Teaching Your Dog to Come

Positive reinforcement?You bet, if she wants to teach her pet how notto come when he’s called.Unfortunately, many people unwittingly train their companions to run away rather than obey their command.How?By making bad things happen when the dog returns: He’s punished, loses his freedom, and his fun comes to a grinding halt.

A trained dog is a happy dog.It means he can go places and do things that an untrained dog can’t.But unless he’s in your backyard or at a dog park, even a well trained dog should be on a leash when he’s out in public.It’s safer for him, for you as his owner, and for the general public.In fact, most pet adoption organizations (humane societies and impound facilities)have a clause in their adoption contract stating that an adopted dog must be leashed or they have the right to take it back.

Teaching your companion to come, also known as the recall command, may be the most important lesson he will ever learn.It will not only save your sanity, it may even save his life.Whether you’re working with a puppy, adult, senior or rescue dog, your companion should respond because he wants to, not because he has to.Whenever you say "come," he should not only understand what you want but get positive reinforcement in the form of praise, pets, and/or "high value" treats such as small pieces of boneless chicken, steak, hot dogs or freeze dried liver.

If your dog does not have a reliable recall, there’s always the possibility he may get loose and take off down the street.If you chase after him yelling "come," he’ll either think it’s a game, feel like he’s being threatened, or figure you’ll punish him and put him in solitary confinement by withdrawing your affection.If you’re lucky, you might get him to return by calling his name once or twice and walking or running in the opposite direction.If that doesn’t work, you could lay on a lawn or the sidewalk to get his attention.Lastly, you could call it quits and pray that he doesn’t get lost or hit by a car.But no matter how mad or scared you are, or how long it takes him to return, praise him when he gets back.Young or old, your dog needs to know that when he comes, good things happen.

An excellent way to work with him informally is when he’s occupied in the backyard. Call him.When he responds, praise him, give him a treat and allow him to resume the activity he was enjoying.If you have time, call him, then take him for a walk or initiate a game. That way, he’ll look forward to doing your bidding rather than devising ways to outwit you.Even if you’re late, or mad because your request has been ignored, you should always be positive when he finally obeys.This means using praise and a high happy voice, even if you’re calling him not-so-nice names.No matter how long it takes for him to come, don’t hit him, yell at him, tell him he’s bad or intimidate him.If you do, you will never achieve a consistent, immediate, recall.

Depending on your pet’s age and previous training, different techniques need to be used but, any dog can be trained to come if the owner is willing to put in the time and patience requiredto meet the challenge.A good example was my six-year-old Lab-cross rescue who was left at the pound because she kept running away.She was a genuine Houdini when it came to getting out of the yard, and her response to the come command was to look over her shoulder then pick up the pace going in the wrong direction.To get her attention, I’d call her name. The second she looked over her shoulder I’d say, "Good girl, Bonnie. Come," and throw a treat about three feet behind her.

To get the treat, she had to turn and come toward me, which garneredmore praise.The minute she picked up the treat, I’d repeat my request for her to come, throw another biscuit, turn and walk a short distance in the opposite direction and repeat the scenario.When she finally got to me, I would give her extra pets, lots of praise and a special high value treat. If I had time, we’d go to the dog park or the river for a swim. If time was short, we’d play a quick game of fetch or tug-a-war and I would leave her in the yard or the house with a yummy stuffed Kong.

"Come" became a joyful, positive experience. For seven wonderful years she honored my request as quickly as possible, always with a smile on her face and happiness in her eyes.The same now holds true for my current rescue, an 11-year-old Malamute mix who never had any kind of training.

To train your companion properly, your best option is to take him to obedience class, preferably one using positive training methods rather than scruff, roll and intimidate.If you don’t have time for class, or there isn’t one in your area, you can use the techniques below to help your dog learn to come.Recall training involves time, patience, and a pocket full of high value treats.Before you begin, your dog should know how to "sit" and "stay”.

Start with an 8′ – 10’lead attached to the dog’s collar (clip, not choke).Ask him to sit at your side and then tell him to stay.Praise him, then step in front of him, turn, face him, and back up about 4′.If he moves from the sit/stay position, go back and correct him.Praise him gently and return to the position in front of him.Say his name and "come” in a high happy voice and give a very gentle tug on the lead.Don’t haul him in like a fish on a line; use short, gentle tugs. As he moves towards you, bend down, praise him, and repeat the command.When he gets to you, praise him, ask him to sit in front of you, and praise him again.Do this exercise daily, two-to-three times a day for 5 minutes or 10 minutes. Once he understands what you want, move further away before calling him.

Slowly increase the distance, then begin running backwards as you call him.Use lots of praise and, if you wish, give him a treat.As he becomes more adept at coming, use a longer lead, up to 50 feet, and begin introducing distractions.Remember – never ever get mad.You want "come” to mean good things happen.

When not in a formal training session, you should call him when he’s loose in the yard.Use the command and, when he looks towards you, say something like, "Yes, good boy.Come.”When he comes, give him lots of praise or a treat then let him go back to whatever he was doing.

Once he’s coming from 15′ to 30′ feet away, take him to a fenced, open area such as a tennis court.Leave the lead attached to the collar and let him run and sniff for a few minutes, then use the "come” command.Praise him the minute he comes, then let him go.You might call him two or three times, take him outside the court for a few minutes, then take him back in and let him go again.You can do the same thing at a dog park when he’s off leash.Again, "come” means good stuff happens, it should not necessarily mean an end to playing with friends, chewing a stick or chasing a toy.