Teaching A Dog To Come When Called, Dog Recall Training
Learn how to teach your dog a reliable come when called behavior.
Imagine your dog sneaking out of the house and running toward the busy road. You burst out “FIDO, COME!” Fido immediately stops in his tracks, does a fast U-turn and runs right into your arms. You whoop it up with him, give him lots of treats, and have a good time jumping around with him. Whew! You just potentially saved your dog’s life.
In order to get this response, your dog must not think twice about what you are asking him to do. He must be able to stop on a dime, and immediately run back to you, ignoring everything else in his environment. This means that when you teach a reliable recall or come when called, it must always be fun, exciting and novel. Remember, you will eventually be competing with some pretty challenging things in his environment (squirrels, dogs, cats, etc.).
I often hear dog parents complain that their “dog doesn’t come when called.” When I ask them what they have done to train and practice a recall, almost 100% of the time, they tell me “I call him in from outside and give him a treat.” That’s not training a behavior. That’s hoping he will do it, and if he does, giving him a pretty low reward, usually not valuable enough to get him to come off of something more exciting than a random dog treat. AND, to top it off, in the dog’s eyes, they are actually being punished for coming when called. How? Well, if the dog wanted to play in his yard and was enjoying sniffing around, and he came when you asked, and you took him inside the house….you ENDED his fun. Very likely in the future, he will think twice about coming, and will probably blow you off because sniffing in the yard is more valuable than that treat.
So, where do you start when you want to teach your dog a really reliable recall? I always start with The Name Game and build that behavior up through distractions. The Name Game teaches your dog to turn to look toward you when you say his name. You must work through varying degrees of difficulty in order to get a reliable Name Game. That said, in reality, my Name Game IS my COME WHEN CALLED! Dexter’s name is so valuable, he comes when I say it.
OK. Let’s start the come-when-called training. Here are the basic steps I take to teach the behavior. First, I try really hard for it to not feel like a dog training lesson. In other words, when you are grabbing your dog’s favorite toys and treats, don’t let him see you do it. You will want the behavior to feel real, not set up.
Recall/Come When Called Training Level 1
- Work in a non-distracting, large, or open environment. Great rooms, hallways, and garages make nice areas to work in.
- Have your dog’s favorite dog treats and motivational dog toys on you as his reward. You are not going to show him his prize first as a lure; he will come first, then receive his prize.
- Say your dog’s name in an upbeat, fun tone. If your Name Game is primed and functioning, this will make him come! Right after his name, when he turns his head, make novel sounds, smooches, and happy talk. High-pitched, repetitive sounds make dogs want to come and move. This novel sound will eventually be replaced with your recall word (Come, Here, Now, etc.), so it’s important to make the noise.
- As your dog is running your way, encourage him to come with your body language (tapping your legs, squatting down, etc.), and YOU move away from him. Moving away from him as he is coming, will encourage him to come faster. Speed is what you are going for. The faster he comes, the less likely he will be to get distracted along the way on a real come-when-called session.
- When he arrives, to you, have an AMAZING PARTY! Food, play, jumping around, whatever it takes to have him SUPER excited he came to you. You should be thinking Disney Land. Even though this should be easy for your dog (remember, no distractions), your payoff needs to represent coming off those big distractions in the future. You are setting the foundation. If he doesn’t think it’s exciting, he won’t be coming when called away from any distractions.
Practice Level 1 for at least a solid week (5-10 different times a day) before even considering moving to Level 2. What your dog must be able to do reliably and consistently is come as fast as he can without any hesitation, and without seeing his reward first. As he continues his success, change the room locations you are asking him to come. Asking at this point is still Name Game, Novel Noise, Body Language and Running Away. All taking place inside the house, without any distractions.
Recall/Come When Called Training Level 2
- Repeat the same set up as Level 1. This time, you will fade the running away part. So, it will be his Name, Novel Noise, and Body Language.
- Repeat his AMAZING PARTY!
Once again, practice Level 2 for at least a solid week, maybe 2 (5-10 different times a day). Varying rooms, and still looking for speed and reliability.
Recall/Come When Called Training Level 3
- It’s time to add some mild distractions. This time, when you are walking your dog on his leash, randomly allow him to sniff at the end of the leash. After about 5 seconds of sniffing, say his name, and novel sound. HOPEFULLY, it’s not too distracting, and you can reward with his AMAZING PARTY! After your party, run with him to the sniffy spot, and encourage him to sniff and investigate.
- Wow! A win-win for him. He came off the sniffs, had a party, then got to go sniff (with you) again. Lucky boy. ***If he does not come off of sniffing, it is too hard. Shorten his leash, slowly walk away from the sniffy spot, and try again. When he does then come, it’s still his AMAZING PARTY! But, you should practice Level 2 more.
- Practice Level 3 for at least 2-3 weeks (5-10 different times a day). Varying controlled distractions. Controlled distractions mean that if your dog chooses to blow you off, he cannot get the thing he was distracted by. So, he can be on a leash, you can have a friend help by holding a distraction, etc. Continue to look for speed and reliability. If you move too quickly through the levels, and your dog is barely able to do it, you will stumble in your training. You want him solid at each level.
Recall/Come When Called Training Level 4
- At this point, I like to add the come when called word (come, here, now, etc.).
- This time, it will be his Name, Novel Sound, then his new RECALL word. Over time, you will start to fade the Novel Sound, and just use his Name, followed by his recall word.
There you have it. The basic foundation of come when called. As your dog progresses, you will start to add controlled distractions. Good luck!
- Do not EVER call your dog and punish him. If you have in the past, you need to change your recall word. He has already associated that word to mean bad things are going to happen if he does come.
- Coming to you is ALWAYS fun and enjoyable.
- Do not chase your dog. This goes for the kids too.
- Do not use your recall word unless you are SURE your dog will come. At first, this should be on leash or when your dog is already coming to you. What you do not want is to call your dog, and he does not listen to you, this just reinforces him to not pay attention to you or your recall word.
- AMAZING PARTY-BIG IMPRESSION-EXPENSIVE BEHAVIOR-This is the behavior that could save your dog’s life! Remember that every time you work on this lesson.