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Imagine going to the dog park with your Whippet. He is racing around the park with his buddies, outpacing all of them. Another car pulls up and a Sheltie hops out of the car with her owner. The dog and her owner make their way across the busy parking lot toward the park entrance. Your buddy spots the Sheltie right as her owner begins to open the fence gate to come inside the park. Your dog takes off toward the gate at top speed. Before the owner even looks up, your pup is more than halfway across the park and the gate is still wide open. You watch the whole thing transpire, frozen for a second, and just as your Whippet reaches the gate opening you manage to yell out your dog's name and the word "Come!". Your buddy stops in his tracks and spins around. Suddenly he is racing full force toward you instead. When he arrives, he looks up at you with a doggie grin, and as you look down at him adoringly your heart begins to slow back down to its normal pace.
"Come" is a vital command to teach any dog, but if your buddy was bred for racing, and can run at top speeds when he wants to, "Come" is even more vital for him. Because your pup is probably prey driven like most sighthounds, and because he is fast, it is extremely important for him to recall when you tell him to. This command more than any other single command might one day save his life. Because your pup will be rewarded for running to you, he will probably enjoy learning it too.
Teaching your dog to recall is not only important for his safety, but it can also make life with your dog less stressful and more fun. It is easier to bring your pup with you places if you know that he will come when you call him. Knowing that your pup will come also makes everyday events like opening your front door or getting in and out of your car with your dog less stressful. In real life, accidents do happen, and it is easy for a neighbor or a family member to accidentally leave a fence gate open for too long, or to not pull your front door shut all the way. It would only take a second for your fast Whippet to get out, but knowing that you can call him back makes such occurrences far less frightening, and the potential for them far less stressful.
Because your Whippet is prey driven it is extremely important to practice his recall around lots of distractions after he has reliably learned it in a calm location. Whether or not your pup can ever be trusted completely off leash will also depend on your specific dog. Some Whippets can learn to reliably come back when called even in the midst of chasing something. Others will always need a fence or a leash in order to remain safe, and that dog's recall is simply for emergency situations, not off-leash hiking.
Don't be afraid to act silly with your dog. Acting goofy when you call him while teaching this will encourage your pup to come to you and will make the training more fun for him. You might even discover yourself having a better time too because of it.
When you are using long leashes, start off by calling your dog to you when he is only about ten feet away from you. As he improves you can add more slack to the leash. It can be a bit tricky to handle the slack in the leash, call your dog, and get all of the timing correct at the same time at first. Do not be discouraged though. Like anything, it takes practice. Simply view it as a learning opportunity for yourself, and enjoy learning together with your dog. Before long your timing, multi-tasking skills will be wonderful, and your pup's "Come" will be great too.
When you call your dog, try to call him before the leash is completely tight, so that he feels like he is off-leash and so that he does not get jerked by the leash when he hits the end of it. When he masters coming while on a twenty or thirty-foot leash, then you can move onto a lightweight fifty-foot leash if you wish to improve his skills even more. The fifty-foot leash better mimics the feeling of being off-leash because of how far away you can get from your dog before calling him, and because it is lighter weight and easier for him to forget that he is wearing it. Do not start off with a fifty-foot leash though, unless you plan to only use half of its length at first. If your dog takes off with the full fifty-foot length behind him before he learns that he is still attached to a leash and before he learns to come back when you call him, then he is more likely to hit the end of the leash and get hurt. This is also the reason why you should use a padded back clip harness while teaching this on a long leash. A padded back clip harness is a lot safer than a front clip harness or a collar if he takes off and hits the end of the leash.
To get started you will need lots of small treats that your pup loves, and that are easy to eat. You will also need a treat pouch, or a small Ziploc bag and a pocket to place the bag with the treats in.
If you are using 'The Run Away Method' then you will also need one of your dog's favorite toys. If you are using 'The Run Away Method' or 'The Round Robin Method' then you will also need a calm, spacious, safely enclosed space, such as a fenced-in yard. You might also need a padded back clip harness and a thirty or fifty-foot leash, to practice the command in more distracting locations if those locations are not safely enclosed also. If you are using 'The Reel In Method' then you will also need a twenty-foot leash, a lightweight fifty-foot leash, a padded back clip harness that fits your dog properly, and a calm, spacious location to practice this in. If you are using 'The Round Robin Method' then you will need at least one assistant but more than one is even better.
For all of the methods. you will need various locations where you can practice your pup's recall around distractions in a safely enclosed area or on a long leash. You will also need a great sense of humor, enthusiasm, excitement, and lots of verbal praise when your pup gets the command right.
The Reel In Method
To begin, purchase a twenty-foot leash, a lightweight fifty-foot leash, a padded back clip harness, and some treats that your pup loves, that are easy to eat.
Go to a calm location
Put the padded harness on your pup and attach the twenty foot leash to the back of it. Go to a calm location with him, and bring your treats with you.
Call your dog
Allow your Whippet to wander at least ten feet away from you on the long leash. When he gets at least ten feet away, then say his name and tell him to "Come!" in an excited voice. When you call him, act goofy at the same time by jumping up and down, shuffling your feet, or waving your arms around. Do this to get him excited to come to you.
When he arrives, praise him enthusiastically and hold a treat in front of his nose. While he is sniffing the treat, slip two fingers underneath his collar and slowly move the treat from his nose toward the back of his head, until he sits down. As soon as he sits down, feed him the treat. When he finishes eating the treat, tell him "OK!" and release his collar, allowing him to stand up and leave. The reason that you are holding his collar and luring him into the sitting position with the treat is so that he will learn to automatically sit when he comes to you, and so that he will not immediately run away again after coming. This could save his life one day.
