How to Train a Dog to Come When Called Using Positive Reinforcement

Ginger is a nine-year-old Chow Bassett Hound mix who lives in Omaha. Her guardian set up this dog obedience training session to train the dog to come inside when called.

Because of her barking and grumbling, Ginger’s guardian had started putting up a barrier to keep Ginger at the top of the steps and away from the door.

Usually I like a dog to meet me at the door and not be behind a barrier or restrained (unless the dog has a bite history) as this restraint can often intensify a dog’s reactivity. I had the guardian take down the gate so that I could meet Ginger without any barriers between us.

Later in the session I would show the guardian how to train Ginger to stay on the top of the stairs without a barrier. This way the dog has to restrain itself which is a great way for the dog to practice and develop more self control.

When I sat down with the guardian, I learned that Ginger didn’t have many rules or boundaries she was expected to follow. For some dogs this is ok. But for others, this lack of structure can confuse a dog into thinking it has the same authority as the human. If a dog thinks of you as a peer, then listening to you becomes optional. This was certainly the case here and a contributing factor for Ginger’s problems.

Training a dog to come isn’t very difficult, it just takes the right technique and approach. I pulled out some high value training treats and took a seat on the floor so I could show the guardian how to use positive dog training to teach a dog to come when called.

By practicing the come and rewarding Ginger each time she responds when called inside the home, her guardian can help establish the new behavior she wants. Using positive dog training like this is easy and fun for the dog as it gets a reward each time it comes to the guardian.

Many people overlook making things fun or rewarding for the dog.  Many dogs are reluctant to come when called as the human on does so when the dog is doing something it enjoys. In those situations, calling the dog to come means the end of play time. If this is the only time you ask your dog to come, no wonder it refuses to come when called. I don’t know of any dog trainer who points this out to their clients. Many people fail to consider what is motivating for a dog. Fun is fun and can be very motivating, no matter the species.

The guardian will need to practice the come inside and gradually increase the distance between people inside the house. At first you want to be so close that there is no reason for the dog to not come over to get the reward. Once the dog gets into a habit of doing so, then you start increasing the distance to make it slightly more challenging.

Once the dog comes when called consistently at a close distance in your living room, then you can start moving people further apart. At first, practicing while still in the same room, but at opposite ends. Then you progress so that one person is in another room within view. Then in another room beyond the dog’s line of sight. Eventually the people should be practicing asking the dog to come from different floors and opposite sides of the house.

One the dog comes when called consistently anywhere inside the house, the next step is to repeat the process outside. In Ginger’s case, the next step would be practicing the recall exercise inside the sunroom on the back deck. Then in the smaller fenced in portion of the yard and eventually the whole yard.

Another way to practice the come is to call Ginger over when the guardian is in the back yard doing lawn / garden work or just enjoying the day outside.  This way the dog knows you aren’t going anywhere which gives you another opportunity to teach it that coming when called is rewarded and not the end of fun time.

By practicing the come command in easy, then gradually more challenging distances, Ginger’s guardian will be able to use positive reinforcement to teach the dog that coming when called is something that is rewarded and doesn’t always mean the fun times are at an end.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Introduce rules and boundaries and get into a habit of consistently enforcing them.
  • Start petting Ginger with a purpose.
  • Use the new command word “Here” to avoid any remaining baggage from the old word and help Ginger associate it with the reward of coming when called.
  • Use passive training to reward Ginger for coming when she does so on her own (say the command word here” while giving her a treat at the same time).
  • Make sure to play with Ginger when she is called in from inside or greet her at the door with a high value chewey so coming inside starts to be something to look forward to.
  • Have friends, family members and neighbors come over to visit and practice giving Ginger the come command.
  • Practice the come command as detailed in the above video at least once a day for the next two weeks (more practices = faster progress).
  • Practice claiming the area around the front door as shown in the session.
  • Get into a habit of correcting or rewarding Ginger within 3 seconds to help her better understand what is and is not desired.
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