Here, pup-pup-pup, Come, Whistle, beep

IMG_4976How well does your dog respond to your signal(s) to come?

So what do you have? When does it work? When doesn’t it work? How well? What’s the risk/benefit?

What do you want?

What’s your plan … what three things can you do today?


I’m glad you’re thinking of a plan. I hope you’ve included some more data gathering, because it is likely the picture of the problem isn’t as complete as it could be. The better the picture the better the planned solutions.

How can you make yourself more rewarding (after all you’re competing with squirrels, doggy friends, the thrill of the chase, pee mail, etc). But then again you give the food — ? does your dog know you give the food or does he think it magically appears in his dish for no reason and no effort on his part?

Do you play games of recall or is it always let’s go in now, fun ending I’m calling you…come here or else!

How is a come here built?

A come here can be built using the naturally occurring rewards of daily life –  rewards are only rewards if the dog thinks they are rewards. I bet you have no trouble getting your lab to come outside, or come to dinner or come play but maybe the come back inside, kennel up, take a bath is a problem?

How could you change these ‘not come, not fun’ options into something more … something with possibilities?

It takes knowing what your dog likes and being willing to create some games in boring places  or the end of dog fun in the past. And playing them when coming isn’t an immediate issue, so you have time to engage in the play and surprise them with rewards.  Coming and doing is just part of the game you’re playing with your dog.

Let’s not set ourselves or our dogs up for failure to start with –manage them with a long line or fenced area. Avoid letting them run off and have fun without you while you yell, “Come” and they decide the word “come” basically means nothing to them. Note if you’ve done that a lot already…start planning a new word and new set of signals to use, which have not been poisoned by previous training efforts.

Short, staccato words are used by dog trainers world-wide to signal a recall. Breeders traditionally call out, “Pup, pup, pup!” The smooch or kiss noise works well. Words often used: here, to me, treat, front, wit-wit-wit, com’ere…choose ones you wish to use, but at this point only use them when you are 90% or more sure your dog is going to come. Connect them to the things your dog likes to do or get. You can choose for general use (non-critical) and special use (this is the high-test version). The high-test version will be paired with great rewards almost all the time (that’s how it remains ‘high test.’)

Signals used: Whistles – short staccato repeats or low to high repeats or high-low-high. Hand signals – a hand sweep like you were signaling a person or car to move towards you, or hand target – dropping your hand to your side palm towards the dog. Some people snap their fingers or clap their hands and crouch. You leaving – movement away from the dog draws dogs along.

Chase and action – dogs are drawn toward movement. Moving away, running away, adding flapping of fabric or cheerful sounds will increase the dog’s desire to chase (come toward you). So running or walking fast away from the dog will bring the dog towards you. Standing still or moving towards the dog will slow him or even encourage him to move away from  you.

Common come games (start in low distraction zone, then with success there move on out to grass and other distractions):

Round-robin recall: one person then the next person calls and rewards the pup/dog. A ball can be used to energize this game if needed. Also the person being left can move to a new place or even hide so the dog needs to find him in the next round.

Hide and seek; when pup/dog gets distracted by smells, hide (make it easy at first) and reward when they find you. Or have one family member or kids hide and you and pup form the search and rescue team. Or hide a favorite toy have the pup find it and then you run away with pup following, then play tug.

Restrained recalls; one person lightly holds the pup back, other person gets about two steps away and then starts kiss noise and running away. First person releases pup to chase, reward when he catches. Or use leash looped around post as the restraint to be released (one person version) as pup starts to try to get to you.

Cookie in the corner: Treat placed several feet away, pup released to get it, then person makes noise and dashes away, pup gets second reward (treat/tug) when he catches the person. Or walk up to where treat will be placed and then back away (both you and pup), send pup to get it, turn and chase you for game with toy.

Call away from other pups: Good rewards needed, make noise to get your pup’s attention, do move away/dash, reward for pup getting to you and release to go play. If you need a leash to start the process, use only to pull pup slightly away from other pups, then release any pressure and at same time encourage pup to you. Note the more engaged the pup is in playing with the other pups the more difficult it is for him to hear you or consider leaving the play. So keep the rounds close together and be very engaging.

Sit/Stay/Come: Tie it to other cues you’re teaching. This can also be Sit/Tug/1-2-3 Come/Tug or Down/Tug/Down/Come/Tug

What if your pup won’t play? Better rewards needed and make sure you’re not doing something that the pup doesn’t like – example; patting them on the head, grabbing them, hugging them, or being too loud for sound shy pups. Observe/video and evaluate.

