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Become Better Lesson #3:

How to teach your dog to come when called

One of the most valuable lesson in these Become Better Sessions is the one about teaching your dog to come when you call him.

Learning this could even save your dog’s life

If your dog comes with certainty when you call him, this will allow you to keep your dog out of danger from traffic and other things. You will be safe, letting him run freely on the beach, in the woods or in the dog park, since you know that he will come back to you, in the moment when you call him. You will have peace of mind, and you can allow your dog more freedom.

However, this is one of the most challenging lessons – not for your dog, but for you.

You will need to control your normal tendencies and pay close attention to your own body language. What you’ll be learning to do is counter-intuitive to humans, but very effective. The end result—a dog that comes when you call him, every single time—will be well worth the effort.

You must decide which command to use, before the training begins.

Give this some thought, because you’ll need to use it each and every time, without change. Consistency is key with verbal commands. You can’t expect your dog to learn that “Come,” “Come here,” “Get over here,” “Hey, come on,” and “Max, get your butt over here right now!” all mean the same thing. The simplest, of course, is “Come!”

Three things during this training are going to be different from other lessons.

First, your tone of voice. It should be upbeat and enthusiastic. Think of yourself as an excited coach yelling encouragements to a player running down the field, versus calmly telling the player what to do.

Second, repetition of the verbal command is good for this particular training, because a series of short, enthusiastic sounds works best when getting your dog to move quickly. Imagine a coach yelling “Go! Go! Go!” Also, clapping while giving the command is extremely effective.

Third, you’ll need to use your entire body (not just your voice) to get your dog to do what you want. Most people tend to stand facing their dog, or even step towards him, when they want him to come. That’s the opposite of what you should do. To get your dog to come, you’ll need to turn and move away from him as you call him. This will be the hardest trick for you to learn, but you’ll be amazed at how well it works!

Think of yourself as “pulling” your dog toward you. When pulling something heavy on the end of a rope, you can stand facing it and pull it towards you with just your arms… or you can do it the easy and much more effective way—by turning, putting the rope over your shoulder, and walking away from the object, pulling it behind you.

Here’s another tip: most dogs want to go where their owners go. They figure out where we’re about to go by looking at our feet. That’s why you’ll be turning and moving away from your dog to get him to come to you.

One more thing before we begin. It is very important during this initial training that your dog learns to love coming to you. As mentioned earlier in this course, your primary reinforcer (such as the treat) must be something your dog loves—not just accepts, but really loves.

Your tone of voice when giving praise must be encouraging and happy, too. Have you ever seen someone yelling at their dog that got loose? Typically they lose patience quickly and switch from a cajoling voice to a stern, angry yell if the dog doesn’t come immediately. Think about that. Would you want to run towards anger? Of course not! Remember, your goal is to make your dog very happy to run to you when you call. So be very careful to not patience during this lesson, keep your voice happy and enthusiastic, and give tons of praise when your dog does the right thing.

Now (finally), let’s get on with the lesson!



Lesson 3: How To Teach Your Dog To Come When Called

Read this lesson first, and then practice it with your dog.

  1. Load up your pocket (or a bag or pouch) with treats. You’ll need more than usual for this lesson.
  2. Take your dog to an area where there won’t be a lot of distractions.
  3. Move about 10 feet away from your dog as he’s not paying attention to you.
  1. Enthusiastically call out your dog’s name, followed by the come command: “Come! Come! Come!” Do this while turning sideways (don’t turn your back, you need to watch him closely), and start clapping as you begin to run away from your dog.
  2. As soon as he moves in your direction, call out your praise (“Good!”) and keep going
  3. Slow down and let your dog catch up to you; then stop and immediately give him a handful of treats and lots of enthusiastic praise—like coming to you was the best thing in the world!
  4. Walk about ten steps away from your dog and wait for him to look away from you.
  5. Repeat Steps 3, 4 and 5
  6. Repeat this process three times.

Important: This method reinforces your dog’s actions twice—first for diverting his attention from whatever he’s doing (Step 4), and second when he reaches you (Step 5). Step 4 is just as important as Step 5. Be very good and consistent about praising your dog the instant he turns his attention to you. Considering how many smelly distractions there are in your dog’s world, getting him to stop whatever he’s doing and look at you really is quite amazing, and you need to show your appreciation. Give your praise (“Good!”) immediately when he looks at you and starts to move in your direction. And be sure that with Step 5, you give the treat immediately when he reaches you. Do NOT wait because he may sit down. If you give him the treat after he sits, he’ll think sitting was the action that’s being rewarded, not coming to you.


Not doing what you want? Here is what to do

If your dog doesn’t come, he’s probably too distracted. That’s OK. Remember, he hasn’t yet learned that coming to you will make him happier than anything else he’s doing.

So here’s what you do: go to him. (This is difficult for some people to do as they feel it is “giving in” to their dog. But please trust us… this is the right thing to do at this point of training your dog.)  Let your dog know you have a treat in your hand, and use it to lure him as you walk away, giving your come (“Come! Come! Come!”) command. Stop after a few steps and give him the treat.

If the treat lure doesn’t work, put a leash on him and gently pull him along as you give your come command. Stop after a few steps and give him the treat.

Remember to keep your tone of voice upbeat, enthusiastic and happy.


Practice for Lesson 3

Practice this lesson several times a day. Vary the time of day and location. Think of the training as a fun game for you and your dog.

Remember to use the same come command every time, turn away from your dog, and clap while running away. Give instant praise when he turns his attention to you, and instant treats when he reaches you.

Be aware of what your dog is doing when you call him to come to you. You want him to learn quickly and easily, so don’t call him when he’s focused on something else. Keep the degree of difficulty for this exercise as low as possible at this point.

Use the command also when you know you’re dog will be coming to you automatically, such as when you put his food bowl down.

Also remember the key to this lesson is to teach your dog that coming to you is a wonderful thing. So for now, do NOT use the come command to call him to you if the end result is something he won’t like, such as having his toenails trimmed. Instead, go to him, put on the leash, and lead him to where you need him to go. Keep your tone of voice upbeat, friendly, and encouraging, but be sure to avoid using the come command when your dog won’t like what happens afterwards.


Coming up next week:

Become Better – Training Lesson 4: How to teach your dog to stay

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