Brandon McMillan's Canine Minded | How to Teach Your Dog to “Come” When Called…
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How to Teach Your Dog to “Come” When Called…

How to Teach Your Dog to “Come” When Called…

Professional dog trainers refer to it as the “Recall.” The average dog owner knows it as simply “Come.” Both are the same command and are extremely important to teach your dog. The come command is not only the cornerstone of obedience training, but it also can be a lifesaver. I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve seen people hiking with their dog in the hills of Los Angeles and they’re yelling at the top of their lungs for their dog to come back. Meanwhile their dog is just trotting along……in the opposite direction. The come command can be one of the more challenging techniques to teach a puppy because puppies are basically as loyal as their options. A young dog’s mind works like a perfectly timed clock. Every 10 seconds it resets and it’s onto the next best thing and this is why the come can be so challenging to teach a puppy. Well fear no more because I’ve devised a plan that I’ve used on hundred of dogs over the years. Time to teach that little fur ball to come once and for all. Let’s get geared up…

We’re gonna need a location and a few tools to train this technique. We’ll need an open field, a 25 ft long lead, a harness, a clicker (dog must be conditioned to clicker to do this) and finally a bag of treats they really like. If they like toys better then pick a few of their favorites. And last but not least if you’re using treats be sure they’re hungry when you train so training at meal time is highly recommended. Training a dog that just ate is kinda like offering a job to a millionaire. The interest level drops dramatically. So now we’re geared up, let’s break this down…

Again I stress the importance of making sure your dog is clicker trained before training this technique. (see below on how to condition dog to clicker) With treats in your treat bag and the long lead attached to your dog go ahead and let the lead go. Most likely your dog will start wandering off looking for something to do. When they get about 10 feet away we’re gonna say their name followed by the command “Come” in a very inviting voice and maybe even clap our hands a couple times (optional) and watch what they do. If they turn and even look at us we’re gonna click. If they begin to come to us we’re gonna click again. And finally when they get all the way to us we once again click, praise and reward. If your dog doesn’t come when called we’re gonna grab the leash and give one good tug. The momentum of the tug will get them coming toward us. When they’re heading toward us we click once. When they get all the way to us we once again click, praise and reward. The clicker lets them know what they’re doing right step by step. Once again we’re gonna repeat the steps as shown above. Letting the leash go, ensuring they wander off and their attention is elsewhere but this time let them wander a couple feet further. Then we say their name followed by the “Come” command. If they look our direction we click. If they move towards us we click again. And when they get all the way to us we click, praise and reward. If they don’t come when called we simply give the leash a tug and drop it right way which will get their momentum moving towards us. As they’re moving towards us we click to let them know what they’re doing is correct and click, praise and reward when they get all the way to us. We’re gonna repeat this process over and over, making sure to let them get another foot or two further with each time we call them back to us. Eventually when they’re ready we’re gonna let them wander past the entire distance of the leash now making it a little more tricky to pull them back if needed. Don’t worry, if they run you’ll easily catch them as all you need to do is step on the leash. Remember we’re not gonna let them get distance like this until we know they’re ready so be sure they’re coming back to you every time before we move on to that level. This process will be repeated everyday for a week. As they grasp the command better over the next few days we’re gonna give less treats and more praise. I call this the lottery system. Much like a lottery you don’t win the prize every time. So here’s how we’re gonna do it. We repeat the steps above but this time we’re gonna only give food reward 8 of 10 times making sure to give food on 1st one and the 10th one. The next day we’ll give a food reward 6 of 10 once again making sure to give food on the 1st and the 10th. And the next day 4 of 10. And the 2 of 10 until finally we eliminate food altogether. This is the simple process of weening them off food effectively making them not totally dependent on food to work. The lottery system solves this problem and it makes them eagerly want to do the command because they’re always wondering if the next time is the one with food. Keep in mind weening takes different times for different dogs. No 2 dogs are the same so we ween as progress is seen.

As always the training techniques are in the details. First of all I want to make one thing very clear. NOT ALL DOGS ARE MEANT TO BE OFF LEASH DOGS!!  Did I make myself clear? If not I’ll yell it again. Now a dog park or a confined area is safe but a hike or open field with no fence is risky with a dog that’s not grasping the technique. (Very young puppies rarely grasp this so keep that in mind) This is for you to decide when training them. If you’re seeing any hint that they have a wandering eye that’s difficult to get back on you while out in an open field and you can’t seem to get them past it then they might be a bad candidate for an off leash dog. It doesn’t mean they won’t learn the technique and come when called in your house, yard, etc. It just means the open wilderness should be off limits. Safety first. This is why I highly recommend training this at feeding time so it really motivates them to come back to you. Food is money to a dog so have denominations. For example, a regular milk bone might be a $5 bill but a jerky treat is more like a $20. And it’s always good to have the $100 bills in the pouch like marinated steak and chicken. This will keep any dog’s attention on you but only use the hotter bait if absolutely needed. Also keep in mind when praising and rewarding, be sure the longer the recall they’re doing the more heavier praise and reward to give them. If it’s 20 feet reward them at a level 5. If it’s 50 feet reward them at a level 10. Also it’s important to note that training this technique on a puppy with a lot of distractions around is very difficult at first. I’d recommend doing the first few days totally distraction free before you start adding in distractive elements. This way they grasp the concept before taking it to the next level. You don’t want that young little brain of theirs working too fast because that’s what causes it to shut down. Slow and steady wins the race. Remember what I said above about the lottery system? This is vital you give you food on the 1st one and the 10th one. We give food on the 1st one to get their mind in gear to come to us again. Then we randomly give food throughout the session hence the lottery system, keeping them guessing which time they’ll get the prize next until finally we ALWAYS end it with food as this leaves a good impression of the command and they’re eager to work the next time. This is so important and must be followed. Also I mention in the second paragraph how I want this done on a harness. A choke chain, a pinch, Martingale or even a regular flat collar is never recommended for this technique as it’s dangerous for their trachea if you have to pull the long lead when they’re running in the opposite direction. And last but not least I specifically said the dog must be clicker trained to properly execute this technique. The clicker let’s them know exactly what they’re doing right step by step. If your dog is already conditioned to the clicker then great. If not, see below for instructions. And that’s all she wrote on this one. Remember as I say dog’s learn at the speed of life, not the speed of light. We only move onto the next level when the dog is ready, not when we’re ready. Try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes. Ruff.

