Cracking The “Come When Called” Code: Your Dog’s Best-Kept Secret”

Cracking The “Come When Called” Code: Your Dog’s Best-Kept Secret”

“Come when called,” commonly known as recall training, is arguably the most critical cue for any dog owner to perfect. While it may seem straightforward, there are numerous nuances to consider, and overlooking them can jeopardize your results. However, there’s a hidden secret that can make all the difference in your recall training journey.

Factors such as avoiding the use of food lures, gradually phasing out treats, mastering your body language, comprehending reinforcement, success rates, and introducing distance and distractions are all essential components of recall training. But there’s one element, often underestimated, that can have a lasting impact on your dog’s recall. On the flip side, if you get it right, recall training becomes a breeze. So, what is this elusive secret, and how can you unlock its potential?

To uncover this hidden gem, we first need to acknowledge that there are five crucial stages of recall training. Among them, the initial stage is the simplest yet most vital: “CLARITY.”

Let’s deep into the concept of clarity and understand why this stage, and the correct sequence of events, is of vital importance. As Winston Churchill once said, “Luck is in the taking care of the important details.”

The first stage, “CLARITY,” centers around making the command or cue “come” absolutely clear in your pup’s mind, and ensuring it works like a well-oiled machine.

This means that when you say “come,” your dog should respond fast and automatically. This process is known as “conditioning” or, for those interested in the finer details, “classical conditioning.” Why is this so crucial? Because this is what imparts the true meaning of “come” to your dog. You are conditioning your dog to have an automatic, immediate response to the word “come.” It’s not a thought process; it happens automatically and is rewarded. Understanding this concept is essential.

Let’s illustrate how classical conditioning works with a simple example: think of a dog, a bell, and hidden food. You ring the bell and then present and provide food. Crucially, there should be a delay between the bell sound and food delivery. If you repeat this process enough times, something fascinating occurs. When you ring the bell without offering any food, the dog starts salivating. Essentially, the value of the food becomes associated with the bell.

The bell alone, without food, now triggers salivation. It’s essential to know that salivating is an automatic response, not a conscious decision. In other words, the dog doesn’t choose to salivate; it occurs automatically through association. This process is known as conditioning, more specifically, “classical conditioning.”

Understanding the difference between triggering a response (classical conditioning) and reinforcing a response that already occurred with food (operant conditioning) is crucial for establishing clarity from the beginning.

Why is this understanding important? Because reinforcement (operant conditioning) rewards a behavior that has already happened, while an automatic conditioned response (classical conditioning) initiates the behavior. These are two entirely different processes, each serving a distinct purpose over time. This is a point that many people often overlook or misunderstand.

But let’s get practical, as promised. Here’s how to create that automatic conditioned response and discover the hidden gem. Pay close attention:

Important Tip: In Stage 1, your dog should be excited and a little riled up. Without excitement, you won’t achieve the speed you need in your recall training.

Stage 1: CLARITY! Your goal in this stage is to ensure that the command or cue “come” is crystal clear in your pup’s mind and that it works.

To establish this clarity and a strong conditioning foundation from the outset, conduct your training indoors, free from distractions and at a close distance. Why? Because distractions and distance can interfere with the meaning and imprinting of the word “come.” In this initial conditioning phase, you’re imprinting a swift response in your dog when you say the word “come.”

Step 1: Begin by grabbing a treat (or your dog’s most high-value reward) and stand very close in front of your pup. Get your dog’s attention with the treat, but do not use it as a lure. Simply show the treat to your dog.

Step 2: Say “come” and pause for half a second. Then move away quickly and backwards, facing your dog. Be cautious not to trip over any obstacles behind you.

Step 3: When your dog comes to you, deliver the reward as close to your body as possible. Do not ask your dog to sit or wait. Just provide the reward. You are teaching one thing: “come,” and that’s it. Introducing other commands or cues at this stage can hinder clarity and the conditioning process. This is particularly true at the beginning when you’re teaching your dog what the word “come” means.

Step 4: Repeat this process 3 to 5 times. Then take a break for 30 seconds, or wait until your dog becomes distracted with something else. Afterward, say the word “come” again. If your dog responds by coming to you, you have successfully taught your dog the meaning of “come,” and the conditioning is working. If your dog doesn’t come to you, wait for a good hour, and repeat steps 1 to 3 until your dog grasps the meaning of “come.” Stick with Stage 1 until “come” truly means “come.” Do not exceed 5 to 6 repetitions of steps 1-3, and always stop when your dog is eager for more.

Remember, you are merely associating the word “come” with an action (coming to you) and rewarding it with a treat, ball, or favorite toy. This initial stage serves as the foundation for your recall training. Without a solid foundation, all your training efforts may crumble. So there you have it, the key to unlocking the perfect “come” command!

