Teaching Recall with Come Verbal Cue

Age appropriate: You can start introducing Come as soon as you get your puppy. They should learn stay on leash and then progress to long-leash and off-leash recall at 4 to 12 months. By 6 months old your puppy should reliably respond to come on leash and long leash. By 12 months your puppy should respond to come in any on- or off-leash situation.

Purpose: A reliable recall is one of the most valuable verbal cues that you will teach. Your dog will be a partner to someone who is visually impaired; therefore, the recall needs to be consistent and reliable every time because the individual might not be able to see the dog responding to the come. The Come verbal cue can be used to recall your puppy from a potentially dangerous situation.

Objective: Your puppy should always happily come directly to you when they are called, even with distractions. They should make gentle contact with their handler and allow them to hold the collar. A puppy needs to learn to make contact with their handler when they recall so an individual who is visually impaired can understand where the dog is in position near them.

Because this is one of the most important verbal cues you will teach your puppy, please follow these guidelines:

  • Never use a head harness when teaching this verbal cue. The puppy should have only their flat collar on when you are teaching recall.
  • Always have food reward for the puppy. This can be a portion of their meals for the day, a high-value treat, or small treats. Speak to your advisor or area coordinator about what food reward you should use based on your puppy’s food drive, temperament, and the environment.
  • You always want to be the most exciting, important thing in the puppy’s environment when practicing recall. If your puppy isn’t responding or is distracted, there are too many distractions in the environment. You need to practice somewhere less stimulating.
  • Use a calm, enthusiastic voice when calling your puppy to you.
  • Praise your puppy enthusiastically for coming to you every time, even if you had to “reel” them in.
  • Reach for your puppy’s collar and praise them as they approach. This will create a positive association with their handler’s outstretched hand and encourage them to approach.
  • Never call your puppy to correct or discipline him. Recall should always be positive.
  • Do not run after, lunge for, or grab your puppy.
  • Do not recall your puppy if you’re about to do something they don’t enjoy like cleaning their ears, giving a nail trim, or giving a bath.

On-leash recall

  • Always start with teaching your puppy this phase. Do not move on until they come reliably every time. Use food every time to lure your puppy toward you and praise them enthusiastically.
  • Have a piece of kibble ready in your hand.
  • Start by calling your puppy while they are about half a leash length away from you.
  • Start in a familiar environment with no distractions. Allow your puppy to wander, and when they are no longer paying attention to use give the verbal cue Come once in a happy voice.
  • If your puppy makes any attempt to move toward you, start praising them to encourage them to continue moving toward you. If they don’t come immediately gently reel the pup in with the leash. Once the pup starts paying attention to you, praise them!
  • Walk several steps backward with your puppy following you to teach them to keep moving toward you.
  • Stop walking and continue praising your puppy as they approach you. Hold the piece of kibble near their nose and draw them toward you. When they are close enough take hold of their collar with your free hand as they get the kibble for reward.
  • Verbally praise and pet your puppy while still holding their collar.
  • Repeat this exercise several times. Make sure not to overstimulate or exhaust your puppy; keep these learning sessions brief.

Step 2 in Recall

Once your puppy understands that Come means to walk toward you for reward, praise the puppy verbally and by petting them for 7 to 10 seconds before giving them their food reward.

  • Give your puppy the verbal cue Come while they are on leash and not paying attention to you.
  • Gently reel your puppy toward you if they don’t respond to the verbal cue.
  • Praise your puppy as they come toward you and continue walking backward so they follow.
  • Calmly hold their collar while petting them with your other hand for 7 to 10 seconds.
  • After you have finished petting your puppy, place the food reward directly on your knees and praise them while they are eating the kibble.
  • Once your puppy becomes familiar and reliable with the verbal cue, start adding distractions.
  • When the puppy comes reliably without the need to reel them in, start adding more distractions. If they become too attentive to the distractions start with the lesser distractions again until they are reliably coming when called.

