Training your puppy to come when called is a basic command that all dogs should learn. It not only promotes polite behavior, but it can also save your puppy’s life. Curious puppies get into trouble without constant supervision. Even when you are watching, that teasing squirrel can tempt your pup to run into oncoming traffic before you can stop it.
A recall—coming when called—allows owners to prevent trouble, even from a distance. No matter their size, puppies travel faster on four pudgy paws than people, so there’s no way to catch them. In fact, chasing a puppy becomes a racing game you won’t win. When you teach your dog to obey the “come” command they will stay safely within reach, even without the benefit of a leash.
Choose a Reward
Figure out what reward—maybe a treat, squeaky toy, or tug game—your puppy likes best. Be sure it’s irresistible and much more exciting than anything else in your puppy's world. Reserve this treat for training exercises. Treat rewards are more about fun attention than food, so it should be tiny, smelly, and no bigger than the tip of your little finger.
Find a time when the kids aren’t around, the house is quiet, and any other pets are taking a nap. Avoid distractions so the puppy has only you to pay attention to. Call the puppy's name, get its attention, and go to it if needed so you can show off the treat or squeaky toy.
Make a Game of It
Once your puppy is focused on you and the reward, say its name and add come!” Then turn around and run in the opposite direction. This encourages the dog's instinctive urge for social play. Puppies can rarely resist the urge to chase.
Let the puppy catch up to you, then hand or toss it the reward. Praise your pup for being such a smart doggy. Give lots of petting and happy talk, so it knows without a doubt that it has pleased you.
Repeat the chase game several times in a row. Leave your puppy wanting more, so stop before it gets tired of the game. Practice the “come” command in this way once or twice a day for a week.
Increase the Difficulty
After a week, try the exercise while standing still. Make sure the puppy isn’t sleeping, eating, or concentrating on something incredibly interesting. Say your puppy's name and add “come!” and show the squeaky toy or treat. When the puppy arrives, throw a huge party with the treat or toy reward.
Once your puppy understands what “come” means and routinely obeys without distractions, it's time to challenge their recall ability. Try calling it away from interesting pastimes like chasing a butterfly or whatever has its attention. Practice “come” in new locations—not just in the living room, but also outside in the yard or at someone else's house.
Any time your puppy comes to you, no matter how long it takes, be sure to praise and reward. Above all, you want the puppy to have only positive associations so it will never fear to return to you.
Problems and Proofing Behavior
Puppies refuse to come when called for several reasons. For instance, new puppies may not know their names yet, so you might as well be shouting gibberish.
In most cases, though, puppies simply don’t know what the command means. It’s important to explain the term in a language your puppy understands. After all, if you don’t speak French, it’s not fair to expect you to understand anything in that language, right? In the same way, it takes a while for puppies to learn “human.” Clicker training is a great way to communicate with your puppy and something you might want to try as well.
Another reason puppies ignore the recall is that there’s no benefit to them. Why should your puppy forget about chasing that butterfly, or running across the street to meet the kid with a ball, and instead come back to you? That's boring! Coming when called needs to trump whatever alternative behavior entices the puppy to ignore your command. Once your puppy does come to you, put the command to use on a regular basis. If you have no real need to call it back, do it anyway and offer a treat as a reminder of your lessons.
One of the most common—and worst—training mistakes is to punish the puppy once it finally does come. Sure, you’re irked that you were ignored and had to frantically scream its name to come or maybe chasing the puppy made you late for work. However, you teach the wrong lesson by acting upset. The puppy learns that when it finally does come, it will be chastised, so it's even less likely to obey the next time. The bottom line is that you should never punish when your puppy comes, no matter how long it takes to respond.