The word “come”, in the mind of your dog, should mean she should come over to you immediately. If you have been using the word “come” and your dog has not been responding to it, you may need to use another word to be your come when called cue, such as “here” or “lets go.” Using the a word over and over without teaching the dog what the word means will lead to the dog just ignoring that sound. Saying the word over and over is about as helpful as saying a word louder to someone who doesn’t understand the language :-). Never punish your dog for coming to you, even if she misbehaved. For safety’s sake, you want your dog to come to you whenever you give the command without fear that she’ll be punished. If you catch her misbehaving, redirect her attention to a behavior that can be rewarded.
Training should begin in an area with few distractions, such as indoors with no other pets or children present. The time to teach recall is NOT when you really NEED it. The distractions are simply too great. After your dog comes to you about 90% of the time indoors, it’s time to add distractions by going outdoors. When outdoors, have your dog on leash when you are training her to come when called. Use your happy voice, bend down or squat, slap your thigh or squeak a toy to coax her to come to you if she does not immediately respond to your verbal cue or command. Making your profile smaller by squatting down and turning to the side will make you less intimidating. Watch direct eye contact as well. Looking directly into the eyes of a dog that is fearful will make her less likely to come to you. Do not pull on the leash because your dog’s opposition reflex will kick in and make her go in the opposite direction.
Game 1: Round and Round We Go
Two or more people sit spaced evenly apart from one another. The distance between the humans will depend on the dimensions of the room. One person calls the dog. When she turns toward the person calling her that person gives her lots of praise and encouragement to come and gives her a tasty treat when she gets there. The treat needs to be given right away for the recall to be rewarded. If the dog sits before she gets the treat, it was sit that was rewarded. The next person does the same thing. Keep trading off who calls your dog and mix it up so she does not anticipate who will be the next to call.
Game 2: Go Get It and Return
Couple recall training with fetch. Throw a ball or toy. As soon as your dog starts to return to you, say the command for recall, i.e. “come.” Reward her as above with either a tasty treat and praise OR with they reward of throwing another toy in a different direction. Repeat. This is a great way for some dogs to learn a speedy come when called.
Game 3: Grab the Grub
Some dogs are not toy motivated, but most are food motivated. Use treats that are large enough to see. Roll/throw the treat a very short distance to begin with, approximately 1-2 feet away. As soon as she gets the treat, call her back to you. When she gets to you, reward her as above and toss a treat in a different direction.
Game 4: Come and Get Me
Your dog may respond quicker when you face away from her, rather than square in front, which she may perceive as confrontational. Give your dog your recall command, as soon as she looks at you, turn and run/trot away from her. Use your happy voice to keep her attention. Most likely, your dog will chase after you. Give her lots of praise when she catches you. Note: Do NOT encourage children to have a dog chase them.
Game 5: Hide and Seek
Have your dog sit and stay in one room while you hide out of sight behind a piece of furniture or around a corner. Alternatively, you can have someone hold your dog if she cannot stay on her own. In a happy voice, call your dog and encourage her to find you. Make it easy at first, so she’ll easily find you, then gradually make it harder. Give lots of praise, treats and/or play a favorite game when she finds you.
One word about rewarding. Once your dog starts to come to you 8 out of 10 times, start to vary they reward (food or toy). Always give praise, but start to give the reward every other time, then every third, then every fourth, then back to every other, etc… This is called a variable rate of reward and will give you a much stronger behavior compared to constant reinforcement. It’s the same concept that makes gambling so addicting in humans.
If you have any other thinks for recall I’d love to hear them! Let me know what you think.