It’s an all too familiar scene: You’re at the dog park shouting at your pup to “come!” and… they totally ignore you and keep chasing a lab with a stick. Or, you’re standing in the doorway of your house begging your pup to come in from the backyard and…they just look at you like you have two heads.
If you put yourself in your dogs shoes (err paws), it makes sense: When you ask your pup to “come,” you’re pulling them away from something exciting, whether it’s other dogs at the park or a stick they found in the yard. But the thing is, teaching your dog a reliable “come” command is crucial since it can help keep your dog out of danger. “You want to make it an automatic response so your dog will come to you, whether he’s playing with friends in the dog park or walking into a busy street,” Robert Haussmann, founder and lead trainer at DogBoy NYC.
The good news? Teaching your pup a reliable “come” command can be pretty easy, as long as you work on it from the comfort and quiet of your own home before trying it in big, public places, notes Haussmann. Keep reading to learn how to get your pup to come to you every time you call him.
1. Get excited
When teaching your pup to come, make it enticing! “Your dog must think that coming on cue is the best thing he could do in any given situation,” says Haussmann. Give your pup a big smile and say “come!” as enthusiastically as you can—a higher tone will get him excited. Just make sure to stick with the same verbal cue every time, says Haussmann, to avoid any confusion about the command.
2. Give your dog a bone
The easiest way to get your dog to “come” on-demand is to pair the verbal cue with a reward such as a treat or a toy. The key is to mix up the rewards (aka, don’t give your pup the same treat every time), and keep things interesting by not always giving your dog the prize. Random rewards work better at encouraging consistent behavior than when your pup knows he’ll get a treat every single time. It also helps to reinforce the “come” cue by using it to call your pup for mealtime, a game of fetch, or any other activity, advises Haussmann. Doing so will help “build a strong emotional association,” with the phrase, he says.
3. Give them a hand
Pair the verbal cue “come” with a hand signal. A popular one is to extend one arm at hip level, then bend your elbow to move your hand up to your shoulder. Or, you could try raising a hand high overhead. Adding a hand signal will help your pup see you from a distance once you graduate to bigger, more open spaces. “Young and social dogs may also respond well to their owner squatting when they call for them,” says Haussmann.
4. Take baby steps
A common mistake people make is trying to use the “come” command at the dog park before their pup is ready. “More often than not, a dog has not learned the command thoroughly enough yet,” says Haussman. So, before graduating to the dog park, test your pup in an open space with fewer distractions like your backyard or a neighbor’s house. The idea is to try the command in many environments with a variety of distractions before taking the ultimate test (read: the dog park). If you’re still feeling apprehensive, Haussmann advises using a long (20- to 50-feet) training leash just in case your dog gets tempted to run off from the yard. You can even get a few friends’ dogs together to progressively add distractions, just be careful not to let them get tangled when using a training leash.
5. Keep your cool
It can be frustrating when your dog doesn’t come when called, and unfortunately, humans tend to compound the problem by scolding their dog when they finally do mosey over. This is a bad idea because your pup will take it as punishment for coming to you (the opposite of what you want!) and wind up confused. Instead of admonishing your pup, "put a deadline on the cue," says Haussman. "They will learn that the reward is only available for a brief time, and getting to you faster is advantageous." So, if your dog takes too long to respond to you, withhold the treat; then, step back about five feet and say "come" again—if they listen to you, then go ahead and reward them.
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