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Taking the time to train your puppy to come is a skill that will serve you both for the rest of his life. By starting your training while your puppy is still young, you are doing your part to make sure he has a strong and fast response to your call--so that it will be there when you need it.
Professional trainers call a dog’s ability to come when called, “recall.” Training a great recall is not hard to do, but it does work best if you approach it as something that you will always have to practice in order to keep it strong.
This guide will show you how to teach the basics of a good recall, as well as how to make it into a fun game and how to proof the behavior under a variety of circumstances.
Note that some breeds will learn a reliable recall faster than others. No matter how good you think your dog’s recall is, never rely on it around dangerous conditions such as traffic.
Training your puppy to come is not difficult. You can start as early as 8 weeks old to really make sure your puppy grows up to be a dog that comes when called, every time. In addition to the three methods offered in this guide, follow these tips for best results:
- Set your puppy up to be successful and only use your recall word when you are fairly sure they will respond to it, then reward liberally.
- Keep training sessions very short and fun so that your puppy won’t get bored.
- Don’t call your puppy to you and then punish them or take away something they enjoy, like a toy or a chew bone.
- Start training any new behavior in low-distraction environments, adding more distractions only after your puppy has plenty of practice under her belt.
- Plan to practice over the course of your dog’s life, remembering to keep the recall something that is rewarding for her so she will gladly come when called, every time.
Whenever you are training your puppy new behaviors, it is important to follow a few simple guidelines. First, make sure that you are in a good mood and have plenty of patience. If you find yourself yelling at your puppy during training, do something else and come back to training when you have more patience.
When training recall, you will want to be more exciting than the environment for your puppy. At 8 weeks old, your puppy has about 5 minutes of attention before he is going to walk away and get into something new. At about 4 months, you have about 15 minutes to play with before he gets bored. Keep sessions short and fun and make sure to meet your puppy where he is at on his learning development curve.
Rewards can be anything that motivates your puppy, but we recommend a variety of rewards for recall training. Sometimes use some tasty treats, other times use lots of praise. When you change it up, it keeps your pup guessing what she might earn next time she comes running when you call her. This is the ideal set up for great recall for life.
The only equipment you need to train your puppy to come is a long line. This can be a leash or a simple piece of sturdy rope that is at least 25’ in length. When you are ready to take your training to new places, the long line will let you safely work with your puppy from a distance. It will also come in handy for other training so consider it a long-term investment in your puppy.
The Basic Skills Method
It is important that your puppy has the basic recall skill set down, so start with this method before advancing to other methods offered in this guide which will build on those basic skills. Make sure you work with your puppy in a low-distraction, indoor room when teaching them any new behaviors.
While your puppy is a few feet away from you, start to run away from him. Say his name and then the recall word in a very excited tone, such as “Come!” Most puppies will instinctively start a chase and catch up with you quickly. Make sure that you reach down and touch his collar before rewarding. This will build that in to the behavior, so he will not be surprised if you go for his collar in an emergency situation. Repeat 10-20 times.
Start to add some challenge to your recall drill with a little more distance. As she becomes ready, you can run away less, but stay excited and fun to keep her attention. Continue to reward generously with plenty of praise. Remember to keep those sessions short so she can stay focused.
Once about 4 months old, your puppy is ready to take his recall drills outside. If you do not have a fenced yard, use your long line so that you can safely retrieve him if he decides to run after something. Keep it fun and playful, adding distance over time as he is ready for the challenge.
At about 6 months, you are ready to add some consequence to your recall drills for those times that she fails to come when called. The best thing to do is to give the recall command, give her about 3 seconds to respond, then reel her in with the long line. Without verbally scolding her, just give her 3 minutes of “time out” in a crate or small room. She will soon get the picture – ignoring the recall command is no fun!
Move on to the 'Proofing' method for some advanced skills to train once your puppy has these basics down.
The Recall Game Method
Gather a few friends around in a circle (this is great with kids!) and give them each a handful of treats.
Have each friend randomly alternate calling your puppy in an excited tone with their recall command. Have them say it just once, and if necessary, bribe the puppy over with a treat.
Once she gets to the person that called her, have them touch her collar before giving her the reward. It makes it even more fun if they hold her while the next person calls, so she gets really excited about running to her next chance for a reward.
Add some distance between the people to give this more of a challenge. Keep the tone engaging and inviting. If your puppy gets really good at this game, try calling her from separate rooms to really make things fun!
Use the long line to take this fun recall game outside. Not only will it give your puppy a chance to practice that recall, it will wear her out in a hurry!
The Proofing Method
Why you need to proof
Teaching your puppy to come when you call starts with basic recall skills. However, to build a reliable recall that will serve you and your dog for his lifetime, you will need to “proof” his recall. This means you will need to add distractions and new situations to your recall drills so that he will learn that coming to you when called is always a good idea.
Hopefully you are making sure your puppy gets lots of exposure to new people, new places, and other dogs in the critical first 6 months of her life. Don’t miss out on the chance to practice your recall drills in new places with your puppy. This helps her learn that coming when called always pays big, even when there are other fun things around. Make sure you always let her get back to other fun stuff after a quick reward for a good recall. That way she will learn that coming to you won’t take away from her fun.
What distractions are most intriguing to your puppy? Identify these distractions and create some training set-ups that will give you an opportunity to reward your puppy for coming to you despite them. Start with the distractions far away, making it closer and closer to your puppy’s recall path as he becomes ready for the challenge.
Who do you want to be able to call your dog? If you want the recall command to work no matter who uses it, then practice doing recall drills with other people to be sure your dog understands he will be rewarded no matter who calls him.
If you want a very snappy recall, eventually you will want to start getting selective about the top 10-20% of recalls that you will reward. This does not mean you punish slower recalls, you will just make a big deal out of only the best. Over time, this will make her recall sharp and fast.
When NOT to recall
Learn when not to use your recall. There is a little bit of irony here – you break your recall every time you use it and your dog ignores it. At some point in the training process, you should only ever use your primary recall word if you are prepared to go and get her and enforce the recall with a time out should she refuse to come. If you know you are not able or willing to enforce the recall, use another method to get her attention such as the squeak of a ball, or the sound of some kibble in a dish.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 02/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021