There are dog parks where you can take your dog to mingle with the pawty (get it?), but for the most part, you are expected to have your dog on a leash. While you may be a jogger or have a dog that doesn’t care that much for packing on the miles, that isn’t the case with me. As a 64-year-old lady with bad knees and hips, it was always enough for me to take my pooches for ten blocks or so around the neighborhood. But as people became increasingly hostile because their dogs barked at my dogs, that became less attractive. The final straw for me was when my Bruiser was struck by a car and I lost my best friend in an instant.

I found a park seven minutes from my home, but my puppy Sally and my Bruiser replacement, Jax, wanted to run. My old lady body is no match for 85 pounds of puppies pulling on the ends of those leashes, so we hike out away from the paved paths through knee-high grass to sections where Jax can run to his long-legged heart’s desire and Sally-of-the-stubby-legs lies in wait for him to circle back to pounce on him. There are fences and tree lines, but Jax gets enthusiastic chasing birds and there were a few times when I wondered if he had gone too far to hear my voice.

This is one reason you need your dog to come immediately every time you call. Besides not losing your pooch and hoping someone scans his chip (your dog is chipped, right?), there are lots of other reasons to have your pet snap to it when he or she hears your command or a whistle or a clicker. They may be unintentionally heading into traffic, or towards an unknown animal, or someone afraid of them, or a multitude of other situations.

Let me make this perfectly clear. My dogs have always come to me with little training because they wanted to be with me. Jax is a great example of how even puppies will come when called because they love you. Sally is another matter. Sally comes when she feels like it. So we will be taking this trip together as we work toward getting our dog to come to us every single time we call. We will talk about how the “come command”, also called the recall, is a skill that not only has to be taught/learned, but has to be consistently reinforced carefully so your pooch doesn’t get the “come” command confused with other messages you send out.

Choose your words carefully.

I personally believe in using the dog’s name followed by a one-word command because their name gets their attention, then the command tells them what you want. You may THINK they understand, “Come get in the car,” but what they hear is “come” and “car”. Of course, if I call “Sally, come!” it gets her attention, she looks at me, and then usually keeps doing whatever it was she was doing in the first place (which is generally NOT coming). But when I call “Jax, come!” he drops everything to head right to me at a speed that more that once took a little too long to rein in.

The American Kennel Club says that the basis of a really great recall is the relationship you have with your animal.  (insert photo of owner with dog)Always be happy and excited when you say your command and praise her when she successfully comes to you every time. That saying, keep your recalls to times when you want her to move from a location away from you to being by you.

Step One: The Words

The AKC also says you should never use your recall command and then punish your dog for something, or do something she sees as punishment like taking a bath. Don’t recall her and then crate her and leave the house and don’t recall her to take something out of her mouth. This is called “poisoning the cue” and will sabotage your training for Fifi to come on command.  That being said, if your best girl already associates the word “come” with punishment, better pick something else. 

Like “here.” Or “get.” Or “French fry.”  That last one has worked for me. And don’t yell at her and use her name. Instead of, “Sally!  NO!” try to remember maybe “NO! Bad!” or something along those lines. Like kids, the dog in trouble will know who she is.
If your best girl already associates the word “come” with punishment, better pick something else.

In addition, the Training Editor for Whole Dog Journal Pat Miller says to change the way you say your command word. It needs to generate excitement in your dog and translate to, “Woo hoo! Something FANTASTIC is about to happen! I better get over there before I miss it!” Use a loud, excited, happy voice and reward with a num-num (Triumph Dog Treats). You should even practice a bit in the house when he is near so his eyes will light up when he hears the recall command. In the beginning, you just want the association of “happy” with the command word. After awhile, it’s the old Pavlov’s dog thing where you won’t have to give him a treat every time you use the word, but be ready to have treats stockpiled for awhile.

Miller also says not to set yourself up for failure by calling her when she isn’t even going to think about coming, like when she’s eating or drowsy or playing with the kids.  You may even teach her to ignore your recall word!  Yikes!  Then you have to start all over!  You may even get mad and poison your cue.  Same result.  Be sure you can get her attention and say her name.  When she looks at you, call her.  If she doesn’t come, make kiss-y noises, then take a video and send it to me.  Just kidding!  Clap your hands or whatever it is you do to get her to you, then lavish the praise and a treat.  Pets for everyone!

The good news is that you’re ready for Step Two.  The kinda-bad news is that you have to continue to “train” your pet to keep coming when called throughout his life.  If something happens and he stops coming when called EVERY SINGLE TIME, you have to go back to square one.  So save this blog.

