Your dog is in your backyard being a typical dog: running around, chasing squirrels, sniffing the fence line, rolling in “good” scents, all that fun stuff that dogs love to do. But you have to leave for work and Fido needs to come inside.
“FI-DO. COME. NOW!”
(Fido glances at you and then continues sniffing. Maybe he starts meandering toward the house, maybe not.)
(Fido drops everything, books it for the door at top speed, and skids into the house like Kramer from Seinfeld.)
Turns out, you give. Or you don’t. And that is what has changed your recall word from “Come” to “Treats.”
When You Say “Treats!”…
Your dog can predict with near 100% certainty that when you say, “treats,” you are going to give them a delicious treat. (You can substitute whatever other word gets used to cue food, like “breakfast!” or “cookie!”)
With odds like that, who wouldn’t come running?
When You Say “Come!”…
When you first start training a recall, your dog gets rewarded every single time. It’s often high-value food (chicken, cheese, liver) and so your dog is PSYCHED to run to you. At first, you practice with your dog only feet away. Then you increase the distance to all the way across the training center. Then maybe you hide behind something so your dog has to find you. In Advanced Manners class, your dog learns to recall and ignore distractions like toys and food on the ground between them and you.
But once you and your dog get out in the real world, things change.
And the biggest thing is that “Come” stops paying and at times, starts being a punishment.
In your house, does “Come” mean any of these things?
- stop chasing a squirrel
- stop sniffing fun things in the yard
- stop playing
- it’s time to get in the bathtub
- it’s time to get in your crate while I go to work
If the word “Come” is attached to all of these things and it’s not paying like it used to in class, why would our dogs come running to us as enthusiastically as they do when we say, “Treats”?
Treats pays out at near 100%. Come… doesn’t.
Dogs are great at predicting what you will do based on your previous actions. This is both the greatest and worst thing about dogs! As trainers, it’s our job to use a dog’s predictive nature to our advantage.
If you’ve ruined “come,” don’t fret. You are not the first dog parent to do it and you won’t be the last. You just need to “reload” the recall word so it predicts reward EVERY time, just like the word “treats” does. We recommend that if “Come” is already ineffective that you switch to a different word. Any word will work: Here, C’mere, To Me, Front, Banana! Dogs learn the words we teach them, so be creative if you want!
“Will I need treats forever?”
No, but the more often you have them, the stronger your recall will be. If you make your recall pay out more/better than any other behavior, it will be your dog’s favorite “trick.” We recommend keeping a container of tasty treats near the door if you have a fenced yard.
If you don’t have treats with you, reward the dog in a different way:
- Tug on a toy together (braided fleece leashes can double as tug toys)
- Toss a ball or disc for the dog to retrieve (if they will bring it back!)
- Pet the dog, praise them, and then let them go back to what they were doing (“Go play!”)
- Make a big deal of running together to the nearest treats (“What a good dog! Let’s get treats! Treats, treats, treats! Whee!”)
How to Train (or Retrain) Your Recall
We have a page on Coming When Called that has step-by-step advice for training a recall, including fun games that can include the whole family.