Since dog training must be approached within the context of the overall dog-owner-relationship, don’t expect the techniques you’re learning to guarantee perfect performance in your dog unless you correct the other defective aspects of your relationship at the same time. For instance, don’t expect the dog to run to you happily in a formal training session if you persist in calling him to you for punishment when he is off the lead. If you have ever in the past called your dog to you and then punished him, resolve now to avoid doing so at all costs.
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Begin to practice the come while you are heeling. As you heel, step back suddenly three or four paces and call your dog into you. He will be surprised at this interruption of the heeling pattern and may continue to forge ahead. As he hits the end of the leash, give a quick pop that reorients him back to you, saying his name and ‘come!’ As he nears you, pull up gently on the leash and have him sit in front of you. Now bend over and praise him.
When he is coming in well and sitting automatically in front of you, begin to give the command and hand signal for stay, then walk around him and back to position with your dog on your left side. Then repeat the routine several times. When you are sure he has the idea, put him on the sit-stay and move out farther. Do so incrementally, holding the leash taut over his head at first, until you can move out to leash-length with the leash slack. If he starts to break the stay, simply correct upward with a ‘nah’ and reinforce the stay.
Later, move out to the end of the lead. Before proceeding, make sure that he can hold the sit-stay for at least 30 seconds. You are now ready to begin a more formal recall. Keep this exercise happy and pleasant. The more natural and inviting you can keep your demeanor, the better. Given that so many dogs are poor at this skill, the more inviting we can make the exercise, the better.
If some dog owners could see themselves calling their dogs, they would realize that no living, feeling being, canine or human, would want to come to a person with an angry and frustrated demeanor and tone of voice. If you have experienced difficulties in getting your dog to come to you, look closely at how inviting a target you have made yourself. Keep the end in mind.
Realize that your tone of voice – happy and elevated – and physical bearing – open-armed and crouching – are extremely helpful in getting a consistent recall. Obviously, you can use treats as further motivators at each stage, knowing that you will wean your dog away from them as he gets better.
With your dog facing you on a sit-stay at leash length, crouch down and open your arms wide, calling him happily ‘come!’ Chances are that your body language and tone of voice will encourage him to begin coming. However, if he remains still, simply gives a slight tug on the leash to encourage him (immediately letting the leash go slack), then guide him into a sit as he reaches you. Reward him with a treat and plenty of praise. Repeat this procedure several times. If you have to correct at all, make it ever so slight. Since you don’t want to force the dog, don’t reel him in like a fish. Simply give a light tug and then release.
From the same starting position, open your arms as you say your dog’s name and ‘come,’ and then start trotting backward. He will follow after you. The purpose of this phase is to teach him that he always has to keep the person calling him in front of him as his goal, thus avoiding ‘roadrunner’ scenarios in which he merrily races past you. Your dog will more than likely give this game a try. As he starts to veer away and run by, quickly reverse your direction, giving him a leash pop and a ‘nah,’ and continue trotting backward, changing directions and encouraging him as he follows. You will find yourself moving backward in a variety of patterns to keep him focused on you. This is fine. One he catches on and is following you in a controlled way, bring him into a sit in front of you and offer him plenty of praise.
Attach the clip at the end of your 50′ rope to the loop on your leash. Put a weight on the other end of the rope, so you can toss it out away from you or to another person more easily. Put your dog on a sit-stay and toss the rope. Slowly walk backward 10′, holding your hand out in front of you to reinforce his stay. As you face him go down on one knee (eye level with the dog) and open your arms wide, creating a funnel effect, inviting him. As you open your arms, call him in a pleasant, enthusiastic voice. use both his name and the word come. Clap your hands if you wish.
As he nears you, rise slightly but stay near the ground. Immediately after you say ‘Come,’ smile broadly and try to make eye contact with him. Invite him into your arms and give him a warm welcome as you guide him into a sit in front of you. If he does not respond when you call him, simply give a light tug on the rope to get him moving and talk enthusiastically, being very encouraging. Vary the length of time you wait until you call the dog to break the sit-stay and come in. Don’t tolerate breaks before you call. If he anticipates your calling him before you actually have, go get him and take him back to his original starting position.
Next time you call, ‘Come!’ chances are that your crouched position will encourage him to waddle into a sit as he nears you. If your dog is so ecstatic he jumps up on you, allows it at first, in order not to dampen his enthusiasm. Later, gently ease him down into a sit. The main point is to get your dog to respond willingly to the word come. Every time he does, the dog wins a big victory. It’s acceptable to allow your dog to be imprecise when coming in. The moment he enters the confines of your arms is very important. Let him enjoy it. When you are confident that your dog understands the word come, begin to add distractions. Correct his interest in these diversions with a quick tug on the long rope.
Don’t be afraid to repeat the command ‘come’ more than once (after the tug) and to use other orienting sounds, such as hand clapping, pounding the ground, or jingling a set of keys. If your dog’s mind is wandering, don’t waste any time popping the rope to bring him in. Having your dog come and sit in front of you depends both on how well you have made eye contact with the dog when he heard you call and on your reaction to the dog when he is in front of your crouched body. From a distance, using a treat is the quickest way to induce a straight sit on the recall. When he is sitting in front of you consistently, continue to ‘funnel’ him into you with your open arms, but as he nears you, rise to your full height slowly. If he hears you and sits, give the stay command and hold the pose for a moment.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his dog Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy, a mischievous, mixed breed rescue. A leading authority on dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.