Check out this great video!

Step Two

The Humane Society of America says that after you get the Recall Word = Happy association in place, you can move on to Step Two.  Put your partner on a leash and let it go to the end.  A six-foot length (PetSafe Nylon Leash) is plenty long enough. When she starts to come toward you, step backward until she gets to you. When she gets to you, give her a treat and lots of praise.  Shampoo, rinse, repeat.  Over and over. If distractions are too much (more on this later), start practicing in the house.

When she starts to come toward you, step backward until she gets to you. When she gets to you, give her a treat and lots of praise.

Step Three

The Humane Society also states you can graduate to the long, 20-foot training leash after working with your pet on a short leash, or skip the short leash and go straight to the long one. Of course, this has to take place outside unless you have a Trump-sized living room.  If your pooch decides she wants to wander around the yard, you can grab her attention back easily.  You’re going to need someone to help with this stage, however, because your assistant is going to hold your dog in place from behind with their hands across Fifi’s chest.  Hold a yummy in front of her nose (the dog, not the helper) and talk to her (the dog) with excitement.  Run away a few feet and use your recall word, but just once.  This will reinforce to her that there’s no second chance for that treat.  Call her name, clap your hands, make those hilarious kissing noises and any self-respecting dog will run to you.  Unless she’s Sally, who has a little too much self-respect.  But we’re working on it.  Right, Sally!  Oh, yeah!  The helper is to keep your dog from wandering away from the training.  Naturally, he should let your pet go when you call her.  Or this could be another Funniest Home Videos moment.

To make this training game more challenging, go to a different part of the house and call your pooch.  The excited voice and your recall word should immediately register with her that she needs to get on it before that treat is gone.  After a time, the treat won’t be necessary and the praise will be enough. Jacque Lynn Schultz is a Companion Animal Programs Adviser and says ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY DO NOT let your dog off a leash until he is 100% trained to come when called no matter that the environment or distractions. You should also NEVER use the recall work if there’s a chance he won’t come to you because now your training has become an option rather than a command.

Step Four

It’s time to drop the leash.  Keep the distance short, have lots of treats and enthusiasm, and don’t let Fido know at any time that you’re irritated or disappointed.  You don’t want to confuse his training.  Finally, practice, then practice some more, then keep practicing.  Every chance you get, especially when she comes without treats.

What if you aren’t interesting enough? In other words, what about distractions?

But, KC, what about all that stuff that’s more interesting than I am?  No fears, my friends.  There are ways to overcome it, and I’m even making headway on this with Sally (Yes!  It’s true!).

There are apparently about 1000 things more interesting to Sally than I am, while I’m #1 on Jax’s list.  How do you train your dog to come when he’s distracted?  First, make a list of what might distract your dog (birds, squirrels, other dogs, grass, dirt, air) and rank from most distracting to least.  This will help you realize your chances for success during recall training sessions.  And when you may be doomed to failure, at least in the beginning.

Jacque Schultz says that you should practice distractions.  Get that loyal helper to use toys or calling when your dog in on the long leash outside and see if the training is solid enough to overcome temptations of this kind.  If your pet’s attention strays from you, call him again, use your recall word and tempt him.  Run backwards a little, slap your thighs, smile and laugh, but don’t use the recall word again.  Treats and pets for success.  Just try again for failure.  Distractions are abundant in the house, so practice often inside your home.  You should consider switching up your reward to keep up the interest.  Maybe a toy or a game he likes instead of food.

NOTE: Pat Miller says that after your best boy or girl is coming on command, get him or her used to reaching under the chin for the collar.  In a tense off-leash situation, you don’t want a game of Tag trying to get your pet back in control.

Your trusty helper is also a great distraction.  Get him or her to toss a ball and catch it when you call your pet.  See if a treat will talk him out of his loyalty to you.  Have another dog in the yard and have your helper play with it.  The big test may be if your assistant crosses the recall path to you with something tempting like Fido’s favorite toy.  If the distraction proves too much, drop back the strength to something not as interesting and work your way back up again.  Say joggers are SUPER EXCITING!  Start with someone running from about 50 feet away and work up to them running beside you.  And keep Fifi’s attention!  If she follows the runner with her eyes, get her looking back at you right away.

Don’t get discouraged if more training is needed.  Just start back with him on the leash and keep going with starting back with small distractions and working up.  This has to be a life-long skill for both of you.

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