Having a healthy, happy dog means having a dog that is balanced in both physical and emotional needs, and accomplishment of this goal requires training. Sponsored by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, January is National Train Your Dog Month, an event designed to promote the importance of socialization, and benefits of training, emphasizing the sad fact that many dogs are relinquished to animal shelters every year for behavior and training issues that could have been easily solved with proper socialization and positive, gentle, science-based methods of training. According to trainer Ken Ramirez, “Training is not a luxury; it is a key component to good animal care, and enhances the quality of life for our pets. It is far more than just teaching a dog to do cute tricks. Training is about teaching a dog how to live in our world safely.”

“COME” is probably the most basic command every dog needs to learn in order to live in our world safely. A dog that won’t come when he is called is a danger to himself and others and a frustration for his caregiver. We’ve all been there. The door gets opened, and the dog dashes out. We call and call and then frantically race after him, and when we finally catch him, we scold him. Not the best approach.

To get your dog to come to you EVERY time, you have to make it worth his while. An example is given by Wendy Nicberg, whose dog darted out and ran into the street. She took a deep breath and shouted, “Linus, COOKIE.” The dog turned around and raced back, eager for a cookie!

“Come” should always be used in a positive way, never involving 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” or “come here” means, “quick…run the other way, or my fun will end.” NEVER call your dog to come and then give him a bath, or confine him, and certainly never punish him when he comes. If she has misbehaved and you shout, “Bad dog…come here…bad dog”, she will naturally be reluctant to come the next time you call. COME should always mean that something good will happen to him, something better than whatever he’s doing at the time. If you have overused the word, Come, to the point that your dog has learned to ignore it, choose a new word, such as “Cookie” or “treat” or “here.” ( ALL family members should use the same word ALL the time.)

Begin “Come” training indoors or in an enclosed area: Say your dog’s name, and add the recall word. Praise her as soon as she starts to come, and be generous with rewards. High value treats such as small cubes of cheese, tiny bits of chicken, or her favorite homemade biscuit are usually effective, especially if offered before meals, when she is hungry.

Outdoors, without an enclosed area, is tougher. It is better to attach a long, light line to your dog’s collar or harness (NO choke collar), so that he is easier to catch if he gets distracted and tries to run after something. Begin by calling him when he is NOT doing something he is really enjoying, so you have a better chance of his responding. Again praise generously, and offer special treats, so that he learns that coming means high value treats. Briefly interact with him, and then allow him to go back to his activity. You don’t want him to associate coming with the end of play time.

Call your dog using this method (with long safety lead attached) several times a day for a couple weeks—in circumstances when you are sure he will come. Use the same recall word consistently and always be generous with rewards. Then comes the big test, no safe enclosure, no lead attached. Once learned, consistently practice this activity.”Use it or Lose it!” 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 effective recall might sometime save your dog’s life.