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One of the most important skills you will ever teach your dog is to come to you reliably on command. It could literally save their life one day. Having a dog who comes reliably gives them freedom to enjoy life and gives you the freedom to enjoy them.
It's truly a win-win! But where do you start? How do you get there? There are many methods that will all work equally well. When we work with people who have dogs who won't come when they are called, it's always the same story. It's not the methods they've used, but the lack of focus and the lack of consistency that causes their recall to fail. With that in mind, here are a few hard and fast rules to stick to when teaching a reliable recall.
Keep Your Dog On Leash
Until they know how to come reliably, they should always be managed. One of the worst things you can do for your recall training is to allow your dog the freedom to ignore you. Puppies are very cooperative. They often make us feel a false sense of security because they follow us around and convince us that they're always going to! Flash forward a few weeks and you'll start to notice that there's a lot more interest in the big world, and the puppy who was so eager to look to you now has their own agenda. Don't allow them the freedom to learn to ignore your come cue. Keep a leash on for control at all times!
Call Them for Good Things Only
Most dogs will sour to the recall pretty quickly if you call them to come and then trim their toenails or call them to come only when you're leaving the park. When you are teaching your dog to respond to the come command, use the GOOD things in their day. For example, call them to come and reward them with food or toys. Call them to come and give them their dinner. Build their enthusiasm so that they LOVE hearing and responding to the word "come". Plan to interrupt a good time like playing at the park, but give them several opportunities to return to the play before you pack them up to leave. I spend a great deal of time calling my puppies out of play only to reward them and send them back to play again. It's a win-win!
Practise, Practise, PRACTISE!
All the hope, wishes and love in the world won't teach your dog a good come command, and despite the wonderful, cooperative nature that puppies start out with, that will fade and you'll find yourself coming up short. If you want your dog to return to you despite squirrels and kids on bikes, you've got to put in the time to make it happen. That means setting up a training program and sticking with it for as long as it takes. Every dog is different. Some will be fairly reliable quickly, while others will take more time. Find what motivates your dog and put in the work to train their recall.
Sometimes, I feel like a broken record, but it truly is the most important part of training your dog. Be consistent! If you call your dog with no response, you're sending them a message that it's okay NOT to come. To get a consistent result, you've got to keep a consistent expectation. During training, if you call your dog, you want them to be in the position of getting it right unless you are proofing, which comes much later in the training process. Set them up for success and make it happen, each and every time.
When was the last time you used your high school calculus skills? The fact is, skills fade if they are not used well. If you've taken the time to train a reliable recall, be sure you set up consistent training sessions throughout their lives to remind them of the fun and expectations of your come command. This will keep your recall fresh and well oiled.
If you train it, they will come! Put in the time and effort and you'll have a joyful, freedom-filled relationship with your dog for life!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.