash.” and he may brace himself and move away from you instead of coming toward you.
6. Make sure the fun doesn’t stop when a recall happens. Often, a dog will refuse to return to you because that means it’s time to leave the fun behind. This is common at the dog park, where the word “Come” can be translated in your dog’s mind to “No more play.” Try mixing things up, by occasionally calling your dog to you while he’s playing and rewarding him with a treat, toy, or affection. Then let him rejoin the fun.
7. Never call your dog to you to receive a correction or do something they dislike. If your dog is misbehaving, calling him to you to scold him can cause him to associate recall with punishment. And calling your dog to receive bad tasting medicine or for bath time will have the same result. When it comes to addressing bad behavior or doing something your dog detests, it’s best to go to your dog instead of calling him to you.
8. Only say it once. After you’ve called, “Spot, come!” one time, continuing to call his name in more desperate or angry tones will not make it more likely that he will return to you. If he’s refusing to come, try a different strategy to get his attention, like our next tip…
9. Run away! If your dog is pointedly ignoring your recall command, make sure he can see you and then run away. Laugh or cheer as you do so, like a small child following an ice-cream truck. Most dogs will immediately chase after you, not wanting to miss out on the excitement. When your dog catches up, welcome him to you and praise him.
10. Don’t skimp on the treats! If your dog “isn’t food-motivated”, you just haven’t found the right food. Teaching a skill as important as recall is worth the investment in high-value treats… the stinkier the better! Assuming your dog tolerates them well, treats like hot dogs, cheese, or sausage can motivate even the pickiest eaters. Remember, keep your treats small and gulpable while training. A tiny aspirin-sized nibble of sausage is equal to a whole bratwurst — each one equals “one treat”.
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