Want to Get Your Dog to COME When Called? Easy…Just Be a Slot Machine

If I had to say the number one thing people ask me most on the dog training circuit, it has got to be hands down how to get their dog to come when called.

🐶Why is this so difficult?

It becomes a challenge because we inadvertently do many things that teach our dog that coming to us is not a good idea. Let me ask you, why do you want your dog to come to you? Is it because you want them to stop running and chasing in the street (yes there are cars and dangers everywhere but all they feel is YIPPEE).

Or maybe it’s because you need them to come inside from the yard where they are romping and frolicking freely in the sun because you need to put them in the crate so you can leave them and go to work all day. Or perhaps it’s time to take their medicine or have their nails trimmed. Oh that sounds like an invitation to a party for a dog.

What dogs learn and learn quickly is that when you call me to come you do something I don’t like. Coming to you should always be a pleasant thing for your dog.  🛑Don't ever call your dog to you and then do something they find unpleasant.

In your dog’s mind it is cause and effect, I came to you and you put me in the crate and left me. Or every time you call me at the park you clip on the leash and we leave. All of this is cause and effect teaching our dogs to ignore this command.

Fool them once shame on us, fool them twice, shame on them.

Teaching a dog to come is probably the most important command your dog will ever have to follow. It can actually save your dog’s life in certain situations. By following a few simple steps, you can teach your dog a reliable recall. Let’s get started.

✅ Calling your dog


You want to teach your dog that coming to you is a game, the recall game.

Here's the steps and key pointers:

  • Start out with two people about 15 feet apart in one room.
  • Both people should have treats.
  • Kneel down to be less threatening, extend your food arm toward the dog, show the dog the food as a target and say COME, COME, COME!
  • Use a high happy tone because it instinctively sounds good to your dog. If you use a harsh “get over here now tone” the dog will retreat instead of approach.
  • Keep in mind that the dog’s name is NOT a command, for example, you can’t just call out SPOT, SPOT, you must say SPOT…COME, COME, COME!
  • You want to use COME as a repetitive tone. Studies have shown that instinctively, quick repetitive tones create movement in animals.  How do you get a cat to come? You say “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty". Alternatively, long tones make animals stop. You stop a horse by saying "Whoa". 
  • When first teaching this recall game, NEVER call your dog without a treat. If you don’t have a treat it’s simple, DON’T CALL YOUR DOG!
  • It's also important to know that you should only have food in your hand as a target for the first few times you play this game to get your dog to understand what you want. Once he does, the food should always be in your pocket and only be fed to him after he comes to you.

✅ Rewarding the dog


OK, so now we have called your dog. Next, when your dog comes to you, touch his collar gently, reach into your pocket, pull out a treat and then feed him the treat as close to your body as possible and praise him.

It's important that the treat not be in your hand when you call the dog.

You want to feed close so the dog learns not to stop at an arms length away, while touching the collar prevents the dog from playing a favorite game of keep away. Use really good treats, cut up hot dogs, chicken, pasta, cheese. Remember we are competing with all the distractions of their environment, chasing squirrels and barking dogs and bicycles.

We need to back up our command with a valuable paycheck.
Yes paycheck.
We work for money, most dogs work for food. 🦴

✅ Release


When done with your turn, have the other person call him and do the same procedure. Call your dog back and forth and as he starts to catch onto the game you can expand it, increasing your distance throughout the house.

The point of this game is for your dog to stop what they are doing and come quickly to you to get a yummy treat and be pet and then go back to play.

Not only will it teach your dog that coming to you is fun, it will also give him good exercise! Once he's learned the meaning of come, call him at different times throughout the day, from inside and outside, rewarding him every time and then go about your business.

Make coming to you a fun game for the dog at all times, no matter when no matter where.

IMPORTANT: Do not practice this outside in an unfenced in area. When teaching we need to set the dog up for success. It is not safe to put your dog in any situation where they could escape.

✅ Building Reliability


Reinforcement happens when a reward is given repeatedly for engaging in a specific behavior. For the first few weeks, always give a treat EVERY TIME. Have a nice variety of treats. After that, become a slot machine by creating a variable schedule – the most powerful reinforcer schedule known to man.

That’s why there is Gambler’s Anonymous and that’s what we want - your dog to become addicted to “coming when called”.

From now on, vary the schedule of your treats.

You call him, one treat, next time no treats (but lots of praise), next time jackpot (steak or even 5 treats), next time no treats but you throw his favorite ball or toy. You vary the "schedule" of reinforcements as well as vary the reinforcement (treats, praise, toy, and quantity of treats as well as the type).

Now the command becomes reliable.

Your dog knows the game, knows the treat is coming and will pull that slot machine handle to see what treats it dispenses.

This is now more fun than chasing the neighbor's cat!


 

Now you may ask, what do you do when you need to give your dog medicine or put him in his crate.

Well you have a couple of options:

  • Either physically go and get your dog gently by the collar without calling him to you,
  • OR call him, give him his treat, touch (and hold) his collar and pet and interact with him. Wait a few minutes and THEN put him in his crate. This is a long enough span of time so that he will not make the association between coming to you and going in his crate.

Lastly if your dog should get loose and run off, don't punish him when he does finally show up. In his mind he is not being punished for running away, he is being punished for coming back. This will make him go into avoidance and he will stop coming when called.

No matter how angry and upset you are with him for running away, praise him and feed him when he returns.

Our actions determine their reactions and we always want to reward and encourage them for finding their way back to us.

If you follow these steps and are consistent, you will be well on your way to having a dog who wants to come to you and will come to you reliably.  

 

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