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How to teach your dog to come when called?

In this post I'll teach you how to get your dog to come whenever you call him.

What to expect when asking a recall

Before starting, it's important to be extremely clear on what you expect of your dog when asking them to come. Your dog should return to you the instant they hear you recalling them and they should return in reach for you to leash them. Not once should you expect any less. Otherwise your dog might take advantage of this inconsistency.

Often I see people rewarding their dog after a recall at an arm-length distance. You should however ask your dog to come as closely as possible. Because when stress will be higher, they might back off one more step and you won't be able to grab them. By making sure they return very close to you, you'll be able to put a leash on them easily.

Most often when you call your dog, it will be a serious situation and you won't have the time to chase them afterwards.

Why should you teach the recall

The recall is the most important command you can teach your dog. It is the number 1 thing he should know before you are able to take him off leash. If your dog would be getting in any kind of danger, like running up to a street or another dog, the recall will ensure you can get your dog back to safety.

Start the first training sessions without too much distractions

First off, it's important your dog understands what you're expecting of him. To teach this, start by training inside your home or garden. Since he already knows all the smells in these places, it'll be easier for him to not get distracted.

When you're living together with someone, sit across the room and call your dog from one person to another. Make sure to reward generously every time your dog reaches either one of you after calling.

Start at a short distance

Often people start their training when the dog is off leash and running around like crazy. By doing so, you're setting your dog up for failure. During the first session, even when your dog is right next to you. Move away enthusiastically and call your dog to come. This will be the first association with the word come. It'll be fun and they will be learning something important.

As I said at the beginning of this video, make sure to lure your dog very close to you. Make a habit out of this so your dog doesn't learn to stop before he reaches you. Make sure to lure your dog and not pull the leash. Pulling the leash often results in your dog pulling the other direction.

Mind the tone your using

Your dog has probably already learned that whenever you are yelling at him, he's better off not returning to you since you are about to punish him. That's why no matter how frustrated you might get because your dog isn't returning to you, keep it positive. Make sure to sound like someone he wants to get close to and of course make sure to reward him when he finally returns to you.

Using a long leash

If you're not quite sure whether or not your dog will return to you when he's off leash, make sure to keep him leashed. In order to be able to train his 'recall', use a 10 or 15m leash. This will give him the feeling of being free while still providing you with the necessary control to keep it safe.

Using a release command

When recalling your dog, use a release command like 'okay' or 'free' to let your dog know when he can once again leave you. This is important to make sure your dog doesn't learn to run up to you and immediately leave you again. So make sure to reward your dog and only let them

Not combining 'come' and 'sit'

Many people ask their dog to come and immediately ask them to sit. The reward is then always followed after the sit. The 'come' command itself isn't really rewarded in these situations. Therefor, when training the recall: reward the recall. Once the dog reaches you and is really close to you: reward him.

Calling them randomly/unexpected

When your dog is quite successful in returning to you during these training sessions. Start by randomizing the recall. Let your dog sniff around for a bit and when he's not paying attention, call him. If he has gotten the basics down, this shouldn't prove all that difficult. If he won't change his attention from whatever he's doing back to you, use the leash to guide him back. After the first few 'guided' steps, he'll probably start running back on his own. Make sure to reward your dog so he'll learn to return immediately.

Every now and then, call your dog when he's not expecting it. This will prepare your dog for when you'll really need him to come back to you. At moments when he's distracted, you still need him to react to your voice. You never know what dangerous situation you might find yourself or your dog in.

Start by calling your dog's name. This needs to be a cue that the next command is important. Then use your recall command.

Rewards: Food vs toys

There are advantages to both using food and toys during training. While food is a nice treat that'll provide your dog with the right feedback and keeps your dog calm, it's also quickly swallowed. Some dogs might also have a hard time taking the treat when they are overly stimulated.

If your dog is highly motivated by toys, these can give you the edge when training the recall. Even at a distance, your dog will be able to see that you're holding something. (which isn't that easy with food since they can't smell it at a distance)

When your dog returns to you, you can also reward him with some play time ensuring he stays close to you.

Make it fun

Coming back to you should always be followed by something your dog enjoys. This will ensure they come running back to you in a straight line whenever you call them. If your dog knows the recall, but it isn't necessarily fun to return to you, they might just walk back slowly, turning around every now and then.

You can also call your dog to come and start moving backwards to make them want to follow you.

In many cases the dog actually learns to not come to close to their owners because coming to the owner is most often not followed by something pleasant. When recalling the dog, in many situations this means the fun has ended. You put a leash on your dog, or he needs to give the toy, or ... But there's no fun in this. That's why they start to stop at a bigger distance.

Therefor you should train the recall very often. You can also ask your dog to come on random occasions and just let him run back off afterwards as a reward.

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