To come or not to come; that is the question.

My sister the famous food blogging photographer Dlyn has been encouraging me to write a bit more about my dog training techniques. I decided this could be a great way to reach a few more people. So let’s start with what I consider to be one of the most important things you will ever teach your dog. That is the recall or rather, to come when he is called.

We all want our dog to respond quickly when we need them to come to us. But it is one of the behaviors most people have trouble teaching their dog and maintaining. I believe it’s all about the association our dogs have about coming to us. Create a strong, pleasant association and your dog will prefer coming to you over everything else.

I am a huge proponent of using really good food to train dogs. Of all our senses smell and taste form the strongest and longest lasting associations.

Just a whiff of warm apple pie and I am transported to my Grandma’s house learning to make pie crust and sharing tasty warm pie just from the oven. A wonderful memory and even now apple pie is one of my favorite desserts.
Likewise just a hint of eau de beef bouillon and I feel terrible. I had the mumps when I was 14 and was terribly ill. Swollen throat, high fever, I couldn’t swallow so my mother made me beef bouillon to keep me hydrated and nourished.
I lived but I HATE beef bouillon. The smell is enough to put me off and I wouldn’t ever consider eating it!

Our dogs also form strong associations based on taste and smell and we can use this to create an association that assists us teaching our dogs to come to us whenever we want.
Use good food, create a strong behavior.

Take my advice get your dog a cheeseburger from the local fast food restaurant or some plain donut holes from the donut shop. At the very least use that left over prime rib you had last Friday when you went out to dinner. I know I know, its people food, full of fat and sugar. But people! we are forming an association here! My dogs eat very healthy most of the time so a few training sessions with food not so healthy is fine. Just trust me. Go get the cheeseburger. I’ll wait.
Back already?

OK, cut that cheeseburger into very small pieces. You are ready to start your first session.

Take your dog to a controlled area. I use a small room with a door. Let your dog wander and get distracted.
Then call him using only his name. Hold the food out and lure your dog to you praising as he comes. As soon as your dog gets to you feed the cheeseburger one piece at a time telling your dog continually how brilliant and wonderful he is. This is called a jackpot and it should take 20 to 30 seconds. You can have someone time you to be sure you’re taking enough time to form the association.
Now let your dog wander and get distracted again. Then repeat the process and continue this 3 more times during this session.
You will find it is harder for your dog disengage from you at the end of the session. This is a good thing.

When you begin the next session a few hours later you can go to a bigger room maybe without a door. Let your dog get distracted and then call him using only his name. Hold that lovely cheeseburger out and when he gets to you feed for 20 to 30 seconds and praise him the entire time. Again you will repeat this 3 more times this session.

Students always ask me how many times they will need to practice this and I tell them between 4 and 4000 times depending on your dog. Seriously there is no cut and dried answer.
Just like people dogs learn at different rates. You’ll be able to determine your dog’s ability as your training progresses.

When you are 99% sure your dog is going to come to you every time you call him you are ready to attach a command to his recall. I use “come” but you can call it anything you want, just be consistent.
I will caution you that if you are retraining your recall and already call it “come” I recommend renaming it as you’ve already taught your dog he has a choice to come or not as he chooses. A fresh command attached to the behavior will give you a better chance of having a more reliable recall.

OK, keep practicing.
Make sure you are only using your command if you are truly in control of whether your dog will come to you. Don’t take him to the back yard off leash and let him wander 50 yards away then call. You have no way of controlling your dog under these circumstances and you may set back your training. We will work up to that but in the meantime, keep working in small areas and if you choose to go outside please, have your dog on leash and only let him get a few feet away.

In the next couple days check back and we will continue to the next step.
Happy training!