Each of these games can be made harder, have alternate versions, have more cues added in, have more and more distractions used … but avoid ratcheting it up too fast and with each step up, drop back on the criteria for reward (in other words, if it’s harder in one area (distraction or duration), don’t expect the same level of perfection in the other areas). So in the house you can hide in various rooms and call the puppy successfully, but when you go outside the treats need to be better and you don’t hide as completely the first time or two. But it is true, the games must increase in difficulty if the aim of amazing recalls are to be achieved.

What if your pup is too rowdy and wild if you run or play excitedly? Calm it down, turn and face them or take some steps in their direction as they rush in to you. Keep your voice lower. Quit moving and wait for calm, then reward. Add a sit or any extra cue they know. Make the game harder to solve. Note; you do want them to be able to tolerate your running without them biting at you, so do short bursts and stop with any excessive goofiness.

How much do you need to practice to get it to the level of being able to call them off a running squirrel? Well, it depends. If they’ve practiced running after something and had lots of thrills about it, you will need to really work your way up and up the distraction ladder. It also depends on how quickly you call, or whether they’ve committed to the chase and are unlikely to hear anything.

Generally a minimum of 9 weeks of practice will vastly improve your recall, then monthly practice sessions continue for the rest of your dog’s life to keep the level up there. And if you are consistent about them checking for permission to do things — go play, go sniff — it will work very well.

What about using a shock collar? Or other punishment? The definition of punishment is something that causes suppression or extinction of a behavior, so you may be able to stop something, ie. stop the chase. But the risk is there are always, always, side-effects to punishment … fear, aggression, anxiety, shutting down, slower learning… So evaluate the risk/benefit and know you will be dealing with side-effects and it’s a gamble as to how much or what ones – like your dog not trusting you enough that they won’t come near you, fear of having their neck touched, aggression towards people/dogs/animals that is at a much higher level, freaking out, shutting down…

From studies of people using punishment, the understanding of this cause/side-effect was lacking and mostly they thought the punishment reduced the problem. They didn’t connect the other unwanted side-effects to their own actions. Thus they often repeated or escalated the punishment aspect. Unfortunate.

If you do the positive repetitions and manage the dog to avoid the unwanted behaviors, then if after consistent and persistent effort you decide you need to add punishment because the risky behavior is too risky, you will, at least, have a foundation of a positive relationship. Good friends seldom expect the worst from each other, and broken trust, can be rebuilt.

Unfortunately, when I get called after most punishment experiments, I see people who wanted a quick fix,  who did not have the dog’s trust, and now problems have magnified greatly. The whole relationship is on the edge.

The science of the different approaches; negative reinforcement (adding something the dog doesn’t like, which is removed when he does the thing you want, and so negative reinforcement increases the likelihood of doing what you want) … this includes pushing, pulling, pressure, nagging, threats and then the immediate release of those. This approach activates the flight/fight, rage centers in the brain, which is why using this can be risky emotionally for both parties.

Positive reinforcement (adding something the dog likes when he does what you want) … thus waiting for the action of offering what you want or part of what is wanted and then rewarding with food, praise, petting, games or anything the dog finds valuable. This approach activates the seeking circuitry in the brain, the same area that searches for food, fun, play and sex.

Consistent and persistent practice: Think several thousand recalls, with lots of layers of building this cue and think of new ways for fun practice monthly throughout the life of your dog. A start-up practice is  setting  up a schedule of daily games, having good rewards immediately available, and being prepared. Each session can include up to 20 recalls in about 5 minutes of play … if you are persistent it whips by in fun sessions. Record what you do so progress can be judged and new possibilities tried.

You want amazing recalls, don’t you?

The three things I’m doing today are: 1. tug/toss/recall games in the workshop, 2. Sit quietly and reward by  ear rub for check in – Obie, 3. Recall and send past treats on the ground (mat training) – Jazz


3 Comments Add yours

  1. scarlybobs says:

    Awesome post 🙂

    We adopted our Staffy Zoey at about 10 weeks old. Her recall is *incredible*. She doesn’t get walked off lead a lot, but we practice recall on the longline all the time. She turns in an instant! There have been a few cases where delivery men didn’t shut the garden gate, or our lead snapped / was dropped, and Zoey has sprinted off. I don’t know what would have happened if her recall wasn’t so good!

    We adopted Kasper at 9 months old, he’s a BC x ESS, high prey drive! He used to be walked off lead, and he even recalled from chasing a deer twice! We walk him on lead now as there are lots of livestock on our walks, and he can’t be trusted. He has good recall in low – medium distraction environments, and when he’s not insanely excited at the start of a walk!! 😛

    We’re constantly working on improving his recall, and striving to keep Zoey’s as good as possible 🙂


    1. Thanks! Recalls, love ’em when they are great and still always a work in progress. Livestock can be tough with a herding dog, still work on them with play arousal (like tugging) and they will improve even during excitement. Love to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

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