How To Teach Dogs To Come When Called
Being able to call your dog to you, in all situations, is the most important behavior you can train. Dogs that have a reliable come when called are given more privileges.
They can hike off leash. They can play in areas that do not have fences. They can hangout in the yard during chores, gardening etc. When your dog has a great come when called, you don’t need to be tethered to each other.
Most dogs can be taught to come when called. Arguably there are a few exceptions.
Hunting breeds, such as beagles, hounds and terriers have brains that are hard- wired to put their nose to the ground and follow a scent for days, or to chase and kill vermin. It can be very challenging and nearly impossible to train a reliable come when called with these breeds. This is a broad generalization. For example, a hound that is poorly bred, may not have a lot of hunting genetics and may be very easily trained to come when called. Each dog is different.
When should you begin to train your dog to come back to you? As soon as the dog or puppy comes home! Last October, when I brought Giovanni (Gio) home, he was eleven months old and I immediately began training him to come to me when I said his name. Consequently, he has a great come when called. I have even called him off of a flock of turkeys and running deer.
How did I do this? By practice, practice, practice and being extremely generous with exceptionally delicious food.
The three most common mistakes you will make when teaching your dog to come when called are:
Being stingy with the treats
Expecting too much, too soon
Testing the dog, “I wonder if he’ll come now”
Being Too Stingy
Most people are simply too stingy. We have this notion, this humanistic view, that our dogs should come to us just because we’ve called them. I would challenge you with why should they? Dogs are looking out for their own best interest. It’s our job to make it in their best interest to come when called by being extraordinarily generous with delicious treats such as chicken, cheese, roast beef and the caviar for most dogs, liver worst.
I started teaching Gio to come to me in the house. Every single time I called him and he came to me I lavished food on him. My goal was to build a foundation that when he heard his name and came to me, it was unequivocally worth his while.
Expecting Too Much
I made it easy for him to make the right choice at first. When we were outside, I would call him back to me when he was five steps away, then ten steps away, then fifteen steps away, all in the familiar environment of our back yard. Every time he came to me, I was super extra generous with delicious food. Why? It had to be worth his while to leave the smells of squirrels, other dogs, and a hundred other things I can’t detect. If I didn’t want to play the come when called game, he was leashed. I never wanted him to learn how much fun it was to run around without me. Don’t expect your dog to race back to you simply because you’ve spent one week practicing. You want to practice fifty times for every real time you need him to come to you.
Testing the Dog
Years ago I worked with a young couple training their dog to come to a whistle. The dog was doing great. The next time we met, they informed me that the dog hadn’t come to them. I asked for details. They were at a local lake with geese floating around. Their dog loved to swim and loved geese. They let the dog race towards the water, start swimming towards the geese and then they called her back, because they “wanted to see what she would do.” No, she didn’t come, they were testing her instead of teaching her. They needed to call her as soon as she saw the geese, lavished food upon her and leashed her to prevent her from running away.
Being extra generous with both quality and quantity of treats is the number one way to ensure that you are building a foundation of reinforcement for your dog. Making it worth your dogs while to come to you is the name of the game. Keep your expectations realistic. You are going to need fifty successful practices for every real life come when called. Teach the dog, set her up for success. Having a reliable come when called is the most important behavior to teach your dog.
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 20 years. She offers private lessons, group classes in Rindge and Swanzey, board and train as well as day training services. She lives in Keene with her partner, Amy Willey. They share their home with five dogs and three daughters. For more information, see www.everythingdognh.com