How to Train a Labrador Puppy to Come

Medium
2-6 Months
General

Introduction

One of the most important behaviors to work on with any puppy is their recall, in other words, their ability to come when called. It is not a difficult behavior to train, but you will need to plan on starting early and practicing often. You can even start training this behavior as early as 8 weeks old!

Labrador Retrievers are very intelligent as well as energetic. While your Lab puppy is likely to learn to come when called quite quickly, it will take you several months to a year to get it strong enough to rely on in an emergency. If you keep your training sessions fun and interesting, your Lab puppy will look forward to learning this and other behaviors.

The three methods offered in this guide will give you the information you need to teach a basic recall command as well as make sure to make sure your recall is “proofed” so that it will work even when your Labrador is distracted. However, no matter how good your dog’s recall is, it is still critical to keep her on a leash near dangerous conditions such as traffic. 

Defining Tasks

When working on training your Labrador puppy to come, follow these tips for the best results:

Make it rewarding. Never call your Lab to you and then punish them or take a toy away.

Keep it exciting. Be more interesting to your Labrador than the environment and you will find that she will naturally keep her attention on you. Over time, she will learn to love training because it is fun and interesting.

Don’t chase your dog. Your Labrador puppy is likely to think that a game of chase is lots of fun. If you make the mistake of chasing her when she doesn’t come, you are actually rewarding her for not coming when called.

Practice often. Our methods will show you how to gradually and safely add distractions to your recall training time so that you can give your Labrador puppy the skills to come when called, every time.

Getting Started

Before you get started with any training, it is important to understand what motivates your dog. Chances are very good that your Labrador puppy is very food motivated, one of the reasons these lovable dogs are so easy to train. While it is fine to use food rewards when training new behaviors, even desirable since food rewards are fast and easy to repeat, you will want to try to randomize your rewards a bit with recall training.

For example, does your Labrador puppy also love vigorous praise, a quick game of tug, or a toss of the tennis ball? It is okay to use any of these motivators as rewards when training recall. It actually helps to reinforce your recall if your dog is left guessing about which awesome thing he will get the next time he runs to you when called!

Besides rewards, the only equipment you will need to train a sturdy recall is a 25’ or longer leash or rope. You will use this to have some control over your puppy once you are ready to move your training outdoors. This way, even if you do not have a fenced yard to practice your recall drills, you can use the long line to make sure she does not get too far away or into any trouble.

The Basic Recall Method

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Set up
Start with this method to first give your Labrador puppy the basic skills required for recall. Make sure that you get started in a familiar indoor room so he won’t be distracted by smells, other pets, or other people. Bring your best high value rewards to your training sessions.
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Run away
Run away from your puppy, and as soon as she goes to chase you, say her name followed by “Come!” It is almost a given that your Lab puppy will come enthusiastically since few can resist this fun game of chase you just started. Make sure that you reach down and touch her collar before you reward generously, every time. That way, she won’t be surprised in an emergency when you go to grab her collar after a recall. Repeat 10-20 times.
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3
Add distance
Continue the last step, gradually adding some distance at a pace that works for your puppy. Stay fun and exciting and ignore failures. Just focus on heavily rewarding success. You can even try calling your puppy from around the corner to add a little bit of challenge and fun. Continue to repeat this at random intervals, adding some distance and challenges until he has lots of confidence and success.
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Outside
After your Labrador puppy is about 4 months old, hopefully you have invested some hours into practicing their recall indoors. Now it is time to take her outside and work on recall using the long line. Continue to reward liberally. First call your dog and then run away a little if she does not immediately come. Remember to touch her collar before rewarding. Repeat in a few short sessions daily.
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Add consequence
Once you are sure that your young Labrador understands how recall works and he has been reliably coming when called, it is time to add some consequences for when he fails to come when called. Since you are using the long line, it is a perfect chance. Call your dog and if he does not come within 3 seconds, then silently reel him in and give him a 3 minute time out in his crate or in a small room. Make sure to continue to reward success generously.
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6
Next step
Move on to the 'Proofing' method after your Labrador puppy has basic recall skills so that you can teach her how to come when called, even in a distracting environment.
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The Recall Game Method

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Step
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Set up
This fun game will help your Labrador puppy learn that coming when called can be rewarding and fun. After she has learned the basics of recall, gather a few friends to help with this game. Have them sit in a circle, each with a small pouch of food rewards.
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2
Take turns
Have your friends alternate calling your Labrador puppy to them, making sure to sound inviting and exciting. They can even bribe the puppy with food or a toy to encourage him to come after using the recall command.
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Reward
Before rewarding her for success, make sure your friends are touching her collar when she successfully goes to the person that called her. In addition, it is fun to hold her back a bit when the next person calls so she squirms to get free and bolt to her next reward.
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Add distance
Add some distance to this game by widening the circle. Another way to add a challenge is to move folks to different rooms in the house to call her. Just make sure only one person calls at a time and the challenges get harder as your puppy is ready for them.
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Outside
Take this game outside. In addition to being a great way to practice recall with your Lab puppy, you also get to wear him out with this fun game. As every Lab parent knows – there is never too much exercise for these rambunctious pups!
Recommend training method?

