Training your dog to come when called!

Having trouble getting your dog to come to you at the off-leash park? Maybe I can be of some assistance!

Helping your dog build a positive association towards you at the park is a MUST when teaching your dog to come. Clipping the leash on and taking your dog home every time you call them is one of the main reasons why dogs bolt in the opposite direction, as it is teaching the dog that “come” means home time.

So how can you change this? A positive, fun attitude is definitely required, and high-value treats certainly help! Fun and food should help your dog make a positive connection with you at the park, rather than running in the opposite direction at the sound of your voice. Once your dog makes this connection, you should see a more reliable recall.

The five training steps outlined below should provide you with the tools required to get you started:

Step 1. Clicker/verbal marker

You will need to use a clicker (right images) Dog clickerA clicker! or a verbal marker (a word such as “good” or “yes”) to teach your dog that it is going to be rewarded with food for looking at you, and/or coming to you when you call it. “Click” or “good” is used as a marker to let your dog know that what it is doing when you “mark” it (i.e. looking at you when you say its name) is the behaviour that you want. You teach this by rewarding your dog with a yummy treat after the click/good.

You will need to condition your dog to the click or word so that it associates this tool with getting food. All that you need to do is sound the clicker, or say the word, and then pop a treat into your dog’s mouth. If you repeat this at least twenty times, your dog should make the association — “click/word” = food!

The marker is a very powerful tool when used correctly, so make sure that your timing is spot on. Only mark the desired behaviour, if your timing is out you will confuse your dog and reinforce incorrect behaviours.

Video 1: Remember — click/word = food!

Step 2. Positive Name recognition

Teaching your dog to look at you when you say its name is the first step in teaching your dog to come to you at the park. If you have trouble getting your dog to look at you when you say its name, you are going to struggle even more when trying to recall it at the park. You can teach your dog to love its name by teaching it “positive name recognition”. Teaching your dog to love its name will help you gain focus when calling it at the park.

Practise positive name recognition at home first, by reinforcing your dog with its favourite treats when you say its name. By doing this your dog will be more inclined to look at you at the park when you call out its name, making the recall (getting your dog to come) an easier task. Your dog will remember that when you say its name, you will “mark” the behaviour and a high value treat will follow.

  • Say your dog’s name.
  • As soon as your dog looks at you — mark this with your marker.
  • Your dog should come over for a treat — this is because click/word = food.
  • Give your dog the treat!

Video 2 – Repeat the steps above a few times.

Step 3. Collar grabs

Collar grabs are a great way to teach your dog that reaching for its collar and holding onto it (the collar) is as a positive action and not negative or scary. It will save you when you recall your dog and need to hold onto the collar to clip the leash.

I say, “collar” when I reach for the collar, then mark it (“good” or click) and reward with a yummy treat. This way, if I need to grab my dog’s collar to pull her out of a hairy situation at the park, she will hear “collar” and know that it is me grabbing her collar and not another dog.

  • Practice collar grabs at home for now.
  • All that you need to do is sit cross-legged on the floor with your training pouch full of treats, your maker, and your dog.
  • Reach for the collar, say “collar”, and mark it.
  • Reward your dog with a yummy treat.
  • Now let go.

Video 3 — Repeat the above steps a few times!

Step 4: Start recalling your dog

Now that you have introduced three fundamental steps (the marker, positive name recognition, and collar grabs) to your dog, it is time to add the “recall” into the mix. Take your dog, training pouch, high value treats, and marker to a quiet park that is safe (if you are worried about having your dog off-leash, then use a 10 metre lead to test your dog’s focus).

  • Let your dog move a fair distance away and call your dog’s name.
  • When your dog looks at you, mark it (click/word). Your dog should automatically know that click/word = food and head towards you.
  • Have a treat ready, crouch down and when your dog reaches you, do a collar grab (say the word “collar”) and do not let go of the collar until your dog has finished its high value treat.
  • Once your dog has finished the treat, let go and continue walking, don’t clip the leash on.

Video 4 — Repeat these steps a few times!

Step 5: Finally, get them to “come”

If you have success with mixing positive name recognition, the marker, and collar grabs after a few training sessions, then you can start adding the word “come” into the mix. Make sure that you add it in when your dog is already moving towards you, as you want your dog to link the word “come” with the motion of moving towards you.

So this time use the following steps when adding the word “come” into the training session:

  • Let your dog move a fair distance away and call your dog’s name.
  • When your dog looks at you, start walking away (keeping an eye on your dog by looking back over your shoulder).
  • As soon as your dog starts moving say the word, “come”, and mark it (click/word).
  • Have a treat ready, crouch down and when your dog reaches you, do a collar grab (say the word “collar”) and do not let go of the collar until your dog has finished its high value treat.
  • Once your dog has finished the treat, let go and continue walking, don’t clip the leash on.

Video 5:

Randomly clip the leash on, give your dog a treat and let them off again so that your dog cannot predict when you are going to head home. Dogs are very smart animals, if the only time you grab the leash is to clip it on and take your dog home, it will be less likely to come to you.

If the above steps worked: congratulations! You just trained your dog to come to you when called. If they did not, then you will need to work out why. Did you condition the click/word properly? Did your dog understand what it was being marked for (i.e. looking at you, coming to you)? If not, then you need to reassess your training sessions. Remember that timing is everything when using a marker. So make sure that the communication is clear and that your timing is spot on.

Let your dog have a sniff, and play with other dogs — this is their time at the park to do what dogs love to do naturally and instinctively. Use collar grabs when you need to move your dog away when playing, rather than recalling your dog, as it is likely that you will be unsuccessful. Be unpredictable about clipping the leash on, and look at the recall as more of a checking in system, rather than using it to take your dog home. Once your dog realises that you calling it at the park means positive things (such as BBQ chicken) you should see a major improvement in your dog’s recall.

Video Credits: All the videos are filmed by Cynita Miyashita. Babi and her dog Buddy are the happy subjects in the footage.

 

Michelle O'Brien

Michelle started her career at the age of 14 as an Animal Attendant and in her early 20’s became a Veterinary Nurse. Her dog training career started 12 years ago when she was offered the opportunity to run puppy preschool classes.

Michelle's training qualifications centre around positive reinforcement methods, being a Delta Canine Good Citizen Trainer and gaining a Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services. Michelle is also a member of the Delta Professional Dog Trainers Association.