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. 

 

 

 

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