After you tell him "OK", stand still and act boring until he wanders away from you again. When he gets at least ten feet away from you and is not paying attention to you, then call him again.
Practice saying your pup's name, telling him to "Come", praising him when he arrives, holding onto his collar, luring him into the sitting position, feeding him the treat when he sits, and then telling him "OK" and releasing him. Repeat this until he will consistently come whenever you call him.
If your pup does not come when you call him and you are confident that he heard you, then quickly reel him in with the long leash until he is right in front of you. When he is right in front of you, go through all of the steps that you normally do when you call him, but do not give him a treat this time. After he sits down and you release him, when he wanders a few feet away again, then call him again. Repeat this until he comes willingly three times in a row. Whenever he comes willingly give him a treat.
When your Whippet will consistently come when you call him in your current location, then take him to other places and practice there as well. Start with less distracting locations and as he masters coming in those locations, move onto harder, more distracting locations also. When your pup will consistently come in distracting locations on the twenty foot leash, then begin to use the fifty foot leash instead. Do this so that he can wander farther away from you and so that you can mimic being off-leash better. Only move onto the fifty-foot leash when your pup is coming reliably though.
Practice with the fifty-foot leash until your dog will reliably come in highly distracting locations on the fifty foot leash also. When your pup can do that, then practice in spacious, safety enclosed areas off-leash. If your pup begins to regress at any point, then attach the fifty foot leash to him again and practice with that for longer until your pup is doing really well again.
The Round Robin Method
To begin, recruit at least one assistant. Give everyone, including yourself, lots of small treats that your pup loves. If she is very food motivated, then you can also use her own dog food for this if the pieces are small and easy to eat.
Call your dog
Go to a spacious, safely enclosed location with your dog and your assistant. Stand several feet away from your assistant, and when your pup is at least ten feet away from you, excitedly call her name and tell her to "Come!". When you do this, act very excited and silly, waving your arms, jumping up and down, shuffling your feet, or running a couple of feet away from her.
When Fifi arrives, praise her enthusiastically and slip two fingers underneath her collar while you hold a treat in front of her nose. Slowly move the treat from her nose toward the back of her head. When she sits down in order to follow the treat, then give her the treat to eat. After she finishes the treat tell her "OK" and release her collar.
As soon as you tell her "OK" and release her collar, have your assistant excitedly call her name and tell her to "Come". Instruct your assistant to act goofy too, and to lure your pup into the 'sit' position with a treat while she holds onto her collar also. Have your assistant reward her when she sits down by giving her the treat, and have her release her after she eats it by telling her "OK" and letting go of her collar.
Send to the next person
If you have more than one assistant helping you, then have the next person call your dog when your first assistant tells her "OK" and releases her collar. Repeat this with every assistant, until she has gone to everyone in the group.
After your dog has gone to your assistant, or to your assistants if you have more than one, then call her over to yourself again. Repeat calling her back and forth between you and your assistant or assistants. Do this regularly for several weeks, until you can consistently call her when she is not expecting it and she will come.
Take it on the road
When Fifi will come consistently when you call her, then practice "Come" in other locations, until she can do it everywhere. If the area is not safely enclosed, then use a back clip harness and a long leash, such as a thirty-foot leash, while practicing this in those locations.
The Run Away Method
To begin, grab lots of treats that your pup loves and one of your pup's favorite toys, and go to a spacious, safely enclosed area, such as a fenced-in yard.
When your pup wanders a few feet away from you, call his name and tell him "Come!" in an excited voice, then run away from him while you shake his toy where he can see it.
When your dog catches up with you, stop and play with him with the toy for a second, and then tell him "Sit". When he does so, slip two fingers underneath his collar while you feed him a treat at the same time.
After your pup finishes his treat, tell him "OK!", and let go of his collar at the same time. Stand still and act boring until he walks away again.
Let Fido become interested in something, such as a smell, and when he is ignoring you, excitedly call his name and tell him to "Come!" again, while you run away and entice him with the toy. Reward him by playing with him, and by giving him a treat after he sits down while you hold onto his collar. Do this until he finishes his treat and is released with an "OK". Repeat all of this until your pup will no longer leave your side, in anticipation of being called back again, or until he loses interest in chasing after you anymore.
Start fresh the next day
When your pup will not leave your side or chase you anymore, then end the session for that day, and resume training the next day. Practice this often for several weeks until your pup will come to you whenever you call him even when you do not run away from him or entice him with a toy.
Go to new places
When your pup will come whenever you call him in your safely enclosed area, then take him to other safe locations and practice this there. If your pup is too distracted to come in the new location, then go back to square one and run away from him and entice him with a toy again when you call him. Do those things until he no longer needs those things in the current location in order to come when you call him there.
Add a leash
If the locations that you desire to practice in are not safely enclosed, or if your pup is struggling to come when you call him even though you are running away, enticing him with a toy and acting excited, then use a long leash at this point in the training. Purchase a twenty, thirty, or fifty-foot leash, and a padded back clip harness, and put the harness on your dog and attach the leash to the back of the harness.
Reel him in
Practice the "Come" command the same way that you have been practicing it, and if your pup does not come when you call him, quickly reel him in on the leash. When he arrives, praise him but do not give him a treat. Have him sit, hold onto his collar for two seconds, and then tell him "OK" and release him. Call him again and again, until he comes willingly two times in a row when you call him. When he comes willingly, then praise him and give him at least one treat.
Practice "Come" in multiple locations until your pup will consistently come when you call him. When he will consistently come, then gradually decrease how often you give him treats, so that he is only receiving a treat occasionally when he comes. Always praise him warmly for coming though.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 04/24/2018, edited: 01/08/2021