– Brandon

Clicker Conditioning: For 3 days, every couple hours I want you to grab a small handful of treats (something the really like) and click and treat over and over till done. Do this every few hours for a few days. This will condition them to the sound of the clicker, in turn they’ll make the connection the clicking sound equals treat reward. 

 

 

 

13 Comments
  • Jolene Schauman
    Posted at 11:56h, 11 April Reply

    Thank you for the great tips on commands. I was hoping to find help on potty training my 11/2 yr. old King Charles Cavalier spaniel. We have trained him to go outside but he still had mistakes?!? It has gotten to the point where I can’t trust him anymore and I have to keep him kenneld or leashed All the time. I want to enjoy my puppy again. What can I do to help my dog become successful?

    Thank you,
    Jolene Schauman

  • Anas
    Posted at 07:30h, 11 May Reply

    I trained 3 of my balgees with snapping my fingers instead of using a clicker, and associated (Stay, Sit, Lay, Come, Good, and Jump) commands with American Sign Language. I can sign a command to them too without using words and they’ll still follow the command. It’s best to stick with one word ASL commands, as it gets too complicated for them. My dogs have learned over 30 ASL signs.

  • Adam Johan
    Posted at 04:46h, 17 May Reply

    It really works! Thank you for teaching me Brandon..

  • Patrick Haggerty
    Posted at 20:09h, 21 July Reply

    I think this is one of the best articles you have ever written. Thanks.

  • Barbara Brown
    Posted at 17:28h, 29 July Reply

    Hi Brandon,
    I watch your show every Saturday and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you do! I have a one year old Austrailian cattle dog/border collie and she has started to bark and lunge at other dogs on our walks. She just wants to play and is not aggressive towards them but the other owners and other dogs don’t know she just wants to play. I tell her no and tug on her leash and tell her it’s not important but it just doesn’t seem to work anymore. If she was at home I would put her in time out which works very well but I can’t very well put her in time out on our walk. I am at a loss on what to do now. She is very smart and learns quickly but I can’t figure out what I have done to make her think this is OK. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you,
    Barbara Brown and Shelby

  • Chelle adkins
    Posted at 21:38h, 10 September Reply

    Brandon you are amazing. Thanks for all you do for dogs. And thanks for instructions on off leash. Can’t wait to try it.

  • Kristi Foster
    Posted at 02:14h, 16 September Reply

    Help! I adopted a dog yesterday that was found on the side of the road and about to be taken to a shelter. I absolutely fell in love with him. He is approximately 5mo old…German Shepard/ Husky mix. Since I’ve had him he is aggressive while eating. And constantly nips your feet, arms, legs…whatever he can. He does the basic commands very well. Is this something he can be taught out of….How can I “NIP” THESE PROBLEMS?
    I need Brandon’s help!

  • smitha
    Posted at 21:56h, 07 October Reply

    Hi,
    Is it possible to teach a 21/2 year old dog come command. My dog does not come to me unless I offer food or he is in a mood to obey. I want to teach him come command.

    Thanks,
    Smitha

  • Dee
    Posted at 16:34h, 09 January Reply

    I have a 10 month Great Pyreneese who is very good with everything but Come. We have tried all the normal training tips and if she sees a chance to run out the door she bolts and nothing will stop her. I read your technique on trying come and have tried this . She bolts and when she hits the end of leash is too strong for me to hold. Do you have any ideas?
    Thank you

  • Pat
    Posted at 19:35h, 20 February Reply

    How do you stop kennel dash. My dog shot out our door twice and doesnt come back when called. We adopted him from pet rescue shop.

  • Bonita Abshire
    Posted at 17:03h, 11 June Reply

    Wow, the methods are amazing. These are so easy that anyone can train his dog the come command easily. Hope that it will help me in a great extent to teach my David these tricks. Thanks a ton. 🙂

  • Jenniffer Jude Slachtovsky
    Posted at 17:28h, 02 December Reply

    During clicker training, do we practice a certain command with them or review all their commands with them in order to give them a goal, or do we just randomly click treat reward for no particular reason? Again your the awesomest!

  • K Azuma
    Posted at 22:41h, 26 November Reply

    My dog does a perfect ‘come’ in the house but inconsistent outdoor. We’ve been taking him to a large off leash park where he eventually comes back but it immediately when called, especially something else going on or exciting. Can he still be retrained even he is half-trained stage (and not freshly trained)!?

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