Come 101: The Basics
The first in our Come series, learn the basic foundations for teaching your dog to Come When Called.
This is the first lesson in our Pup U series, Teaching Your Dog To Come.
This treat toss game teaches your dog multiple concepts in just one activity. Your dog will learn to come away from a mild distraction - the smells on the ground. She will learn to orient to you, to come to you, and to work with you - not just because she sees a treat in your hand.
Learning the Basics of Come
For the starting point, we are teaching your dog to reorient to you. Start in a quiet area outdoors or a quiet room in the house. Toss a treat away and let your dog chase it. After eating the treat, she will turn back to you; it’s ok if it takes her a minute. Please resist the temptation to call her name, rattle the treat bag, or move to get her attention. Turning to you is her responsibility.
Once she looks towards you, then give several treats from your hand. We want to have a big celebration! Repeat this routine of tossing a treat, wait for refocus and reward. Try for 5-15 repetitions per training session. We should see that your dog is quicker to refocus on you after eating the floor treat. Repeat this for a few sessions. We want to see that your dog can eat the floor treat and then automatically and immediately turn toward you. Once we’ve had a few sessions with this level of success, then we can go on to the next step.
Choosing the Best Reward
For some dogs, we need to experiment with different reward options. For example, some dogs will work well for their regular dog food. For other dogs, we can use pet store treats. And for some dogs, we need very delicious treat options, such as tiny pieces of plain boiled chicken or pea-sized pieces of cheese or egg. Each dog has different preferences and we want to discover what your dog loves the most.
While we can do this activity with a toy reward, it is easier to get many repetitions by using food rewards at this level. It can be easier to layer in a toy reward at later stages of training.
Our next step is to add your “Come!” word or signal after your dog eats the floor treat before she turns back to you. If your dog does not turn back to you, pause and wait until she looks. If the environment is too distracting, end the session and try again later in a less distracting environment. At this stage, we want to minimize external distractions. Once your dog is more experienced, we will add more distractions.
Right now, she’s not coming back because she knows the word; she’s coming back because she was going to anyway. That’s ok - this is the starting point to associate the word with the behavior. We want to build up a history of many, many repetitions so that your dog begins to respond to the cue automatically. It takes a lot of repetition and practice to build habits. Just because your dog does this a few times does not mean your dog “knows” the task as well as we want her to.