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Puppy Training Lesson 3 – Teach a Puppy To Come When Called
Teaching a puppy dog to come when called is one of the most valuable lessons in this training course, because it honestly can literally save your puppy’s life. A puppy who comes when he is called can be kept safe from traffic or other dangers. You can let him run at the dog park, in the woods or along the beach knowing that when you call him back, he will come to you.
This lesson therefore gives you both much more freedom. However, teaching a puppy to come when called is also one of the most difficult lessons, for you, not your puppy! You will need to control your normal human tendencies and pay close attention to your own body language.
What you will be learning to do in this lesson is counter-intuitive to us humans, but is very effective. The end result will be a puppy that comes when you call him, every single time. Believe me, it is well worth the effort.
Before we begin, you need to decide what command you will use for calling your puppy to come to you. Give this some thought first, because you will need to use it each and every time without change.
Consistency is the vital key herewith verbal commands. You cannot expect your puppy to learn that “Come,” “Come here,” “Get over here,” “Hey, come on,” and “Max, get your butt over here now!” all mean the same thing. The simplest, of course, is simply the word “Come!”
Three things during this lesson are different from the other lessons:
- First, your tone of voice. It should be upbeat and enthusiastic. Think of yourself as an excited coach yelling encouragements to a player running down the field, versus calmly telling the player what to do.
- Second, repetition of the verbal command is good for this particular training, because a series of short, enthusiastic sounds works best when getting your puppy to move quickly. Imagine a coach yelling “Go! Go! Go!” Also, clapping while giving the command is extremely effective.
- Third, you’ll need to use your entire body and not just your voice to get your puppy to do what you want. Most people tend to stand facing their puppy, or even step towards him, when they want him to come. That’s the opposite of what you actually should do. To get your puppy to come to you, you need to turn and move away from him as you call him. This will be the hardest trick for you to learn. However, you will be amazed at how well and also how quickly it works.
Think of yourself as “pulling” your puppy toward you. When pulling something heavy on the end of a rope, you can stand facing it and pull it towards you with just your arms – or you can do it the easy and much more effective way, by turning, putting the rope over your shoulder, and walking away from the object while pulling it behind you.
Here’s another tip:
Most puppies want to go wherever their owners go. They can figure out where we are about to go by looking at our feet. That is why you will be turning your back and moving away from your puppy to get him to come to you. And one more thing before we begin. It is very important during this initial training that your puppy learns to love coming to you.
As mentioned earlier in this course, your primary reinforcer, such as the treat, must be something your puppy really loves and not just accepts, but really loves. Your tone of voice when giving your puppy his praise must be encouraging and upbeat as well. Have you ever seen someone yelling at their dog when it has got loose? Typically they lose patience quickly and switch from a cajoling voice to a stern, angry yell if the dog doesn’t come immediately.
Think about that. … Would you want to run towards anger? Of course not! Remember, your goal is to make your puppy really want to run to you when you call. So be very careful to have lots of patience during this lesson. Keep your voice enthusiastic and happy. Give heaps of praise when your puppy does the right thing.
Now, let’s get on with the lesson!
Lesson 3: Teaching a Puppy to Come when Called
- Load up your pocket or pouch with treats. You will need more than usual for this lesson.
- Take your puppy to an area where there won’t be a lot of distractions.
- Move about ten feet away from your puppy as he is not paying attention to you.
- Enthusiastically call out your puppy’s name, followed by the come command: “Come! Come! Come!” Do this while turning sideways. Do not turn your back because you need to watch him closely. Start clapping your hands together as you begin to run away from your puppy.
- As soon as he moves in your direction, call out your praise and encouragement and keep going.
- Slow down and let your puppy catch up to you Then stop and immediately give him a handful of treats and lots of enthusiastic praise. Make sure he thinks that coming to you was the best thing in the world!
- Important: This method reinforces your puppy’s actions twice; 1st for diverting his attention from whatever he’s doing (Step 4), and 2nd when he reaches you (Step 5). Step 4 is just as important as Step 5. Be very consistent about praising your puppy the instant he turns his attention to you. Considering how many smelly distractions there are in your puppy’s world, getting him to stop whatever he’s doing and look at you really is quite amazing, and you need to show your appreciation. Give your praise (“Good!”) immediately when he looks at you and starts to move in your direction. And be sure that with Step 5, you give the treat immediately when the puppy reaches you. Do NOT wait because he may sit down. If you give him the treat after he sits, he’ll think sitting was the action that is getting rewarded, and not coming to you on command.
- Walk about ten steps away from your puppy and wait for him to look away from you.
