Train your dog to come on command using these helpful tips.

January is both National Walk Your Dog month and Train Your Dog month, and if you’re giving your furbaby an appropriate amount of exercise, you may occasionally visit off-leash areas where he or she can run free and play with other dogs. In that case, one of the most important things you can teach is to respond reliably to a recall command. Whether danger appears in the form of unexpected vehicles or potentially aggressive dogs, there may be times when you need your dog to return to you immediately and quickly for his or her own safety. If you haven’t yet mastered this command, here is what you need to know.

All Recall Responses Are NOT Equal

Many pet parents find that when they call their dogs to come, they get vastly different responses from different individual animals in different situations. Some dogs will come immediately when called, no matter where you are and what the distraction is; while others have more selective responses, depending on what is happening around them.

In an emergency situation we need certainty, so read further to learn how to teach your furbaby how to respond to your recall demand.

Teaching the Emergency Recall Command

Some time ago, before people realized training with negative reinforcement was less than effective, the method of teaching recall was to put the dog in a sit-stay, walk away from them with a long leash in your hand, turn, and say “come” while tugging on the leash. The dog learned to associate the command with a tugging action, which isn’t inviting, and unsurprisingly, it didn’t always work consistently or with all dogs. Some dogs simply refuse to respond to negative training methods, while others are too timid or sensitive for this to be effective. There are even some who will run in the opposite direction.

Steps to Follow

Thankfully, we’ve moved on from training with the threat of punishment, and there is a new way to make dogs enjoy responding to your recall command, which makes even the most easily distracted dogs more likely to respond.

  • If you have previously taught your dog to come by the old “tugging an yanking method”, choose a different word. Swap “come” for “here,” for instance, because your dog already has a negative association with the word “come.”
  • Take a couple of days to teach each of these steps, so your dog can get used to each new development at her own pace.
  • Start by teaching the word “come” or “here,” to your dog, and make sure she associates it with something truly fantastic. Say “come” in a happy, excited voice, but without expecting your dog to respond to the command. Instead, immediately give her a treat she wouldn’t normally get (chicken or steak would work well), or reward her with a quick play session with her favorite game or toy.
  • Once your dog learns to associate your recall command with a delicious snack, praise or fun, you can start saying the word with your dog on her leash, and then running for ten to fifteen steps before providing the treat. Don’t run faster than your dog can, or drag or tug on her leash. You’re just teaching her to run towards the treat here, and you don’t want to create negative connotations.
  • After a few days, your dog should associate the command with running happily beside you, and then getting an awesome treat. Now it’s time to visit a low distraction, off-leash area and test it out from a distance. Use the same command and another great treat, but wait until your dog is a short distance away from you and not on the leash.
  • Keep practicing, gradually increasing distance and adding more distractions. Just remember to get your furbaby’s attention first with a squeaky toy or a noise, or you’ll be teaching her to ignore you when she focuses on the distraction rather than you!

Once your dog is reliably responding to your recall command, you can start teaching him to sit before he gets his treats, but the most important thing is to ensure that he associates recall with a reward, and that it’s a positive, happy experience. If you can achieve that, you can get a reliable response from most dogs, and your trips to off-leash areas will be that much safer.