How to Train a Great Dane to Come

Medium
2-6 Months
General

Introduction

Would you like to teach your Great Dane to come when you call them? This vital skill is also known as “recall,” and it is something that every dog should learn. Training the basic skill is not difficult, but this is one of those life-long behaviors that you will need to plan to regularly practice to make sure your Great Dane will come when you need it most.

This guide will share three methods to teach your Great Dane to come. You will learn how to teach basic recall skills, how to turn recall training into a fun game, and how to “proof” your dog’s recall so that he will come to you even when he is in a distracting environment.

It is important to keep in mind that no matter how much you train your dog to come when called, there is always the risk she will decide that chasing the neighbor’s cat is more important than whatever reward you might have to offer. For this reason, you should always keep your dog on a leash when around any potentially dangerous conditions, such as busy roads. 

Defining Tasks

When thinking about training your Great Dane to come, think of it as an approach to how to use your recall command, rather than something you will accomplish in a few short training sessions. A strong and reliable recall takes a great deal of practice in a wide variety of environments.

In addition, follow these tips to make sure you are doing your part to reinforce this vital behavior:

  • Make sure that your dog believes that coming to you when called will land her something good. If you call her to you and then promptly punish her or take away something she enjoys, you are actively teaching the opposite of what you want.
  • Start training this and any other new behavior in a safe, low-distraction environment. Add distractions as part of the proofing process once your Great Dane has the basics of recall down pat.
  • If you let your Great Dane turn your recall training into a game where you chase her around, then she is training you, not the other way around! In the early stages of training, be sure to set your dog up to succeed, ignore failure, and focus on rewarding her when she does it right.
  • Finally, if you ever find yourself in the situation where you need to get your Great Dane back in a hurry, and your recall fails you, then run away from the nearest danger, screaming excitedly so that your dog will come to investigate the fun.

Getting Started

In addition to a positive attitude, some high-value rewards, and plenty of energy, make sure you bring a long-line to your recall training sessions with your Great Dane. This can be a leash or just a strong rope that you can use to enforce the recall or make sure he does not make an escape while working in a non-fenced area.

Although using high-value food rewards in early training stages is just fine, make sure that you have some other rewards handy as well to mix things up and keep your dog guessing. When he is not sure what great thing might happen when he comes next, it reinforces his drive to find out. This is all according to plan!

Finally, keep your official recall training sessions short so they stay exciting. However, randomly practice recall throughout the day when you have a high-value reward handy to dispense. In addition, keep the tone positive. Scolding your dog during recall training is counterproductive.

The Basic Skills Method

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Get ready
This is the method to use if you are just starting to work on recall with your Great Dane. Make sure to start training inside (unless you need to go outside to work with your small pony of a dog!). It is usually advisable to start teaching a new behavior with food rewards, so have some ready.
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First recalls
The first few times you work on recall, you want to get your dog moving towards you before you use her recall command. Usually trainers do this by running away from the dog, then saying their name followed by the recall command. Make the command sound inviting and fun rather than stern. Once your dog reaches you, touch her collar for a second or two before rewarding with a treat. This will be important in the long run – you want her to be ready for you to grab her collar in an emergency situation. Repeat 10-20 times.
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Distance
Now you want to start adding some distance between you and your dog. Use your long line if you need to work outdoors with your large dog. You can also start to run away less, and call before he comes to you. If he does not immediately come, do not repeat the cue, just try the run-away trick and reward when he comes.
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Outside drills
With some success under her belt, you are definitely ready to move outside and continue to add some distance. Make sure that you are always touching the collar before rewarding and keeping the tone positive and fun.
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Time out
Eventually, once you are absolutely sure your Great Dane knows how recall is supposed to work, you will need to add a negative consequence for those times she chooses to ignore you. Once you do this, you do it from then on out. This means you will need to stop using your recall command unless you are prepared to back it up with a consequence in the event of a failure. Try a 3-minute “time out” in a kennel or small room for a consequence.
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6
Next stage
You now have the basics down. Move on to the 'Proofing' method to make your dog’s recall rock solid.
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The Circle Game Method

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Set up
This is a fun way to do recall drills with your Great Dane. It will help her come to associate coming when called with something fun, which always works to your advantage when training this behavior. Gather up a few friends to play this training game and be sure they all have a small pouch of treats she loves.
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2
Make a circle
Start inside with your helpers in a circle as large as the room will allow. Alternate calling your dog with his name, followed by his recall command “Come!”. If he does not quite understand what to do, have the person that just called him bribe him over with a treat or other enticing actions, but don’t repeat the recall word.
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Take turns
Continue to alternate calling him across the circle. Make sure that each person puts their hand directly on his collar before dispensing a reward each time. Include plenty of praise in addition to the food rewards for each successful recall.
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Longer run
To make the game more interesting and challenging, start to increase the distance of the circle, even going into other rooms as your Great Dane is ready for the challenge.
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Outside
Once your dog has some practice, you can move this game outside to further increase the distance and add an element of exercise to her recall training sessions. Try hiding behind trees or other obstacles in the yard to add another layer of fun. Make sure to use a long line for safety if you do not have a fenced in area to work with.
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The Proofing Method

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Why you have to "proof"
If you want your recall to be there when you need it, then you will need to practice having your Great Dane come in a variety of different places and in the presence of different distractions. This training method will show you how to do that. Make sure you use the 'Basic Skills' method to teach the 'come' command before moving on to this more advanced method to improve on this vital skill.
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New places
The more new places you take your Great Dane to practice her recall, the stronger it will get. Be sure to use her long line if you think there is any danger that she might dart into traffic or get distracted with chasing a cat.
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New people
Ask friends and relatives to help you work with your dog on her recall. The more people that she does recall drills with, the more general the command will become for her. She will learn that no matter who calls her, going to them could land her a big reward!
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Power of distraction
In general, the more distractions you work around with your Great Dane, the more likely it is that he will come when you most need him to. Every time he runs by X on his way to you to get a reward, X loses its power to distract him from coming back to you. Keep this in mind and try to think up new ways to add distractions to your recall training program.
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When NOT to call
If you want your Great Dane to drop whatever he is doing and run fast to you when you call him, then you need to start becoming more selective about which returns you will reward. Drop your reward rate to about 1 in 10 recalls, and choose only the fastest to reward liberally.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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