Training a recall—how to train a puppy to come—is a basic puppy training command all dogs should learn. It not only promotes polite behavior, it can save your puppy’s life.
Curious puppies get into trouble without constant supervision. Even when you watch the baby, that teasing squirrel can tempt him to run into oncoming traffic before you can stop him.
A recall—coming when called—allows owners to prevent trouble even from a distance. For example, maybe your child opens the door for the mailman, and the puppy dashes out. Or the little guy decides to make friends with the black and white stinky visitor—skunk!—and you notice too late in the backyard. Even tiny puppies travel faster on four pudgy paws than people, so there’s no way to catch him—and in fact, chasing a puppy becomes a racing game you won’t win. Teach “come” and your new pup will stay safely within reach, even without the benefit of a leash.
Training Mistakes to Avoid
Puppies refused to come when called for several reasons. New puppies may not know their names. You might as well be shouting gibberish.
In most cases, though, puppies don’t know what the command means. It’s important to explain the term in language your puppy understands. After all, if you don’t speak French, it’s not fair to expect you to understand that foreign language—and it takes a while for puppies to learn “human.” Clicker training is a great way to communicate with your puppy.
Another reason puppies ignore the recall is there’s no benefit to them. Why should your puppy forget chasing that butterfly, or running across the street to meet the kid with a ball, and instead come back to you—BORING! Coming when called needs to trump whatever alternative behavior entices the puppy to ignore your command.
One of the most common—and worst—training mistakes is to punish the puppy once he finally does come. Sure, you’re irked that he ignored your frantic screaming his name to come. Maybe chasing him made you late for work. But you teach the wrong lesson by acting upset. He learns that when he finally comes he’ll be chastised, so he’s even less likely to obey the next time. Never punish when your puppy comes no matter how long it takes him to respond. Here’s how to teach your puppy to come on command.
Training Puppies to Come
- Figure out what reward—treat, squeaky toy, tug game—your puppy likes best. Be sure it’s irresistible and much more exciting than anything else in his puppy world. Reserve that for training exercises. Treat rewards are more about fun attention as the food, so it should be tiny, smelly, and no bigger than the tip of your little finger.
- Find a time when the kids aren’t around, the house is quiet and the other pets take a nap. Avoid distractions so the puppy has only YOU for attention. Call his name, get his attention, and go to him if need be to show him the treat or squeaky toy.
- Once he’s focused on you and the reward, say “Name, come!” Then turn around and RUN in the opposite direction. This uses his instinctive urge for social play. Puppies can rarely resist the urge to chase.
- Let him catch up to you, and hand or toss him the reward. Praise him for being such a smart doggy. Give lots of petting and happy talk, so he knows without a doubt that he’s pleased you.
- Repeat the chase game several times in a row. Leave him wanting more, so stop before he gets tired of the game. Practice the “come” command in this way once or twice a day for a week.
- After a week, try the exercise while standing still. Make sure the puppy isn’t sleeping, eating, or concentrating on something incredibly interesting. Say “Name, come!” and show the squeaky toy or treat. When he arrives, throw a huge puppy-party with the treat or toy reward.
- Once he understands what “come” means and routinely obeys without distractions, challenge him. Try calling him away from interesting pastimes like chasing that butterfly. Practice “come” in new locations—not just in the living room, but also outside in the yard or at Grandma’s house.
- Any time your puppy comes to you, no matter how long it takes, be sure to praise and reward. Above all, you want the puppy returning to you to have only positive associations so he’ll never fear to return to you.