Reliable recall is essential to a trustworthy dog human relationship. If you plan to have your dog off leash outside of a fenced in yard or park, try this two-part method to teaching your dog to come when called.
Part 1: Name Recognition
This is one of the most important of all skills that we ask of our dogs and the first step to coming when called. To teach your dog to immediately respond to her name, practice the Name Game. This simply involves saying her name when she’s not looking at you and when she turns around to look at you, mark (say YES) and reward! You will start this when you are right next to your dog. Her name just means “pay attention” so you will reward just for her turning and looking at you. (Remember, if you teach your dog their name means “Come”, it makes for a less versatile dog, because you have no way of getting their attention if it’s safest they stay where they are.) If your dog is unable to respond, don’t say their name again! Your dog is telling you it’s too hard. Before you say their name again, change something so it’s more likely your dog can succeed. You can get closer to her (sometimes, right down next to her ear, especially if she is focused on looking at or smelling something) or move her a little further from the distraction. In the meantime, also be sure not to use your pup’s name too often or it will become unimportant to her. We suggest you make up nicknames instead.
Part 2: Asking a Dog to Move To You
Once a dog is reliably responding to their name in a variety of circumstances, start asking them to move towards you. Again, start with easy, controlled situations. When teaching any behavior, first teach your dog the behavior is valuable. So, only say the cue ‘COME’ when you are almost 100% sure she will! What if you aren’t sure your dog will come? First and foremost, set your dog up for success as much as possible. If you aren’t sure your dog will listen and move towards you, adjust the situation so they can succeed. If that’s not possible, go and get your dog instead. Use inviting ‘prompts’ such as short, staccato noises, crouching down to make yourself more appealing, or moving in the opposite direction, all which dogs often find instinctually inviting. Don’t hesitate to be silly and make it a game! You want moving towards you to be fun and rewarding! Over the next few months, gradually increase the distance you call your dog from. Then increase the level of distraction. Don’t push the process. and don’t ask for recalls beyond your dog’s skill level. That will only be frustrating for you, and it teach your pup the cue is irrelevant. Take this training slow and steady.
Now it’s time to practice both!
Depending on the situation when out on walks, you can practice the Name Game as well as coming when called. You will have to adjust your standard to what your dog is ready for based on how distracting the situation is. Work on just the Name Game if it’s a highly distracting situation such as seeing a deer or another dog. Practice recall if it’s a moderately distracting situation such as smelling another dog’s pee. Once your dog can reliably respond to her name around big distractions, you can work on calling. her away from them. To start, get close to her to make it easier on both of you. Once your dog can reliably move towards you in a particularly difficult situation, start using the cue ‘COME.’
Questions? Check out our virtual and in-person Behavior Workshops!