Training your puppy to “come” when you ask is not simply an issue of obedience. It can also be a matter of safety and certainly it is a big part of good manners in a variety of circumstances.
Certainly if you and your dog frequent off-leash dog parks, walk on off-leash trails or in the woods, you will want her to come when you call her either to go home or just to check that she’s okay and still within earshot.
In the chaos of saying goodbye to visitors, your dog goes through the door with them and is headed for the street. Don’t you want to feel confident that when you say, “Puppy, come”, your dog will turn away from danger?
It’s likely that not all your visitors will appreciate being jumped on when they arrive. Your ability to have your dog ‘come’ to you will mean a calmer entrance and a more pleasant greeting fro everyone.
First, though, let’s talk a little bit about how to teach your puppy NOT to come.
Scenario: Your puppy is playing with other dogs in the dog park or in a friend’s fenced yard, wherever… you call puppy to ‘come’. She comes. You snap on her leash and leave. It won’t take many repetitions of this before she no longer comes. What you have taught her is that coming to you means the end of fun. NOW, there’s problem. Your puppy no longer comes reliably when you call. That’s not going to work!
If you catch this early on, it’s easy enough to fix. Really, it’s what you ought to have done in the first place.
Quite simply, when your puppy is playing with others in an off-leash area, call her to you every minute or so, grab her collar, give her a treat and say, “Go play.” Do that several times. The next time you call and she comes, grab her collar, praise her and say, “Go play.” No treat. If she shows any reluctance to come, go back to the treat for a couple more repetitions. Then just praise her when she comes and release her with the “go play”. The play becomes the reward.
Choose carefully your times to call her. If she’s completely absorbed in rough and tumble play, chances of her coming are greatly reduced. Watch the action. Wait for a moment’s pause, then call. The minute she turns towards you, begin a stream of “good dog”, “what a good dog”, “ what a clever girl”. I.e. talk her to you.
Depending on how reliably she usually comes, you may have to move a little closer the first few times. Do NOT go right to her. Wait for the pause in play. You may only be 2 feet away from her at this point. . Call her name. Pause. “Come”. When she comes, grab her collar, praise her, give her a treat and release her with “go play”.
Above all, do not stand 20 or 30 feet away calling, “Puppy, come” in an increasingly louder and more irritated tone. You do want her to come, don’t you?
Now, let’s go back to the early days of having your puppy…
You bring her home when she’s somewhere around 8 weeks of age.
First: Use her name to get her attention. Reward her when she turns towards you. Practise now using the release word you have chosen – OK, All done, Free.
I found it difficult to remember to release my dog when I trained my own puppy…many years ago now…so I suggest you start training yourself early and often. It’s important to let puppy know that she’s now free to resume whatever else she may have been doing.
When you say, “Puppy” and she turns toward the sound of your voice, add “come”.
It looks like this: stand very still in front of and about 1 foot away from your puppy. Say, “Puppy, come”. As she begins to move (even a tiny motion) in your direction, begin to praise her (an excited high–pitched tone works best) and take a few short rapid steps backwards, encouraging your puppy as she moves. Don’t move more than 2 feet. When she reaches you, grab her collar, give her a treat and lots of praise and release her.
When she has moved to a different location – could be a different area of the same room, a different room or even two feet away from where you just asked for a “come”, repeat. Repeat this 2 or 3 times. That’ll do for this session. You can move a little farther back if she’s coming to you willingly and quickly when you ask.
I think it’s important to simply incorporate training into daily activity. As you move around throughout the day, ask Puppy to “come”, “sit”. Then reward, praise and release her. By the end of day 1, the reward is the release and only very occasionally will there be a treat. That’s very important.
We’re talking about a very young puppy here so when I say move around, the puppy is only with you outside her confinement area when she’s empty.
When puppy is coming to you whenever you ask at a distance of, say, 4 feet, 8 times out of 10, it’s time to step it up.
Now, from a beginning distance of 2 feet, ask puppy to “come” and when she does, hold a treat at her nose, move it between her eyes back over her head. Her bum drops to the floor and you’ve now got a “sit”.
Do it again and as you put the treat to her nose, say, “Puppy, sit”. Treat moves back, bum goes to floor. Praise, treat and release.
Stay with your 4 foot distance for a few (3—5) repetitions as you now ask for a “come, sit” before you reward, praise and release.
Try omitting the food reward after 3 or 4 repetitions. The sound of your happy voice and the release are the best rewards for your puppy.
Continue to give a treat from time to time for an especially quick “come” or a speedy, straight “sit”. That’s called random reinforcement and it prevents reliance on food rewards. You don’t really want to have a pocketful of treats for the rest of your dog’s life, do you?
In a few short steps, here’s how it works:
1. Reward and praise puppy for responding to her name.
2. Reward, praise and release puppy when you ask her to “come” and she does.
3. When she “comes” reliably, add “sit” before the reward. So – “puppy, come, puppy, sit”. Tell her she’s a good puppy and reward her with a treat or a toy, whichever she likes best.
4. As the reliability of “Puppy, come” increases i.e. she comes 8 times out of 10 requests, increase first the distance between you and then add distractions.
Get a reliable “come” (recall) at a distance of 20 –30 feet in a safe area before asking for a “come” when your puppy is playing with a group of dogs (distraction).
As with all puppy training, once the request is taught, you must continue to ask for it frequently throughout her lifetime. Reward occasionally with a treat or a toy and always praise and release.
What a clever owner! What a good dog!