COME TO ME MY LOVELY...
If there's one command people insist their dog should know but most canines never really understand, its the recall or "come command". What's worse is when the dog seems to "refuse" to come most people insist the dog just doesn't want to or is being stubborn. Many trainers will even agree but will cite that the dog is asserting his dominance by doing what he wants instead of obeying and while in some cases this may be true, most of the time it is not. The simple honest truth is that most people aren't consistent (or fun) enough for the dog to truly learn the command. If your dog won't come when he's distracted, chances are he wasn't trained to come away from what he is occupied with properly if at all. Most people assume that just because their dog comes when its looking at them that it should come all the time and that's just not true. That is incomplete training. But to be fair, it usually is not the owner's fault. If this knowledge came to everyone than my mom and I wouldn't have a job! Also, because the obedience trials most trainers use as profiles for their training programs calls for a recall from a sit stay most students think that this is all they need for great recalls all the time. But there are several problems with this scenario. The first is calling the dog out of a sit stay. When your dog is taught to come from "stays" he'll learn to anticipate the call to come after the stay command and/or will often think that he only needs to come when they've been put into a stay. Secondly, the dog isn't taught to come despite all different kinds and types of distractions and its time to face facts folks, some 90% of the time you call your dog to come, he'll be distracted. Now it is true that in the very beginning of training this command, you'll want a fairly quiet place to introduce the basics of it, but it shouldn't be long before your collie understands the concept. That's when you need to move on.
Lets begin with the introduction process. With your puppy or grown collie on a leash held in your hand, allow him to move several feet away from you. BEFORE the leash ever gets tight call your collie's name in that fun, happy, exciting tone. While this works best if he already knows to return to you for his treat, its not absolutely mandatory. He should turn immediately to see you with your other arm extended out directly in front of you with treat in hand. As he begins to walk toward you for his reward you need to praise him happily, all the while pulling your hand in towards your chest slowly. It should look as if you are pulling the dog in to you with an invisible string. If your dog or puppy doesn't walk to you as soon as they hear their name called, lower your outstretched hand with the treat to the dog's nose and slowly lure him to you by pulling the treat away from him but towards you with verbal encouragement and praise. Encourage him to get as close as physically possible to you so you can take hold of his collar gently before praising him like crazy and giving him his reward. (Remember when I told you to encourage your collie to get as close as possible to you during the attention command? This is why.) We encourage the dog to get close so we can take hold of his collar easily thus preventing him from grabbing his treat and dashing off as many dogs are want to do. When giving a treat for this command be sure it is his favorite and most treasured type of treat and give him two to three times the normal treat amount. Some trainers call this "jackpoting" wherein the dog gets super treated for something extra special. Once your dog is coming to you every time you give the signal start adding the word "Come" to the repertoire. So now its, "Fido" (he looks at you), hand signal with verbal "Come" (he starts walking to you), praise and encourage the entire time (this increases the chances that he will keep coming until he gets to you), and finally take hold of his collar with your one hand as your other hand feeds him his treat with lots of verbal praise (he happily munches on his treat). This same process can be used each time you raise the level of distraction and difficulty and remember that even though he may no longer need treats to get him to come while in the house, it may be sometime before he'll be good enough with outside distractions to warrant total removal of treat rewards. Honestly folks, my mom will still give me treats for coming just often enough to keep me reminded that each time I respond, I might get a treat. Its the same as when people go to the casinos. Even though the odds are stacked against you, you still hope that you might win this time.
Come command (or recall) tips:
1. Under absolutely no circumstance should you ever make the mistake of calling your collie to come to you and then correct him for something else once he gets to you! Doing this breaks the expected chain of command work. When you call him to come and he does, that's what he's thinking of at the moment he reaches you. He's trusting that he will be rewarded for coming and when an owner suddenly starts yelling or correcting the dog, the dog assumes it has something to do with the way he did the command or the fact that he did it at all. This is the most common reason for a dog's failure to learn the command and sadly it only takes a few repetitions of this to unintentionally teach just about any collie not to come because they expect correction and correction is something no collie wants. In worst case scenarios, a dog can become so fearful of the come command he learns to run in the opposite direction whenever he hears the word. If you ever adopt or rescue a dog with this problem it can be helpful to chose a different cue word to use for recalls (ie; "Here" or "To me") and work on slowly desensitizing the dog to the word 'come'.
