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Teach your dog to come

Teach your dog to come when called

The Recall “Come” Bugaboo!
May 13, 1999
Bea Pludow, CPDT

Canine Behavior Specialist, Santa Barbara California

Ok folks here we go. The # 1 complaint of all owners that call me is: My dog won’t “Come” when I call. After a little investigative questioning, if I were their dog I wouldn’t either!

The following is a list of reasons that I have come to understand as the leading culprits to this problem.

1.Dog does not know what the owner is “talking” about.

2.The dog does not know its name (to get its attention int he first place!)

3. The dog finds the environment much more interesting.

4. The dog does not know what the owner is talking about.

5. The dog gets in trouble when it finally comes to the owner

6. The dog thinks come is a game of chase.

7. The dog believes that COME is big TROUBLE!

Let’s set up a typical scenario: Owner gets new puppy, gives puppy a name and believes that just by calling the little cutie over and over again that it knows its name. Most times in the house, the pup is close by and when it hears this word, “Ginger” for example, it is in a voice that is, to her, attractive. She gets some pets and sometimes food is made available. If the owner is lucky the pup will learn that the word, “Ginger” means she gets something she likes. The owner is on the right track!

Unfortunately, most owners don’t continue to reward the dog with anything, it starts to become a word related to something the dog doesn’t particularly want, like confinement, or getting in trouble, “GINGER” you dirty rat!” You ate the corner of the couch” or removed all the tissue from the bathroom basket, or reduced the Gucci shoes to mush! Pretty soon her “Name” is no longer attractive.

Ok, got that picture?

“Ginger” now means TROUBLE!

Then the owner, getting frustrated because the dog doesn’t respond, adds another word! COME so now the dog hears “GINGER, COME” and someone is running after her! OH! Thinks the pup, a new game, “If I hear these words together I get to play keep-away”, and if the owner is really frustrated it also means TROUBLE! If the owner is not really into punishment, it turns into a game for the dog. If the owner believes that when the dog goes away this is the time to administer some physical discomfort and lots of yelling, the dog will decide that it should run very fast and elude the DANGER of the words “GINGER, COME”. Sometimes, when the dog does come back, it gets in trouble ANYWAY!

Now tell me, if you were this dog what on earth would make you decide to respond by going TO that person? For some reason our human culture believes that canines just know they are supposed to return to us no matter what kind of things might happen when they do so. I am here to tell you, IT ISN’T SO! Now, if you are still with me, I have some answers for you!

Perhaps my Scenario was a little different than yours, perhaps you never berated your puppy for coming to you but you still have problems retrieving her from some other activity. What I will tell you can help you teach your pooch, “How Wonderful YOU Are.” It is very important that you understand that “DOGS DO WHAT WORKS.” and DOGS DO NOT COMMUNICATE IN WORDS.’ they can learn what a word means AFTER it learns the behavior, Got that? Read it again and believe it and then we can continue!

The easiest way for me to help here is by giving you some exercises to do with your dog. I will explain each one and then give you the reason for it.

The age of the dog is unimportant; of course if you start a puppy aged 10 weeks to 4 months you might get quicker results. But, I am here to tell you that I retrained my 8 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback Hound to come when I called, after he Believed, it was not a good thing to come to anyone. I won’t tell you the whole story, it would make you cry, but now he joyfully returns even when there are great dogs to play with and wonderful things to smell in the park. The trust I had with him as a puppy and young dog returned when I took a giant step forward in my training technique.

When I realized what it was that would make it WORK FOR HIM!I am now a happy Ridgeback owner again! I also have a Jack Russell Terrier-Border Collie-Heeler (I think!) mix that has a 98% immediate recall, 100% total recall. (By the way, if your dog has not permanently left home, you have a 100% recall!) I have helped many others get great to excellent results when they practice the exercises and remember what works.

Every dog breed has a certain specific genetic backgrounds, some are very connected to humans (i.e. Dobermans, Golden Retrievers, Poodles ) and some are a little more independent (i.e. Jack Russell Terriers, Hounds, Tibetan Mastiffs). Know what your dog has been bred for, understand what his propensity is for learning and behaving is before you begin making training choices. Y ou can train against his genetic make-up, but WHY? Hopefully you made an informed decision about what kind of dog would suit you and your family situation, so that you are ready to train for those attributes.

When you make the choice for a mixed breed, perhaps an older dog adoption, try to decide what his genetic background might be, ask questions about the dogs activity level, if he likes people more then dogs or visa versa, observe him in an environment that he is comfortable in. I suppose my drive here is; make an informed decision, not just an emotional one, or one based on looks.

Ok, I will climb down off my soap-box and give you some information on the dog you have now. This is why you are here right?

Exercise #1.  Teach your pet her name. 

