“Come” is probably the most basic command every dog needs to learn. A dog that won’t come when he’s called is a danger to himself or to others. According to well known dog trainer Nancy Patton, “come” is fundamental to all dog training, but to get your dog to come to you EVERY time, you have to make it worth his while. “Come” should ALWAYS be a word that means love, joy, and treats; NEVER unpleasantness or punishment.

Caregivers often sabotage the training by ordering the dog to come when he is doing fun things, and he soon learns that the command “come here” means “quick, run the other way, or my fun will end.” There are many examples of how the dog is unintentionally “punished” when he comes. Every time that he is called to engage in an activity that he doesn’t enjoy, he is learning that the command “Come” is bad news. NEVER call your dog to come and then give him a bath, or confine him, and certainly never punish him when he comes. If the dog has misbehaved, and you shout, “Come here. Bad Dog!”, he will naturally be reluctant to come the next time you call.

Always avoid the use of “come” to end a play session, to administer discipline, give medicine, or to go to the vet. In cases like these rather than calling your dog to you, go to him instead. For instance, if you are in the park and ready to leave, go to your dog and snap on his leash rather than calling him to you and then leaving. Otherwise, his last association with the command will be negative—“If I come when called, the fun ends.” “Come” should ALWAYS mean that something good will happen to him, something far better than whatever he’s doing at the time.

Begin “Come” training indoors or in an enclosed area. Food, carefully used, can be a great motivator. High-value treats such as small cubes of cheese, tiny bites of chicken, or his favorite homemade biscuits are usually effective, especially if offered before meals when the dog is hungry. Toys are also good. Have a couple special toys that your dog likes and keep them only for training sessions. Play with her as much as you can, so that she understands that her time spent with you is the best thing that could happen to her. When you are ready to move to open areas, it is best to attach a long, light line to your dog’s collar or halter, so that he is easier to catch if he gets distracted and tries to run after something.

A recall in your own yard is completely different than a recall in a different place, which means it is important to practice in as many contexts as possible. Place, a key factor, is often hard for dogs to generalize, and the distraction level of variables such as food, other people, new sounds, traffic or other dogs must be considered. Plan to train your dog everywhere—that way, she will be more likely to respond, no matter what. Rewards and repetition are keys to training your dog to come, and really reliable recall takes lots of practice, lots of patience, and lots of treats, but it no exaggeration to say that recall is the most important behavior you will ever teach, perhaps making the difference between life and death for your beloved companion.

Pauline Larsen can be contacted at Paw Prints, Box 373, Newell, Iowa 50568 or by e-mail at plarsen@rconnect.com