We know it, every time you call your dog to “come”; you get a blank look or worse…your dog runs away. What can easily happen when a puppy or adopted dog enters into your home is you say “come” willy nilly for many different reasons but never to intentionally to teach your that the word “come” means “run to me as fast as you possibly can” and that’s what you want it to mean, correct? So, first step. Think long and hard about how many times you have uttered the word “come” while walking around your house, when you are getting the leash out for a walk, or while your dog is engaged in play at the park. If you think this is you, pick a new word. “Come” means “follow me”, “we are going for a walk” and “ignore me, keep on playing” to your dog so start fresh with a new word.
I like to use a word that would not easily fly out of my mouth throughout the day but also one that rolls off my tongue in an emergency. In my house, “meatballs” is the magic word. It used to make my heart sing to see my Finn race to be my side when I called out “meatballs” and that guy was the king of hiking off-leash in many, many states.
STEP ONE: Practice inside only and this is a two person exercise. One person holds the dog by the collar (on a leash if your dog is nervous about his collar being held) and the other person starts directly in front of the dog and gets him excited. Please don’t swat at your dog to do this. Jump up and down, make silly noises, dance back and forth, move a toy around on the floor…whatever will make your dog SO EXCITED and run away. Stand tall and say “meatballs” ONCE and like you mean it and “yes”, “yes”, “yes” for every step your dog takes towards you. Reward when your dog gets to you. Many people forget this and get sidetracked by “sit, sit, sit”. You wanted your dog to come? Reward him for coming THEN get him to “sit”. Practice FIVE TIMES A DAY ONLY. If we told you to practice more, you would do so in a sloppy fashion and our goal (betting yours too) is to make sure “meatballs” or whatever fun word you choose gets your dog to race to you.
If there is only one person in the house: either wait for your dog to be away from you or toss a piece of kibble away then once your dog is done munching on the boring kibble, run backwards. AFTER your dog starts coming towards you excitedly, say”meatballs”. In the beginning, you want to make darn sure your dog will come to you before uttering the word so “meatballs” takes on the right meaning. Practice five times daily for one week.
STEP TWO: Person #1 shows the dog something of mild interest (a biscuit, low value treat, boring toy). Only when you know the dog has an interest, walk away from Person #2, a few steps only. Person #2 then says in the happiest, most excited voice ever, “meatballs”. If the dog does not INSTANTLY turn around and come to Person #2, get yourself up to the dog and lure him back to exactly where you were when you gave the cue. Repeat until you no longer have to lure.
One person variation, allow your dog to wander to the end of the leash on a walk and say “meatballs”. Again, if he does not fly to you, lure him. Do not tug.
Real life happens and the above takes time so help your dog learn good things happen when he gets to by giving a hearty “good boy” at the park and “go play” a few times before you leave the park so you going towards your dog does not mean play is over. If you are blessed with a backyard, have your dog “wait” before going outside and use the coolest, best, highest powered treats when he comes in all on his own. On occasion (if you overuse it, it will stop working), when you really need your pup to get to you, use a high pitched “bup, bup, bup” or “weeeeeeeee” but always reward for getting to you, it could save your dog’s life someday.
The above are modifications from the book Really Reliable Recall by Leslie Nelson, stay tuned for next steps.