The Proofing Method

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Why proofing is important
After your Labrador puppy has a basic understanding of how recall works, and has plenty of practice at home, it is time to start adding some challenges to their recall drills. This is what professional trainers call “proofing.” Think of this as a lifelong game you will play with your dog, upping the ante to make sure she knows that coming when called is always the best choice – no matter the distraction.
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New places
One important way you want to proof your Lab puppy’s recall is to take him to new places to practice recall drills. Use your long-line if there is danger nearby, such as a road or fast-moving water. Once your puppy is six months old, he should have practice recalling in a parking lot, in the woods, in a field, on a bike path, in the neighbor’s yard, and so on.
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Add distraction
Figure out what your Labrador puppy really loves, and deliberately create controlled training exercises to teach her that ignoring her favorite things when called is going to pay off -- big time. For example, have the neighbor keep their dog on a leash, and recall your Lab puppy past them, using the long-line if they need a little help at first.
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Refine
Start getting selective about which returns you give the biggest rewards. If your dog comes back, but reluctantly, you can start to ignore those recalls and save rewards for the quick and snappy returns. Over time, this will build the muscle memory that when your Labrador hears her recall command, she will turn around and sprint back towards you.
Step
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When NOT to recall
Don’t break your recall command. When trainers say this, what they mean is that if you use your primary recall word when you know you may not get a recall, and you will not be able to enforce it, then you are literally teaching your dog that recalling is optional. If you want to call your dog in a situation you are not sure he will listen, try another recall device such as squeaking a favorite toy, or whistling and running away.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Sharon Elber

Published: 02/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Shiba
Labrador Retriever
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Shiba
Labrador Retriever
8 Months

Hello I am From India . I have a 8 Month Old Labrador, when he is Free he always jumps at me and bites my hands, Therefore I can't take him to walk . And I also Want to train him to pee in bathroom, how to solve these two problems?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Pratyush, Is pup biting due to excitement or due to aggression. If the issue is aggression, I highly recommend hiring a professional trainer to work with you in person. If you don't have access to anyone there, I would find trainers who specializes in behavior issues like aggression and offer remote training, like SolidK9Training and similar agencies. If pup is biting due to excitement and wanting to play, I would teach Leave It and check out the jumping article below. Leash method for jumping: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite If pup is breaking the skin when biting, even if playing, I would desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle so you can safely work on the jumping and biting attempts without an injury. Muzzle desensitization - if pup is aggressive this is essential also, but I would get extra help with aggression. A lot of trust and respect building will need to be done before working on the jumping itself in that case. To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle his meal kibble around it. Do this until he is comfortable eating around it. Next, when he is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward him with a piece of kibble every time he touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed him his whole meal this way. Practice this until he is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that he has to poke his face into it to get the treat. As he gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that he has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until he is comfortable having his face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while he holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until he can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when he can hold his face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while his face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed him a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until he is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while he is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long he wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give him a treat, until he can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s For the going potty in the bathroom, I would use the Crate training method from the article I have linked below, adding one hour to all the times listen there since our dog is older than the puppy the article was written for. When you take pup potty, instead of taking them to a litter box, I would take pup to your tub, and cover the floor of your tub with a grass pad. If you have only one bathroom, then you can use a disposable real grass pad bought online, that can be removed from the tub as needed. If you don't use that bathroom you can use a piece of grass sod in the tub. Tell pup to Go Potty when you take them, and reward with a treat if they do. Once pup is consistently going potty in the tub on the grass quickly and fully potty trained to go there, then I would gradually remove the grass from the tub one inch at a time over a month and a half, until pup is going potty directly in the tub without the grass if you don't want to keep the grass there long term. If you do want to provide grass there long term, www.porchpotty.com may be a good option to put in the tub. Crate Training method - add one hour to times listen. Pup should also be able to hold it in the crate for 5-8 hours when you need to be gone for the day since they are older. https://wagwalking.com/training/litter-box-train-a-chihuahua-puppy Disposable real grass pad brands: www.freshpatch.com www.doggielawn.com Also on Amazon if they will ship where you are. These exact brands may not be available where you are, but they are the type of thing you want, and you can make your own out of a piece of grass sod if needed also. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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