Good Dog: Huh, Come?

By Johanna Teresi

Yeah right! Train your dog to come when it matters most.
-by Johanna Teresi
teresi_gooddog.jpgOne of the most important commands for a dog to obey happens to be one of the most difficult commands to teach. “Come” is a life-saving word. Just think how nice it would be to call your dog back home after he darts out the door. What about when you take a nice off-leash hike and your dog chooses to come back to you rather than chasing that dangerous moose? I bet you think you can only dream of this response. Read on to learn how to make this fantasy a reality!

First let’s discuss the common mistakes committed when training “come.” The “come” word is often over-used and repeated when your dog does not respond. Many times your dog does not come so it can continue a fun activity such as smelling another dog. When the dog does eventually obey the command,  the owner has ended an activity that the dog was enjoying and only doles out some praise but no treats in return. Get the picture? The dog learns that the command is irrelevant and that it is no fun to obey.

Follow the directions below to train the emergency come (EC) command. First, choose a new word such as “here,” “pronto,” or “now.” The command will be saved for emergency use only. Also choose a special treat that your dog loves (cheese, chicken, hotdogs). He will only get this treat for responding to this word. Have a helper gently hold your dog’s collar. Put some special treats in your hand. Walk directly to your dog’s muzzle and blatantly show him the treats you have. Then run away from your dog. Immediately when you begin running away, say the EC and your helper will let go of your dog’s collar. Run 10-20 feet. Then turn around and crouch down (rather than bending over) to grab your dog’s collar. While holding your dog’s collar, give him 20-30 seconds of the special treat. Make sure the quantity of the special treat given to your dog is low but the duration of the treat giving is high-use crumb-sized pieces and give them to your dog one at a time for the duration of the reward.

Next, stand stationary approximately 10 feet away from your dog and say the EC. Grab the collar and give 20-30 seconds of the special treat. Gradually increase the coming distance to at least 20 feet. Complete the above process inside your house when your dog is not distracted. Make sure you practice in a variety of different rooms. Practice this process for at least a week.

Now practice calling your dog when you and your dog are in different rooms and cannot see each other. Once again make sure you practice in a variety of different rooms. Practice this process for at least another week. For the following week, practice the above steps in a fenced backyard when your dog is not distracted. Switch to occasional rewards when your dog comes reliably without distractions.

Remember, never call your dog unless you are 100% sure that he will come. Do not repeat the EC. If your dog is clicker trained, click when your dog is running toward you or when he reaches you. During this training month do not call your dog when he is distracted. Next month, we will take the next step and show how to train the EC with distractions.

Surprise yourself with a dog that will come to you instantly!

Johanna Teresi is a professional dog trainer and owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC.

This article was originally published on June 28, 2007.