- Repeat Steps 3, 4 and 5.
- Repeat this process another three times.
If your puppy doesn’t do what you want:
If your puppy doesn’t come, he’s probably just too distracted. That is OK. Remember that he hasn’t yet learned that coming to you will make him happier than anything else he’s doing. So here’s what you do: you go to him. Now, this is difficult for some people to do because they feel it is “giving in” to their puppy.
But please trust me, this is the right thing to do at this point in training your puppy. Let your puppy know you have a yummy treat in your hand, and use it to lure him as you walk away, giving your come (“Come! Come! Come!”) command. Stop after a few steps and give him the treat.
If the treat lure doesn’t work, put a leash on your puppy and gently pull him along as you give your “Come” command. Stop after a few steps and give him the treat.
Remember to keep your tone of voice upbeat, enthusiastic and happy.
This Week’s Homework:
- Practice this lesson several times a day. Vary the time of day and location. Think of the training as a fun game for you and your puppy.
- Remember to use the same come command every time, turn away from your puppy, and clap while running away. Give instant praise when he turns his attention to you, and instant treats when he reaches you.
- Be aware of what your puppy is doing when you call him to come to you. You want him to learn quickly and easily, so don’t call him when he’s focused on something else. Keep the degree of difficulty for this exercise as low as possible at this point.
- Use the command also when you know your puppy will be coming to you automatically, such as when you put his food bowl down.
- Also remember the key to this lesson is to teach your puppy that coming to you is a wonderful thing. So for now, do NOT use the come command to call him to you if the end result is something he won’t like, such as having his toenails trimmed. Instead, go to him, put on the leash, and lead him to where you need him to go. Keep your tone of voice upbeat, friendly, and encouraging, but be sure to avoid using the come command when your puppy won’t like what happens afterwards.
In Addition to Practicing This Lesson…
- Reinforce Lesson 2, Teaching Your Puppy to Sit. Continue teaching your puppy to sit at various times throughout the week. Remember not to change your verbal command. If you started with “Sit,” do not say “Sit down” or anything else.
- After a few successful sessions with the basic lesson, during your next session, put your treat in your other hand and not the hand that is moving over his head toward his tail. This will teach your puppy that he will get a reward for doing the right thing (sitting) even when he cannot sniff the food.
- Remember to say “Sit” before moving your arm.
- After a few successful sessions, during your next session, try saying the word alone, without moving your arm or anything else. It may take him a few seconds longer to sit on just the verbal command. So wait until he does so before giving lots of praise and several treats. If your puppy doesn’t sit on just the verbal command, resist the temptation to repeat the command. Instead, go back to using the arm motion with the verbal command. Don’t worry if he won’t respond to the verbal command without the arm motion at this point.
- When you feel your puppy is ready to move on, during your next session, try teaching him to respond to the arm motion alone. Modify the arm movement somewhat, so it’s more of an upward motion out and back towards your chest than a movement over your puppy’s head toward his tail. Use just the arm movement alone, without the verbal command. Give extra praise and treats to reward him if he sits.
- After he learns to respond to just the verbal command, and to just the visual command, alternate them (but not during the same session). Sometimes ask him to “Sit” verbally. Other times just use the arm movement. Give lots of praise for doing the right thing.
- Be patient; this alternating of verbal and visual commands is a bit complicated for your puppy. Don’t switch commands during the same session. Go back to using the verbal command and arm motion together if he doesn’t respond to either alone. All dogs learn at different paces. Just keep working at it. Make sure there aren’t too many distractions. Give lots of praise for doing the right thing.
- Keep your practice sessions to no more than five repetitions per session.
- Reinforce Lesson 1, Teaching A Puppy His Name. Continue teaching your puppy his name at various times throughout the week, allowing the level of distraction to increase during your practice sessions. Remember to say your puppy’s name only once, wait for him to look at you, then immediately give praise.
Intermittent Reinforcement Begins:
When you’re confident your puppy will respond to his name each time, you can begin “intermittent reinforcement.” Continue giving verbal praise, but back off on giving treats every time your dog responds correctly. Give treat rewards intermittently, at random.
This gradual withdrawal of treats is an important step, so don’t skip it. (You can delay it another week, though, if your dog doesn’t yet respond consistently to his name.) Start using petting (make sure it’s the kind your dog likes—most dogs do NOT like pats on the head, for instance) and play as other forms of reward.
Have fun playing with your dog! Don’t focus all your time together on training. Spend lots of quality time just enjoying each others company.
Once you have mastered this puppy training lesson, then it will be time to move on to the next lesson:
Lesson 4: Teach A Puppy to Stay