Teaching “Come” Outdoors
Teaching “Come” to the older dog who hasn’t had preliminary training indoors or advancing the younger dog outdoors is best accomplished with two people. You will need a long line, check cord, or rope 25 ft. to 40 ft long. Long lines or check cords are available from various pet supply stores. Even better is to have two available especially when you get up to the longer distances beyond 20ft. You can find these and a lot of other useful items at http://www.petsupplyhouse.com
You can also use a retractable lead here. I do not recommend the thin nylon braid ones for anything. If you have one I recommend you retire it (throw it away after cutting the line into short 6 inch pieces or you can salvage the twine for some other purpose). The extremely thin nature of the cord combined with its high tensile strength can cut like a knife should the dog become entangled, straddle, or get the line under a shoulder or leg, especially running at a full tilt or pulling hard. I really don’t like the thin corded “Flexi-Lead” for anything though I have used them, to my regret.
Strap retractable leads are available either by Flexi or other manufacturers and are far safer. I recommend that you use one of these if you feel you must use a retractable lead. I admit that in training in the “Come” command theses leads do have a certain advantage, the retractable feature makes it so you don’t have to pull in the long line, check cord, or rope hand over hand giving you more attention to the dog.
You have to make some decisions at this point. Do you want your dog to come to you, sit in front of you and only move to your side when told to heel. Do you want the dog to come immediately to your side and sit? Or do you want your dog to come around your off side and sit to heel? There are pros and cons to all of them. An enthusiastic dog that roars towards you will overshoot by accident or on purpose. (don't try to tell me they don't do it on purpose, look at the silly grin on her face when she does it to you for the 4th or 5th time)
If the aim is to have the dog stop right in front of you, the over shoot is, well you. A 80 pound lab crashing into you at 25 kph is one heck of an impact. It doesn’t seem to bother the dog as much as it does me. Style-wise, a retriever that runs up and sits and looks at you waiting to release the bird/dummy after the perfect retrieve is a sight to behold. It is stylish I’ll give you that, but he crash into you, when you are holding a loaded shotgun is something else. If it happens, you are liable to change your mind about wanting that form of "Come!" for your dog.
Come to the heel side and immediately sit. Well it works. But, as usual, the dog is coming at you and she will have to turn to get there. She roars up on the heel side then has to turn and come back in. I like my dog to approach on the off side and turn into the heel side. The turn has more of a flow to the end. It is just a bit less stylish than sit right in front but… hey it works for me. Choose for yourself. (See the article on heel sides to judge that subject for yourself.)
The process for training the dog to “Come” when outdoors is progressive, just as it was indoors. Start with short distances and work up to calling them from farther and farther away. Sit your dog beside you. Praise them. Then issue the “Stay”! command. Pivot in front of your dog and slowly back up about 3 ft. ensuring your dog “Stays.” If she moves, go back to her immediately and put her in the sit-stay position again. You can enlist your helper to assist in making her “sit-stay” by holding the collar if necessary, and just the proximity of your helper may help the dog “stay”.
Using short distances of 3 ft progressing to the end of a standard lead then on to 9ft away and so on, allows you to control the situation should your dog begin to go astray. If at any distance the dog starts going astray, return to the distance where they were responding properly. If you are going to use a whistle as a recall signal, now is the time to introduce it. A recall whistle is a burst or trill of whistles, usually 4 in a row repeated until the dog has responded. Forget silent dog whistles. How do you know if the dog is hearing it or ignoring you or if the thing is broken?
When you want to call the dog to you. Face the dog head on. Hold the lead in your left hand. With your right hand make a drawing in motion with your hand palm to the chest while saying “Come” in your happy voice and bend at the waist and clap. If the dog doesn’t come to you immediately reel them in or pull them in with the line, rope, cord, or leash. If they don’t come as fast you can reel it’s not fast enough. They should RACE to you. Being with you is what they should want MOST in the world. With you is where they are safest, happiest, and they get pats, ear scratches, etc … you get the picture.
As soon as the dog comes give them such attention they about squirm out of their furry skin. Make it a big deal. Especially when you first start training or when you first progress outdoors. Make “Come!” the greatest thing in the world to your dog. Make it the one command that she is totally up for.
Start this at one half a lead length away from your dog. Then the full lead length. Then add another lead to the first. With your arm stretched you are now at 10 ft easy. Don’t go farther than this until your dog is responding immediately and enthusiastically each time and every time to the command “Come”. For distances farther than 10-12 ft you have to got to the next step.
For the next step, the long line (whether this is a nylon strap, a flexi-strap, or piece of rope is up to you) should be at least 40 ft long. Sit-stay your dog (down stay if you prefer) and go out 15 ft trailing the long line on the ground. If your dog has trouble with "stay!" your helper is of great assistance here. If you have two lines, connect them both, one to your helper one to you and take turns. You are effectively getting twice the bang for your time. You are teaching family members to use the same command and you are teaching the dog that his humans have to be obeyed equally.
Bt the time you get out to 40ft you should be seeing perfection each time and every time. If you aren’t, return to a shorter distance where the dog responds perfectly, and drill repeatedly at that distance. For a week, you may devote entire training sessions to “Sit-Stay and “Come” at a given distance before moving on and increasing that distance. This behaviour must be ingrained so hard in the dogs brain that if there is food in it’s mouth it won’t even stop to chew before responding. You are looking for perfection. You SHOULD NOT proceed to off lead training until your dog will come every single time without fail.