Who’s familiar with what I call “the recall shuffle?” That’s when a dog owner calls to their off-leashed dog “Fido, come” and take two steps the dog to put the leash on, and the pet responds by taking two steps away.
Most dogs do not want to come when called because frankly, it is never rewarding. It ends their time in the backyard, at the dog park or being off leash on a hike.
The first shift in a pet owner’s thinking must be to use this command in a rewarding fashion, and mostly as a check-in.
When we first rescued my dog, a then 5-month-old Halo, she obviously had no understanding of this command. We would go to the park and let her partake in her favorite activity – chasing squirrels.
I would wait for her to finish chasing the squirrel up the tree, and very excitedly, call her over to me, backing up and giving her a target with my open palm. As she started coming in my direction, I would praise her lavishly and then give her a treat when she got to me.
Then, I would tell her “OK, go” and she looked at me like, “Really?” It was that moment that she understood that coming when called was just a check-in, rather than the end of her fun.
I could almost see her thinking to herself, “So, you’re saying I get to chase my friends, then come over to you to get a tasty morsel, and then go back to my favorite activity? Oh, I’m in!”
Of course, just like with any other training, this should be done in a distraction-free environment first, like inside the home. Call the dog’s name with come, and back up (very important) with an open palm down, so the dog has something to target.
The moment the dog starts to come, mark it with a clicker or yes and reward the pet when.
Ultimately, come when called is about dogs happily running over to their owners on command, sitting in front of them and waiting to be released.
Add in distraction and distance, but not at the same time. Always set them up to succeed by making sure not to ask for the command when the dog may not do it. Use a long-line (2a 0 or 30-foot leash) in order to have some control in open areas.
If a dog understands “come” is more rewarding than whatever it is doing and also will not always end playtime, fun always, the command will bear fruit.