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How to Teach Your Dog to ''Come'' When You Call Him

PetSmart Debbie McKnight/ Accredited PetSmart Trainer

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Have you ever wondered why your dog comes when you say “cookie,” “walk,” or “dinner,” but won’t come when you say “come?”  It’s all about what happens when he gets there.  If you only teach your dog one thing, coming when called is your best choice.  The good news: it’s not hard to do!

To start, you need to use his absolute favorite treats or food like chicken, cheese, etc. Now is not the time to be stingy about what type of treats to use or how many.

The first week: The recall word

During the first week, we want to make a strong association for your dog between his recall word with prolonged attention and treats. Choose a recall word like "here" or "come." Ideally, you'll want to avoid confusion by not using this recall word at any other time during the first week. Let your dog see you gather up a handful of treats and then with your dog right near you, say your recall word. Reward him with dog treats, one after the other, while praising him and carrying on about how fabulous he is for 20 seconds. When you’re done, say “all done” and then go on about your business. Practice this exercise no  more than five times a day.

The second week: Include the collar

The second week, repeat the above steps and grab your dog’s collar after you say your recall word. Treat and praise for 20 seconds, and then say “all done.”  This step is to make sure that your dog doesn’t dodge you or try to play chase if you need to grab for him.  By now, your dog should be ecstatic when he hears you call him because it hasn’t been overused (five or less times per day) and it’s followed by something fabulous. Remember, at this point he hasn’t actually come to you yet - each session has started with your dog right next to you. 

The third week: Increase the practice

From the third week until he’s reliable, practice calling him and rewarding heavily.  You can practice more than five times per day and you don’t have to treat for 20 seconds any more, but a few times a week you should still have a 20-second “recall party” to keep the association strong.  For all your other practice, call his name, then your recall word, and move backwards away from your dog until he comes to you.  Most dogs are more willing to come if you are moving away from them. Don’t forget to grab his collar occasionally.

Trainer's tip: Only call your dog when you KNOW he will come. If he is still unreliable, keep him on a leash. NEVER call your dog for something he won’t enjoy (including away from whatever fun he’s having); go get him if necessary, but always keep the recall FUN.

Debbie McKnight is an accredited PetSmart trainer in Hurst, Texas.

For information on PetSmart's Accredited Training, please visit PetSmart's training web site.

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