As humans, we train a little and expect a lot. For whatever reason, we feel pretty strongly that dogs should know a command after just a few repetitions. I’ve even heard some say their dogs are stupid if they do not SIT, STAY or COME. We think that practicing, COME seven times on a Saturday afternoon and then again, two weeks later constitutes 100% knowledge of a command.
Let me assure you it does not. It takes practice, patience and time to get animals to learn what people want.
With that in mind, let me introduce you or remind you of the rules of training for a solid COME:
- Never use anger
- Never end COME with a trip to the house, a grab, a scolding
- Never use COME to end quality fun or freedom
- Never chase
Foundation first! Name recognition is the first thing any dog owner should look for and the ONE thing that most never train
Ask yourself, what do I want when I say my dogs’ name?
A look would be the best thing, right? Regardless of where the dog is, if you say his name, he should look at you.
How To Do This
Capture behavior by simply waiting for your dog to turn his head on his own. When he does, surprise the dog with a treat or a pat (if you are close enough). Don’t go to the dog. Offer the treat near your knees and close to your body. Wait for the dog to come to see what you have.
Do this often, and show your dog that if he looks at you, good things happen. As your dog gets better, use fewer treats (try every other time your dog looks) and add other rewards like a play session and a good scratch when he comes.
Next, call your dog by name (once) and wait, when he looks say, GOOD BOY. If your dog is away from you show a treat in your hand and by your side…. (Not out in front of you.) The dog will see the treat and COME to you. Do your best not to call the dog over and over again, and be sure the treat is ready, in hand and close to your body.
All of this rewards the movement of the head and its turn too sharply look at you. Don’t worry about COME and don’t say, COME yet…just focus on your dog’s head turning, seeing his eyes and rewarding that. His name will quickly start to mean turn your head and look at me, just like SIT means to put your butt on the floor or DOWN means to lay down.
So, again, if your dog is away from you when you call his name, he has to COME to you to get the treat….This begins to build a foundation for a great COME and needs to be worked on for a few days so, avoid the command COME for now. Just work on eye contact, enthusiasm, and name recognition!
Turn It Into A Game
Get a friend or family member to help – have treats for each person and a long line (or attach two leashes together and one end to the dog). Head outside, stand 6 feet apart and place the end of the leash under one foot. This should give the dog 12 – 20 feet to work with.
Take turns calling out the dog’s name and holding up the treat for him to see. Don’t say COME and don’t repeat your dog’s name more than twice. Say it once or twice and wait for your dog to turn its head (while everyone else ignores the dog). Eventually, your dog will look at you.
When you see your dog turn his head say, GOOD BOY and he should begin to trot or walk to you…to get the treat. Give the dog a minute to catch on, but once they do watch as he runs back forth between you and your friends for a treat.
Next, try it with 4 people. Make a square, extend it to 8 or 10 feet. See your dog run and wag its tail, having fun while learning; my name is good, paying attention is good and yes eventually COME will be good too. Do it every day for about 3 days to a week. Make it harder by adding distance (another leash or long line) and adding people. Make sure everyone has treats in these beginning stages too.
Adding Come To The Attention To Name Game
Once your dog responds about 80% (8 out of 10 times); it’s time to add the word COME….
Get the game (above) started first, and then as your dog runs to you add the word COME. Say it once, labeling the behavior as it happens. If your dog isn’t coming…go get him, don’t repeat the command over and over, bring him back to where you were and REWARD anyway!
LIKE THIS: You say, Cheepsus dog turns head, you say, GOOD Boy. The dog starts to run towards you, you say, COME. Give the treat when he gets to you (close and in your body space).
COME means run to me so, it’s important to add the word when your dog is actually doing it! Don’t say the word when your dog is standing there looking at you. That is not a COME and your dog is IN Training to learn what COME is. Again, label the behavior when it happens.
Practice in the house without a leash too. Say your dog’s name, wait until you hear some movement in the house…then say, GOOD BOY, as soon as you hear him move and COME when he gets close near you.
Challenging And Proofing Come
Practice with the word, COME – add more distance and more distraction. Keep your dog on a long line and go somewhere else: a pet store that allows pets, a long walk, and the beach. Try this same routine where the dog will be distracted by things that might also be on the list of rewards. Other dogs, squirrels, kids playing.
Here is where training fails. We never practice with distractions and temptations all around. Your dog is an animal first and that will never change. Squirrels, other dogs, and great smells will always be very difficult to pass up unless the training has proven to be equally rewarding to the dog. Ask yourself, “Does your dog see you as a reward or the ender of all fun and freedom?”
Each day (if you practice and work through the tough parts) you will see your dog get better and better, but remember that training is never really over. Challenge your dog with new situations, new distractions and even fewer and fewer treats.
Your Dog Will Test You
The minute you are inconsistent or change your behavior, he will observe it and learn from it. So, if you have habits that you think contributed to the failure of your dogs COME command such as; getting angry, chasing him, punishing him or repeating yourself, try to change your behavior. Positive reinforcement and everyday life are great tools for training any dog to do anything.