The excitement of bringing a puppy home can be thrilling as well as daunting. There’s a lot to do now that you have decided to share your life and home with a puppy. In my opinion, the most important activity is to train your puppy to come every time you call.
I can’t emphasise how important it is for your dog to come to you when called. Without wanting to be melodramatic, it can be a matter of life and death. As long as you keep any training sessions short and fun, you can start with recall training before you take your puppy outside.
Training in the house
Using play will make any training sessions fun. You always want your puppy to associate coming to you as a rewarding and fun activity.
Puppy feeding time
At first you may think what does the following have to do with recall training; but bear with me, it will make sense.
Every time you put food down for your puppy, you should make him/her wait before eating. The first few times your puppy will want to rush the food and start eating immediately. You have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you are in charge and that you provide meals. So when you place the food down, make sure that your puppy can only approach the food once you have given permission. This will mean picking your puppy up and placing him/her away from the food. When you do this, use your puppy’s name and issue a gentle command to wait – in the beginning your puppy will struggle against you. As soon as he relaxes release him and say “go on then.”
You will be surprised at how quickly your puppy will get used to being asked to wait before approaching the food. Learning “to wait” will help in many training situations. Now you can start to train your puppy to come every time.
First steps to good recall
By controlling access to food, your puppy will be used to you giving commands and he will know that there is a reward for following them. Now you can start on his recall training. At this early stage, you will find that your puppy will follow you around – take advantage of this. When he approaches, call his name followed by “come” or “come here”. It’s important that you use a high pitched voice to get your puppy’s interest and attention. A low pitched voice may scare your puppy, which is the last thing you want to do.
It does not matter how long it takes him to come to you, as long as each time he does he gets a reward. If he is food motivated, a small treat is ideal. If he is not, you can use a play session with a favourite toy as a reward. It will help if you control his access to toys – he should see them as your toys that you let him play with.
It is important that you keep these training sessions short and fun. You want your puppy to associate being with you as fun and rewarding.
You can take your puppy outside 10 – 14 days after his second round of vaccinations. This would make your puppy between 14 – 16 weeks old. Any training should be in a secure area well away from distractions, traffic and other dogs.
Your training will be very similar to the work you completed at home. When your puppy approaches, call his name followed with “come” or “come here”. You should use the rewards that worked at home. This would be food treats or access to a favourite toy.
It is worth varying the reward you give your puppy. If he returns quickly, you can increase the amount of food you give as a reward. If it takes time for him to return, or you need to call him more than once, a small reward would be appropriate.
Increase distances & distractions
I had a rescue dog that had reasonable recall. When I say reasonable as soon as he got to about 15 metres away his recall vanished. Therefore, in your training sessions (which should still be in a secure area) it is important that you gradually increase the distance between you and your dog.
As you get more confident, you can also increase the level of distractions. To do this start taking your puppy to other safe locations. It is vital that you reward your dog more when you call them back from a distraction; like a squirrel or a particularly interesting smell.
Why do some dogs not come when called?
Dogs love going for walks and exploring. If you only call your dog back when it is time to go your dog will associate your command as an end to his/her fun. To avoid your dog making this association you should call him back to you fairly often. Don’t forget – reward them every time they come to you.