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How to train your dog to come. “Recall training”.

Almost no one can get their dog to come! Bold statement I know, but I witness this daily. In our minds, we remember the times the dog did come to us, forgetting all the many times that “come” went unanswered.  Dogs eventually come to their family because, first they like us & second, we feed them so eventually they will come. This is not the same as a dog who comes immediately on cue .

Come or recall is a more complex behavior than most of us realize.  What we humans really what from the dog is:  “stop whatever you are doing (sniffing other dogs, chasing, playing, barking…) and come immediately.” BE QUICK ABOUT IT! “Recall, every time” is one of the hardest skill for a dog to learn.  For the dog to learn this  skill takes a series of steps with progressively more difficult situations in which the dog stop what he/she is doing, redirects to you and comes. Accepting what is really going on is the first step toward changing it. The article below reveals several steps in training  a reliable recall. 

Why is training recall so difficult for dog owners? | Dog Star Daily.

A few basics  about training a reliable response.

1. Practice, practice,  practice.

Reliability is all about practice. Just like sports, flying airplanes, surgery, military operations, excellent musical performance or any high skill endeavor. We humans tend to hold our dogs to a higher, almost magical, standard of performance. We expect our Dogs to stop whatever they are doing and come when we call, without specific training and allot practice,  How many of your employees, kids, or spouses  immediately come when called!

2. Reward after the desired behavior-Use what the  dog wants. This is the Consequence for dogs actions/behaviors.

3. Timing – dogs focus on what happened right before, 1/2 sec, the treat arrives. The closer the treat is to the behavior the more effective the training.

4. The order of things is the magic formula for learning – the ABC’s

a. Antecedent-something that happens before the behavior. We often use a cue: like a hand gesture, or a word “come”, whistle sequences or sound of meal prep in the kitchen. Even lightening is an antecedent to thunder for dogs afraid of storms. But the lightening does not cause the thunder, the storm clouds cause both, but light travels faster than sound so it precedes the noise.

b. Behavior -the dog does something.

C. Consequence– what happens immediately after the behavior. If  this something positive the dog will repeat the behavior. If something negative the dog will not repeat the behavior.

The error for many is believing that the the Antecedent or A . causes the B. Behavior to happen again. It is the C=consequence that will motivate the dog to do the same Behavior in the future. The Antecedent alerts the dog to the possibility that treats maybe available to be earned. I often use a pre-antecedent to set my dog in the mindset of training by saying “are you ready”, he then knows that a cue for a behavior is coming. He becomes alert, focuses on me waiting for signal word.


A Positive Consequence is more effective if:

*It immediately rewards the behavior – < 1 second after the behavior (unless a bridge is used-clicker training is using a bridge).

*Is it better than other available options. That is why trainers us favorite food or fun.

*Predictable- a little like a paycheck. If you work but don’t get your paycheck you would not want to continue to work for that employer. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t work harder for the same paycheck if you enjoy your job. Enjoying your work is another reward for a job well done. For dogs after allot of practice they seem to enjoy the task itself.

 Make it worth it for the dog. Mostly we use food, toys or play.  However as puppies, almost all dogs come to their substitute families. This recall is preprogramed into the young canine brain; stay with the family group, check in often. Don’t mistake this natural tendency for your dog understanding “come”. Instead, use the tendency in early puppyhood to teach English, repeat “come” whenever the pup naturally runs toward you. Make returning to you, a great experience for the dog. Even when you have been chasing the dog for 30 minutes, gave up and turned to go home. Which is when the dog will come to you. You’re irritated and can’t imagine giving the dog a reward for running you around. Fight the urge to punish and reward the arrival of your dog at your side.

Why does the dog get a reward for 30 minutes of run-away time. First, dogs love the chase game, so he/she would have thought  you were playing. Second and more important– dogs will repeat behaviors in the future, that get them something good. The more accurately this one fundamental  is practiced the stronger your dog will listen to you.

Let me repeat myself. Dogs will repeat a behavior in the future because last time it resulted in something good. Behavior followed by a good consequence.


Break it down. Rex comes to Tom. Tom gives him a dog treat. Rex follows Tom around, coming close enough to be touched and gets a treat each time.

Has Rex learned to come to Tom? No, he is playing the odds that the treats will keep coming, so he stays close by.

Next day, Rex comes to Tom, Tom does not give Rex a treat, Rex waits for his treat and eventually wanders off. Rex tries “come” few more times but, when no treat arrives he ignores Tom for more interesting things. Rex does not come to Tom when called. He comes when he wants to come because he likes Tom.


How do I get my dog to come when I don’t  have treats. Practice in many different situations.

 After Rex comes 90% of the time when called for 7 days in a row, then it is time to move to fewer treats for more work. ( 1 treat for 2 comes, then 3 comes and so on). Or treat after 2 behaviors.   Rex comes, Tom says sit, Rex sits, Tom steps back, Rex “comes a second time”, Tom gives Rex a treat. Now Rex has done a come-sit-wait-come, for 1 treat. Repeat this sequence, rapidly stepping back will entice the dog to follow because this is a mini-version of the chase. So keep the pace fast, as the dog does well, make 2 step backs or mix up how many sit-comes Rex must do to get a treat. But gradually make these changes.

When the dog stops paying attention you have pushed for more difficult to learn behaviors too fast or he is at the end of his attention span. Give him a break and repeat after a 10-15 minutes. Ideal time for each mini training session is 2-5 minutes.



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