This is one of the simplest commands to teach your dog. It is a command you can start teaching at the earliest age in your dogs life. It is also one of the most difficult and frustrating commands as well.
The result you are looking forward is simple, you want the dog to come to you. Not now, but right now. Whatever she is doing or where ever she is. No fooling around, no dawdling, no pretending she doesn’t hear, no thinking on the dogs part “well he can’t reach me so what’s he going to do”, no coming half way then running off to investigate the butterfly or rushing off to the person eating a sandwich and trying to steal that. You want the dog so conditioned that if it has a mouthful of food and you call “Fido, Come!” she will stop chewing and run to you immediately. If running away from you towards something else that when you holler “Fido, Come!” she swaps ends and does so. Simple isn’t it.
It is easy to teach but it is not easy to get the level of obedience you want each and every time. That’s the difficult and frustrating part. It is the one command that you can not drill your dog in too much.
Early Training 4 Weeks and Up
If you can, start teaching “Come!” when the puppy first starts wandering and investigating its world. You can’t start early enough. Every time you visit the kennel, breeder, or shelter before you bring it home. (Hopefully you are doing this twice a day.) Teaching this one at first is no effort at all. When the puppy is out and about and coming towards you clap your hands and back up saying the puppies name and “come”. (Note this is pre-training and not formal training and therefore repetition of the command is allowed.) When the puppy gets to your toes pick her up and make a huge fuss over her. Tell her how wonderful she is. How intelligent she is. How beautiful etc., and hey you aren’t lying are you?
You can enhance this game by tying a small stuffed toy on your ankle so that it drags in front of your feet as you back up. Clapping, backing up, saying “Fido, come” in your happy-happy voice. She may be chasing the toy but she is coming. When she reaches your feet fuss over her like she is the Einstein of the doggy world only smarter and better, and prettier, and so on. You can do this over and over again. The puppy may not be getting it, not yet any way. But you are conditioning her to it. You are going to be amazed because one day the light bulb will go off and the dog will have the command ingrained and associate nothing but good things with “Come”.
One of the first things in its environment the dog is going to know is the food dish. They will now it intimately and personally. The shape, the texture, the feel, and the smell. This you can be totally assured of. I suggest stainless steel not because it is easier to clean and sterilize. Well not just that anyhow. A stainless steel bowl when whacked with a metal spoon gives off a glorious sound. Your spouse might not like it but your dog will LOVE that sound.
Knocking on the stainless steel bowl is, in most normal households, going to cause some grumbling. “Hey my soap is on keep it down out there” , “Knock it off. I can’t hear the Hockey Game.” or “Geesh dad I can’t hear my PS3.” But you’re training, so it is allowed. You get a free pass to make noise. The banging is going to help condition the dog to loud sharp noises. She won’t be so startled or fearful of noises later in life. It is a double bonus you’re allowed to make noise and train your dog.
Every time you go to feed the dog make sure it is in another room or area away from where you feed her. Start banging on that bowl and calling the dog in your happy-happy voice: “Fido, come!” Walk to the dog banging the dish if she won’t come to you. Back away to her food area and set it down all the while knocking on the bowl and saying “Fido, come!” She comes, she gets fed, and while she is eating praise her to high heaven. Very quickly you bang that bowl and your dog is there like magic.
This is one more reason to only feed your dog at set times. You become the dogs provider. Only when you do it does the dog eat. When the dog is done eating pick up the bowl and put it away. There is a separate article on feeding times versus amount feeding and leaving it out for puppy to graze. For now though you can use feeding as an aid/teaching tool. Food is a huge motivator why not use it if you can.
When your spouse, significant other or kids get jealous of all the time you are spending with your new puppy, Eureka!- you have just found a helper. Plus the dog will learn that all the human units in its pack can give commands. Plus you are teaching your family to use the same commands that you do. Consistency is half the battle.
This exercise works with puppies a bit older, bit more attentive and a favourite toy. Be it a tennis ball, a squeaky toy, or a plush mouse, bear, something the dog loves to play with. Food can be used. Small bits of kibble or small dog treats, ground beef, or something that dog loves to nosh on. I find a toy is easier that food for this one but use what works for you.
Have your helper sit about 10 ft away from you with the puppy. You sit and start bouncing the ball or shaking the toy and squeaking it, saying “come!” in your happy-happy voice. Have them hold the dog for a few seconds till it truly wants to bolt towards the toy. Then let the puppy go. All the while you keep saying “Fido, Come!” When the puppy reaches you, play with the her and the toy. Praise her to pieces. Make her feel so special she about wiggles out of her fur.
A hallway is perfect for this. There is nowhere the puppy can go but towards one of you and they do tend to go in the direction their nose is pointed. Take turns running the puppy back and forth between you and your helper(s). You can do this with three people as well, four people if you have the room but that is a lot of room with 10 ft between you. Always end this game before the puppy wants to. Leave her wanting more. Anticipation leads to eager responses the next time.
So far we are dealing with a puppy indoors. We will get to training the older pup or adolescent or adult in a minute, but first….
Brief pause for a lecture here. You are training the dog to come to you. You are making the dog love coming to you. You praise it as soon as it reaches you. When the dog comes great things happen to it or for it.
Don’t ever change that. Don’t ever discipline your dog when it comes when told. If she has run away for an hour but finally comes running to her name. Don’t ever scold her. Don’t smack her. Don’t be gruff with her. Make the same fuss over her as always. Keep the anger out of your voice. Use your happy voice. If you are all bent out of shape, don’t say a word. Don’t ever make “come” unpleasant. In one blink you can undo everything you have accomplished by manhandling your dog and gruffly saying “dammit Fido, I told you to come. Next time I’ll…”
Next time is likely going to be the next time you say “Fido, Come!” The words go out, the dogs brain goes click whirl and “Last time I obeyed, it wasn’t good. I don’t think I like that gruff growling. I’m not going.” You can see the wheels whirling and turning inside their brain.
It is so simple to break trust with your dog. Believe it, they remember. Dogs have emotions, and they remember. They also have tender egos and feelings.
Don’t call your dog to you then put in the bath tub. Don’t call your dog to you then give medicine or injections. Call the dog, walk them around, then take them to the tub. Call the dog to you, then walk to get medicine or injections. Call the dog and walk her, then sit her to get her toenails clipped. Don’t let “Fido, Come!” be the thing they associate with anything the dog doesn’t like. Let “come” be the most terrific word the dog can hear and respond to. This command can be a life saver for your dog in keeping or getting it out of harms way. Could save your life by not giving you a heart attack from apoplexy and/or high frustration blood pressure as well.