“I think he’s deaf.” I’ve heard it more than once from new puppy owners. Sure, there are deaf puppies, but they aren’t common and most puppies aren’t. They simply don’t understand what you want them to do. You know, your mom used to say your dad had ‘selective deafness’ when asked to do something? Yeah, kinda like that. Puppies, despite what you think, aren’t born speaking our language. They don’t know what we want. We help them not understand by giving them mixed messages, often. We don’t mean to do that, but we are only human and it happens.
Teaching a puppy, or an older dog, to come when called is vital. It can literally save their lives. If they slip leash in a parking lot or in a park and take off, a good solid recall can keep them safe. We want them safe. The little buggers have our hearts!
Puppies are easy. They like to follow us around, get under our feet, chew our shoe laces, and stay close. But they don’t know what ‘come’ means, so we need to teach it to them. It seems like we are throwing so much information at them in the first weeks they are home but trust me, they can handle it. ‘Come’ is a simple one. Take a step away, then say puppy’s name and Come. “Henry, Come!” He will. Love all over him and tell him good baby! Coming to you should be a party! And it takes all of ten seconds The idea is to do it ten times a day. You have 100 seconds a day to lay this foundation no matter how busy you are.
Next step is to get him to come when he isn’t focused on you. Puppies sleep sometimes, they run and play and aren’t always underfoot. Or just look away. I pile about 10 to 15 small, tiny treats in a little cup in the mornings. Then throughout the day, when puppy is distracted, call his name to get his attention. ‘Henry!’ when he looks at you, take a step back and crouch down, or lean down if your crouching skills have faded, and say invitingly, ‘Henry, Come!’ Hopefully he will! Then give him that small treat and love all over him. The goal is to have him realize coming to you is the best thing ever! You can even do this when you are out walking. If he’s lagging or sniffing or bounding ahead, stop and get his attention by calling his name, then ‘Come!’ My goal is to have that treat cup empty by the end of the day because I’ve called him that many times.
When you are certain you have a good strong foundation, practice some more. Remember, you are the reward, treats help, sure, but coming to you is the best part. Love on puppy every time. Never call him to come to do something he doesn’t like too much, like putting him in the crate or room so you can leave for the day, or give him a bath (unless he likes those. Mine aren’t wild about them, but some love them.) If you have to do that, play with him or love on him for at least 30 seconds before you do the nasty thing.
A frustrating thing dogs learn is to tell time. They know our schedules and know how we act when we are going somewhere. Many dogs will deliberately not come when they know we are leaving. I mean, would you? So start calling puppy about five minutes before you have to leave. When they do come, give a treat and a love, and let them go again. Then do it again. And again, until it is actually time to go. They can count, so don’t do it the same amount of times every day, but change it up. Keep laying that foundation of coming to you is the best choice they will ever make. Never call them to scold them. Be the best choice they made all day. Coming to their best friend!