At this point your puppy should always be given a food reward when they come to you when they are called. You should be able to reach out to grab their collar and they should make contact with you to receive the food reward. Your puppy should not need the leash to guide him at this point. If you still have to reel your pup in for recall, and you are not relying on just your voice, consider the following:

  • Is the environment too distracting for your puppy?
  • Is your tone of voice wrong or are you not praising them enough when they come?
  • Does your puppy have lower food motivation? Could using a toy or high value treat be more effective?
  • Some puppies are very independent and aloof. Spend time solidifying your relationship with your puppy and leadership skills if you continue to have problems with recall on leash.

If you feel your puppy is not progressing as they should, please contact your advisor or area coordinator to better understand the issue.

Long-line recall

Do not begin long line recall until your puppy is reliable with on-leash recall with distractions. They need to respond the first time they are called without being reeled in toward your legs. If you are not familiar with long line recall, please receive instruction from your advisor or area coordinator.

The long line should be 15 to 30 feet in length. It can be a rope, nylon leash material, or retractable leash. Be cautious to prevent rope burn with different materials!

  • Begin in an area with no distractions. Allow your puppy to wander and drift, but don’t allow too much slack so you can still gain control if needed.
  • Once your puppy is no longer paying attention to you use the verbal cue Come once with an excited tone of voice.
  • If your puppy responds and moves toward you, praise them generously.
  • As before, take hold of your pup’s collar, pet them for 7 to 10 seconds, and then give the food reward with verbal praise. Remember to give the food low enough so the puppy can reach it without jumping and making contact with your legs.
  • If your puppy does not respond or starts to and loses focus, use your voice or their name and management of the leash to redirect them. Once they focus on you and move toward you, verbally praise them to encourage their approach.
  • Start adding minor distractions once the puppy is reliably coming when called from 15 to 30 feet away. As your puppy succeeds with the minor distractions move to a more stimulating environment or add more distractions.

Transitioning to random reinforcement

At this stage in teaching recall you can begin random reinforcement. That means that your puppy will not get a food reward every time they respond to recall; it becomes a random event. You will still praise your puppy with pets and verbal praise every time, but food reward is only given occasionally. Sometimes, a pup will stop responding to recall when random reinforcement has started. If you see that occurring, that means you started with random reinforcement too soon and need to step back to rewarding every time. With random reinforcement your pup should still get food reward several times throughout the training session. It is not necessary to fully wean them off food rewards.

Once your puppy is comfortable and reliable with random reinforcement on the long leash you can move to the next step of off-leash recall.

Off-leash recall

Once you start off-leash recall you must go back to food reward every single time. You can start using random reinforcement again once your pup responds immediately every time you call them.

  • The transition to off leash needs to be done gradually and only when your dog’s recall is solidified on leash. You don’t want to create issues like the “keep away” game and not be able to enforce the verbal cue you have given.
  • In a safe, enclosed area allow your pup to drag the long leash (15 to 30 feet) and allow them to explore the environment. When they are no longer paying attention to you, call them to you and praise them when they respond and start walking toward you. As before, take several steps back to encourage them to follow you. When you have taken hold of their collar, give them quick pets, verbal praise, and then food reward.
  • If your puppy does not respond to your verbal cue pick up the long line to reel them toward you. Reward and praise as above.
  • If your puppy is not coming when they are called you need to step back to holding the long line instead of letting the pup drag it. Sometimes there are too many distractions for a puppy to be off leash, and they need more time solidifying the verbal cue with you.
  • If your pup is responding well you can start shortening the long line they are dragging behind them. Remember they are only ready to shorten the leash when they are immediately responding to your verbal cue every time.
  • After several weeks of training sessions, the pup should reliably come when called off leash in a safe, enclosed area with random reinforcement.
  • Your puppy must be reliable with distractions in any environment. If you feel they are too distracted or not responding to your verbal cue immediately go back to building up their reinforcement history on a long line.