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Teaching your Pit Bull puppy to come when called is important for their safety and your peace of mind. The basics are easy to train, but plan to practice this critical skill for the life of your pup so that she will come when called, every time. Professional trainers call this behavior reliable “recall".
You can start working with your Pit Bull puppy as early as 8 weeks old. Keep your training sessions exciting and rewarding. At this age, you can do 5-10 quick recall drills before your puppy gets bored. Of course, as your pup gets a little older, you can practice her recall for longer periods of time and in higher distraction environments.
Since Pit Bulls are intelligent and loyal breeds, they take naturally to learning to come when called. However, as with any other breed, your dog can be too distracted by other dogs, cats or squirrels to pay attention to your command. It is important that you keep your dog on a leash even if they have a relatively strong recall, especially near dangerous conditions such as traffic.
Recall training is not done in a single session, rather, it is an ongoing continuous skill building exercise. Before we get into the specifics of how to train your Pit Bull puppy to come, we want to share some tips that will help you make the most of your recall training:
- Never call your Pit Bull puppy to you then punish her or take away something good such as her favorite toy (unless you plan on a fun toy toss!).
- Never chase your puppy after issuing the recall command. Instead, run away from him excitedly to trigger him to chase you if he hesitates when you call him.
- Practice recall several times a day, and in as many new environments that you can manage (using a long line for safety if necessary).
- Make sure to follow our instructions for “proofing” your recall to make sure that it will be there when you need it most.
There are only a few things you will need to train your Pit Bull puppy to come when called:
Long Line – This is a leash or rope that is 25’ or longer that you can use once you are ready to move your training outdoors.
High-Value Rewards – What is it that your puppy really enjoys? Is it food, a squeaky toy or maybe a tug on her favorite rope bone? You can use anything as a reward, but make sure that she is very highly motivated by the rewards that you use, especially when training new behavior.
Energy and Patience – Training requires that you bring a good attitude to the table. If you find yourself getting frustrated, then you should find another time to train. In order to teach your Pit Bull to come when called, you will want to be sure that you are more exciting and fun than the other things that may compete for his attention.
The Basic Recall Method
This is the method to start with when beginning your recall training. Your Pit Bull puppy is going to be easily distracted by the smells and activity of just about any distraction, so start training all new behaviors in a very familiar and boring place. Have high value rewards ready when teaching any new behaviors.
Start to run away from your Pit Bull puppy before saying his name followed by your recall command, or “Come!” Your tone should be fun, playful and inviting so he will know this is a fun game. Most puppies will instinctively give chase, and when he catches up with you, gently touch his collar before rewarding very generously. Repeat 10-20 times.
Start to gradually increase the distance from where you call your puppy. You can even start making this a fun game by calling her from around the corner or from behind some furniture. You will know you are making things fun when your puppy enthusiastically comes running to find out what cool thing she will get when she gets to you this time!
Once about 4 months old, your Pitbull puppy should have some experience doing recall drills indoors. It is time to move the training sessions outdoors, using the long line for safety. Keep touching the collar before rewarding success. Ignore failures for now and just do whatever it takes to entice your pup to come after you call her with her recall command.
Once your puppy is about 6 months old, and they have lots of practice with recall it is time to add some consequence for failing to come when called. It is critical that your Pit Bull puppy has plenty of practice successfully practicing their recall before you add negative consequences for failure. The best thing to try is to start pulling your dog in using the long line when she fails to come within 3 seconds of being called. Silently put her in the crate or a small room for a brief, 3 minute “Time Out” before resuming your session.
Move on to the “Proofing” method to learn how to add distractions so your Pitbull puppy will come when called no matter where you are and regardless of distractions.
The Recall Game Method
If you have a few friends that you can get to help you train your Pit Bull puppy, consider this fun game to help sharpen his recall skills. Make sure everyone has a small bag of treats before getting started.
Have everyone sit in a circle, and alternate calling your puppy to them. Have them call only once, and if necessary, bribe him over by offering a treat the first few times.
When your puppy arrives at the person that calls her, make sure they touch her collar before dispensing praise and a treat. Also, have them hold her until the next person calls, building up some excitement for this game as she struggles to break free and sprint to the next person in anticipation of a treat.
Add some distance by widening the circle. As your puppy gets more confident with this game, you can even call him from different rooms of the house. This is a great way to get the kids involved in training your dog!
Move the game outside, using the long-line for safety if you don’t have a fenced area. Turn it into a game of hide and seek using trees, sheds or other obstacles to make this recall game even more fun and challenging.
The Proofing Method
Why you need to proof
Once your Pit Bull puppy is about 4 months old, and he has plenty of practice with recall drills at home, it is time to start “proofing” their recall. This means that you will start to teach him to come when called in a variety of new environments, and in the presence of different distractions. This advanced skills method will give you some tips on how to make sure your Pit Bull learns to come when called, no matter what!
Take your dog to some new places and practice doing recall drills like you did with the 'Basic Recall' method. If you are worried about safety, use your long line to ensure you can reel her in before she gets into any trouble. Try going to the woods, an abandoned parking lot, doggy social areas like the dog park or bike paths and hiking trails. The more places you practice recall drills with your puppy, the more reliable she will be at coming when called.
By now, you should have a sense for the triggers most likely to break your Pit Bull’s recall. Maybe he is very interested in socializing with other dogs, for example. Find a way to practice recalling him past such distractions, such as a friend with their dog on a leash nearby. Use your long line to enforce your recall and keep the tone positive and fun. Huge rewards should go to your Pit Bull puppy when they choose to come to you instead of investigating a distraction.
If you want anyone to be able to call your Pit Bull to them, be sure you practice recall drills with as many people as you can. If you don’t, then do the opposite – keep your dog close, have a friend call them, and then reward your dog for NOT going towards your friend.
Get picky about the recalls that you will reward generously. Eventually you want to be rewarding 10% or less of the recalls you do with a food motivator, choosing the fastest and most intense returns to give the best rewards to.
When NOT to recall
At some point in recall training, you will need to decide to never use your primary recall command unless you are able to enforce it, otherwise, you may be teaching your dog that recall is optional. If you see that your puppy is engaged with playing with the neighbor’s dog, then try to use a whistle or secondary recall device to get their attention. Otherwise, prepare to go put a leash on your dog and end their game if you use her primary recall command and she ignores you.
Written by Sharon Elber
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021