Yes, thats the first step folks! First: test to see if she knows her name. Stand quitely in the same room with your dog, when she is not looking at you, say her name in a clear and friendly tone ONCE. Notice the response you get. You may get an ear twitch or a half hearted head turn. (This is where you have to start!) Does she come over right away and look you in the eye? Great! You have half the battle won. Now turn away and try again. Same response? What is your response to her when this happens? How does she know she did something correct? What is it that WORKS for her when you say her name? Get our of yourself and look at what you are doing. Is your dog happy to look you in the eye? If so, then you are doing something that works and it is rewarding to the dog. Now, if your dog ignores you or acts less interested or ducks her head and slinks away, OOPS you goofed, or in the case of a rescue dog, you have not developed the trust and good will that is necessary to begin a training program. Let alone a reliable recall.When you have determined how your dog responds to her name, you can then begin to understand and adjust your training method.

Exercise #2.  Joyful Eye Contact.

You want your dog to search you out and look you in the eye when you say her name. This is the beginning. You will reward her for doing so. REWARD, (food, play, affection, excitement, be HAPPY!) not just praise “good dog”, unless you have a Golden Retriever! We will get into this difference soon. By looking at you she will be feeling confident, safe as it were, of responding to you, waiting for something GREAT to happen. Remember the “Dogs Do What Works” rule from earlier? Good, you gave your dog a name that produces a result that is beneficial or rewarding to her by seeking out the eye contact we discussed. You can now begin to understand how to get these results more often, faster, more reliably. We will discuss just how to let your dog know she has done the right thing, soon, and with fewer Cookies!

You must remember that the environment plays a large part in these exercises. You will be starting in one room and working from that place to another in the same house FIRST. Each place you decide to call your dog from is a new environment, the kitchen to the living room, to the back bedroom, to the porch, to the den, to the kitchen etc. etc. etc. You should test each place in your house inside and out, outside and in with positive results on many tries before you go out the front door and down the street. These too are parts of the tests and exercises. You will be teaching each place and environment as you change locations. You will be doing these with the mind set that you will be seeing your dog responding to you even if it only starts as a LOOK! You will also have to look at what your rewards are and if they and you can compete with the new environment! Please have patience, use a long line if going into the street and you’re not feeling secure about your relationship yet. You don’t want to be in a position where you must go after your dog and possibly put it in danger of the street.

What does “COME” actually LOOK like to the dog? For my dogs it is “running very fast from where they hear the first and only “COME” and then sitting in front of me, as close to my feet as is possible and then looking up into my face.” That is the finished behavior. Some people like to be able to touch the dogs’ collar as part of the behavior and that is a very good criterion also. You must have a picture of the finished product, Behavior, in order to shape or build that really wonderful recall.

Once you get your dogs name established as a Reward-able Behavior, (dog gives itself a whiplash responding)! You can begin the Recall or “COME” exercise. Having some family members helps with this, but, as a single “Mom” of dogs I had to do it on my own. Using “Clicker” training is faster then any other way I know of teaching a Recall (“Come!”) I also want my dog to know that saying his name may mean other things are going to be asked of him. SOOOOO, When you start this, keep in mind, that the CLICK means: behavior done correctly, come get your reward!

It might look like this: “Ginger”! – Dog looks at you from across the room – CLICK- (or”Goooood!!!) – dog returns to you for reward.

Try to make this a fun game that only gets played with high stakes (or is that steaks?)! Play this when you know the dog will respond and no forcing, make the dog want more! Which means quit after 2-4 happy and fast repititions.

Now, when you get this whiplash look from your dog, you can anticipate it and know that the dog will – begin to move forward to you. Now, can you add Come?

No, Not yet!

The only criterion for this part of the behavior is: for the dog to do it very quickly. that is to come running to you; you will “click” the dog while it is moving fast towards you.

When you can simply open your arms to the dog and it comes running, you can go to the next part of the behavior. The next part of the behavior is dog to: Sit in front of you after it has run to you. You should be mixing up where the treats are coming from and NOT have them in your hands. This is important; we are not bribing the dogs to get there, but paying them after they get there. It should be a big suprise

I like to help the dog with my body language, it might look like this: Dog is over there – I say the Name bend at the knees slightly holding my arms out and down, near my knees, with a big grin on my face, as the dog gets very close I step back one full step and straighten up drawing the dog into a sit by pulling my hands up and into my mid chest. The dog follows my hands and automatically sits looking up; ‘Click’ then ‘Big Reward’ and excitement. The reward might be to tug or romp with you or run with you or get roast beef! What ever flips that dog’s switch in a large way!When the dog is offering you this behavior often, you can add the word cue you will use “Just before the dog gets to you” and only for this behavior. What the dog will understand is that moving toward you fast, then sliding into a sit in that special place in front of you is called “COME!” or ? f you have been using “Come” for some other behavior, such as the dog running away from you! Try using “Front” or “Here” if you haven’t got them attached to another behavior.You can start to fade out the bold body language to make it easier and less dramatic. You can practice it less, with bigger rewards when there are distractions around. It is something I always reinforce, if only with a nice scratch and an “Atta’ Boy”. Sometimes, a surprise happens and that is what keeps my dogs coming back at record speed!

For more info on this very successful method, you can ask Bea at

A background of Clicker Training is helpful, but not necessary, being a positive place for your dog to return to IS necessary for the safety and reliability of your dog.

Bea Pludow, CPDT
Canine Behavior Specialist
Santa Barbara, CA

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