Teaching your puppy to “Come” when called, by Niki Elliott
Coming when called is one of the most important exercises to teach your puppy.
You need to always make it worthwhile and rewarding for him to come back to you. For some puppies it is as easy as 1,2 3, but for others it is the most challenging of behaviours, especially when your pup has to choose between complying with your request or following his nose on a highly smelly trail!
Teaching a recall takes time, loads of enthusiasm and plenty of practice.
Recall is a chain of behaviours so teach each part of the chain separately. Begin training the recall from the day you get your puppy. Start in a low distraction area and call your puppy to you, use the word “Come”. As he comes to you click and reward him. Repeat this 10 – 20 times each day over 2 – 3 days. Set him up for success. Watch him and as you see him turn to come to you, say “Come” just before he gets to you and then click and reward.
If your puppy finds everything else exciting and not you, then you can lure the behaviour. Put a treat in front of your pup’s nose and take a few steps backward. As he follows the treat, click & reward. Once your puppy is following the treat consistently then add, “Come”. Fade the lure as quickly as possible, moving onto just click & treat. Once you have consistent recalls in a low distraction environment, move onto a slightly higher distraction area and so on until you can take the behaviour into a very high distraction area like the park. Gradually increase the distance in a low distraction environment moving onto the more distracting environments when successful.
When walking on lead in the park, suddenly call him and run backwards. When he follows click and reward, make a big fuss. Practice, gradually increasing the distance. If necessary have a long lunge rein and allow him more distance each time before you recall. Each time he returns click and reward.
It is also important to teach your puppy to pay attention to you. Play attention games throughout the day, every time your pup looks at you, reward him with a click and treat. Do this for the next 10 days wherever you both are. After a few days of rewarding his “checking in” start saying his name and then rewarding when he looks at you.
Now it’s time to test the recall off lead. Go back to a low distraction area and recall. Make sure you set your pup up to succeed, so don’t recall when you know it is very unlikely he will respond. Make the sessions fun, exciting and rewarding. Make sure that you don’t reward him by chasing after him if he doesn’t come, this is self-rewarding and will make him think it is a game. Don’t use “Come” to end a play session or to do something that is distasteful for your puppy, like clipping nails. Recall, put your hand on the collar, click and reward and tell him to “Go play” a number of times before clipping on the lead[i]. Once you have got this then move into higher distraction areas and add distance.
Never punish your puppy for coming to you when he was doing something “wrong” when you called him. He stopped doing it and came, that must be rewarded! Never punish him for taking his time to come to you; he still came. If you make it unpleasant the next time he simply won’t come!
Niki Elliott is a Ttouch Practitioner 2 for Companion Animals. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org