Building a solid come when called

Regardless of why a client has initially approached me for training, when I ask about their training goals, more often than not somewhere on that list of goals is, “Getting him to come when I call him.”

Watson practices recall during a Walk & Train session
Watson practices recall during a Walk & Train session

Come when called, or recall, is an important skill and one with which people struggle. Here are some tips and ways to practice and build reliability with this cue:

  • Seize opportunities to reinforce this cue, like using “come” to call your dog to dinner or to engage in play or another activity he likes.
  • When formally practicing, have the BEST rewards for the dog available. Use the best treats, toys and lots of praise.
  • Start with no distractions in an uninteresting environment, and slowly build your distance, as well as distractions and in different environments. If your dog can’t comply, you have gone too far too fast more than likely, so go back to an easier step and build from there.
  • Be careful to not call your dog to come if you are certain or even unsure if he will actually come. Overusing this cue and not having success with it can work against you! Set up situations that are successful when practicing.
  • Avoid repeating the cue, or “poisoning” the cue. Using it over and over can render it meaningless, and getting frustrated in your tone is another way people can poison the cue. You wouldn’t come to someone if they were yelling at you, would you? You have to be MORE INTERESTING than anything else, and make it as upbeat and happy as possible.
  • Likewise, NEVER PUNISH a dog after you’ve called him to you. It should ALWAYS be rewarding to come to you. Always!
  • Too often people only call their dog when it’s to end the fun, go to the vet, or something else that isn’t really that rewarding for the dog. This is why you should practice frequently with calling the dog without taking away the fun. Practice recall and release–if the dog is having fun in the yard or at the dog park, call him and immediately release him when he comes back to you. It’s important to practice this much more than calling to end the fun so you can make it more positive to come to you, rather than negative, which will build reliability for recall.
  • It’s also important to practice grabbing the dog’s collar so they get used to this feeling, in case you ever do have to do that. By practicing and making it fun, and pairing it with an awesome treat, you can make it something they won’t react to negatively down the road.
  • If you have a rescue or rehomed dog, remember they may have negative experiences with the word “come” because of being punished, or it may be useless due to overuse or negative tone with the cue, so you may want to change the cue to something else, like “here” or “cookie” or whatever you wish!
  • Remember to use a long lead for safety when you begin practicing in public areas!
  • If your dog isn’t responding to you, remember to use high-pitched tones and noises, kiss sounds and even whistles, get down low and pat your leg. Men may have to work harder at this, as their voices are naturally lower. You can even do a play bow and run away–play chase YOU! Alternately throwing down treats may be a good last resort, particularly if the dog has gotten off-leash in a public area.
  • Make it fun to practice! Doing round robins with family members or friends where you practice calling the dog back and forth can be a fun game. Hide-and-go-seek games where you can also reinforce sit-stays/down-stays while going into another room of the house or hiding in your yard is also a great way to practice. Fetch is a popular game that also helps reinforce recall skills.
  • Remember, what is your criteria for come when called? Is it for the dog to come and sit and look at you? This is what I teach clients. Don’t use the cue for other actions either–it is confusing. Only use come when you want to dog to come to you, and be clear about your criteria so you don’t confuse your dog.

Questions? Need more help? I can help you practice this cue and build a successful recall so contact me if you would like to set up some training sessions.

Happy training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

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