© Gabriel Riesco, Pawmos Dog Training LLC |   All Rights Reserved Nov 2023


How To Teach Your Dog Come When Called, Gravity. Part II

How To Teach Your Dog Come When Called, Gravity. Part II

Helping Amy Teach Her Dog To Come When Called

When Amy called me she was desperate. ¨Hey Gabe, Daisy loves going to the park, but the minute I take her off leash she runs to the water, which as you know is pretty far¨  She told me. “What do you do when that happens?” I asked her. “Well, I call her, but she doesn’t come. Then she takes off, so I have to go all the way to the water. She doesn’t listen to me.¨ ¨Where are you when you call her? – I asked again “What do you mean? I’m at the park¨ “Are you between her and the water, or is she between you and the water?” I replied “I don’t really know, I guess she is between me and the water because I usually end up chasing her” When I went to the park with Amy and her pup Daisy I saw exactly what was happening. Because I already new the deal I stood between Daisy and the way to the water. Then I told Amy: ¨When a I say come please drop the leash” As soon as I said come, Amy dropped the leash and Daisy rushed to me. Well she didn´t rushed to me, she was rushing to the water, but I happened to be in the way. We repeated this several times. Every time Daisy came to me I gave her some pads, and cuddles, I  played with her a little bit and then took her back to Amy to repeat the process. In very little time Daisy was coming to me when I was calling her. But even more important she was not rushing to the water anymore. She was staying around with us. Amy was astonished, she couldn’t believe it.

How did the dog learn to come when called so fast?

It happened fast because I didn’t impose a method to Daisy. I simply saw where gravity was and I used it in my favor instead of against me. Amy was calling Daisy after taking off and from behind her. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I was calling Daisy before she was taking off and I was on the way where she was heading. Gravity was in my favor not against me. Note:  I never got into the WHY Daisy was going crazy about rushing to the water. I just noticed that she was fixated into rushing towards the water. We humans love to get into the WHY of things and create science fiction stories around it. Dogs don’t really care about our stories. The really important thing here is not the WHY but the HOW. How Daisy was performing this behavior, what state of mind was she in? If Daisy would’ve been in panic mode this would´ve never worked. I would’ve taken a completely different approach. Dasiy was not afraid, she was fixated or obsessed with the water. That’s why she was running. Typical Bulldog behavior. Daisy is a bulldog. Fixations or obsessions have a clear straight line direction towards something. They are easy to spot. Anyways, by standing between Daisy and the water I broke that cycle where she was getting stuck. By calling her name and knowing that she was going to come to me I created an association between the word  “come” and the action Daisy coming to me. Once you know what’s going to happen it´s a matter of repetition. According to Einstein, and I quote:  ¨definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.¨ I would suggest to inverse this quote and use it for training : ¨do the same thing over and over again and expect the same results.¨ Make sure you use it wisely! 😉 © Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  March 5th, 2018 Read Part 1 of How To Teach Your Dog Come When Called, Gravity.
How To Teach Your Dog Come When Called. Part I

How To Teach Your Dog Come When Called. Part I

There are two approaches which you can use to teach your dog to ¨come¨ when called. You can also combine them.

The first one is Conditioning and Training and the second one is Gravity.

Let’s talk about the first one.

Conditioning and training means to condition your dog to associate the word ¨come¨ with the action ¨coming to you¨.

It´s really that simple.

This might seem obvious to you. Nonetheless I keep seeing more often than not dog owners calling their dogs while they are going towards them.

This usually happens when your dog is getting into trouble. You call his or her name, your pup doesn´t listen and you end up going there. It doesn’t take long for your dog to learn that the word ¨come¨ means that you go to him or her.

I can’t repeat this enough: ¨YOUR DOG DOESN´T UNDERSTAND ENGLISH¨. Now, I don’t wanna bust your bubble. You are more than welcome to talk to your dog. I do it all the time. Just don’t expect him or her to understand what you’re saying. If you think your dog understands you please let me know and email me! I LOVE those stories!!!

Anyways, going back to business. When you say the word ¨come¨ make sure  that you know your dog is going to come to you. If not don’t say it, especially at the beginning. You want to create a solid and very consistent association with the word ¨come¨ and the action of coming to you. Successful repetitions is the key in the first stage.

How do you do this?

Well, it´s easier than what you think.

Choose a place with no or little distractions. Get something your dog really wants or likes. It could be you. Move away from your dog. Ignore him or her for a while. As soon as he or she walks away,  call him or her name and say ¨come!¨ You can use a treat, a toy, a ball or whatever you dog really likes. It could be just your attention.

Make some noise and create some excitement if your pup doesn’t come to you right away. Kneeling down also helps. So you can try that too.

When your dog comes, reward him or her with enthusiasm. Then repeat it three to five times. Don’t over do it, because your dog will get bored. Do this several times during the day. Soon your dog will come to you like lightening.

As you are more and more successful add distractions and distance.

Always reward your dog for coming. Never punish or get angry at your dog for coming to you. Even if they just misbehaved, because if you do, your pup will think that he or she is being punished for coming to you. And guess what, next time they wont come to you. They learn pretty fast.

PS: In the next blog I´ll talk about the fascinating second approach: Gravity!

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT, March 13th, 2018