How Can I Get My Dog to Come When Called?
Q. My dog does OK on the come when called command, but he’s slow to return to me and takes his time. How can I speed up his response?
A. Your dilemma is not an uncommon one. For many dogs, coming when called is not nearly as exciting as running off leash. Part of the reason for your dog’s slow pace may simply be that he has never been taught to return more quickly, or it may be that returning to your side doesn't offer a big enough reward. Either way, there are methods to speed up his response when you call him.
Reward the Return
It’s important to make coming when called a positive experience for your dog. It can be easy to inadvertently punish your dog for obeying the command by doing something the dog doesn’t enjoy, such as putting him on leash when he returns to your side. Instead of using the come when called command to end your dog's fun, make it part of playtime: A good rule of thumb is that for every five times you call your dog to your side, only one of those times should end in something your dog might not find enjoyable, like leaving the dog park or going inside the house. The rest of the time, reward your dog for coming and then release him to play again.
One of the best ways to increase your dog’s return speed is to reward only the faster recalls. Praise his slower returns and let him go play again, but only offer treats or toys on the quick responses. Take your dog’s speed into account; if he always walks back to you, rather than running, don't expect him to suddenly start sprinting back to you. Instead, reward the returns where he does the least amount of sniffing or where he turns and heads toward you right away. As your dog's response time gets faster, you can adjust your expectations and rewards accordingly.
Make Returning Into a Game
To help speed up your dog's return time, you can turn coming when called into a game of chase, which employs a dog’s natural instinct to run after a moving animal. This works best with nonaggressive dogs, particularly if you're going to have a child playing along. Call your dog’s name while he is out in front of you and then start running or speed walking in the opposite direction. Most dogs will naturally chase after you, but some dogs may need to be enticed with a toy. As soon as your dog gets to your side, stop running and reward him with a treat. If your dog is especially toy motivated, throw a ball or let him chase a stuffed toy on the end of a rope. Then walk forward and wait until his attention is focused away from you; call his name and run or fast walk away from him again. After a few repetitions, your dog should realize that you may disappear if he doesn’t return fast enough and should start to snap his head back at the sound of your call and immediately race back toward you.
Hide-and-seek in the house and yard is another fun game that helps build your dog’s excitement for coming when called and is one that the entire family can play. If you are playing by yourself, ask your dog to stay; go into another room and call him to you. If you are playing with multiple people, have one person hold the dog while another person hides and then calls him. Once your dog finds that person, someone else can hide, and so on. The dog should be rewarded randomly with treats, toys, praise or even a bowl of kibble when he finds the hidden person. Hiding places should be kept simple at first (standing in the middle of an open room, for example) but can be made more difficult over time, such as hiding behind doors or in the bathroom with the door open.
By adding excitement and fun to the come when called command, you can make it more likely that you will get a reliable and speedy return every time you call your dog.