Along this line, you'll also want to avoid using the come command when it will end with a negative situation (other than correction) in almost all of the early stages of training. As an example, Many people call their puppies to come so they can put it in a crate or do some other thing that tells the pup that "what he wants' time is over. To him thats a negative situation. If it happens too often a pup or dog can very quickly learn to avoid coming because it means its good times are done. The main thing to remember is that you should avoid putting him in negative endings when doing recalls. (In play situations, you can call your collie to you several times and treat and then let him go right back to playing after each time and when its time to go approach him instead so he doesn't think come means the fun is done and avoid responding when you really need him to.)
2. In the beginning, if you can't lure the dog to you with the treat, try using a squeaky toy or take a few pretend running steps in the opposite direction but only enough to get him moving. Slow down quickly as you verbally praise and encourage him to continue to you the rest of the way. Follow up with giving a token hand signal and then their treat.
3. If your dog knows the command but is distracted, you can try giving a quick but light 'pop' on the leash to get his attention. As soon as he looks up at you let him know that you wanted that response by telling him something verbally like "Yes! Good boy!" then continue on to the come command and make a note to practice the "response to name" a little more often. Always release any leash pressure you created with a pop or tug. If the leash remains tight the entire duration of a recall, the dog will think its part of a recall and may learn not to come at all unless he feels leash pressure. This also means resisting the urge to drag the unresponsive dog to you. There may come a time when you'll really need him to come to you off leash during an emergency and if he doesn't feel that pressure he won't come. Also, it is a natural instinct for most animals, including humans but especially dogs, to want to resist any constant pulling by trying to go in the opposite direction the pull is coming from. That's the key to making good sled dogs. If you don't want a puller try not to encourage it by remembering to always release the leash pressure after any tugs, pops or pulls. (We'll cover how to deal with pulling dogs when I introduce good leash walking.)
4. Speaking of leashes, when working with any size leash, do your best to reel in the excess line. If you're working with a twenty foot long line and he suddenly gets distracted by a squirrel and decides to follow it when he's halfway to you, you may lose the ten feet you gained and have to draw him in all over again. He also learns that he can go back if he wants. If you had reeled that extra line in he would not have had an opportunity to learn that he can go back and you are now able to better enforce response to the recall without backtracking too many steps.
5. When your dog is just learning the command or learning to do it reliably, don't settle for calling him once and then turning into a big silent rock. Continue to talk, praise and encourage the dog during his entire journey back to you. Obedience Trial enthusiasts, please don't freak at me! Remember this is for household training, although the fact that I have a CD shows that this method works just fine for those with Obedience Trial hopefuls as long as there's lots of practice. The idea is to keep him focused on you and the possibility of a reward the entire time, lessening the chance of him getting re-distracted and making your attention getting even harder the second time around. As he gets better you can begin to lessen the amount of vocal aid until it only takes one call.
6. In the beginning, try to avoid saying "come" unless you can absolutely be sure the dog will come to you. (Ie. Inside the house, when there are NO distractions around, when there is a long line attached to your collie's collar) Constantly calling "Come!" with no response and no way to reinforce it will create a collie that knows he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to. Use alternative words or "tricks" (ie. "Want a cookie?" as you shake a treat box or bag, "Let's go for a ride!" while opening the car door, or running in other direction) to get a loose collie to you if he isn't yet reliable with the come command. And remember not to correct your collie once he does get to you! Coming to you (even if you didn't say "come"!) should always end with a positive note no matter how upset you are. Being with you or joining you should always be a delight to your collie, not a chore.
7. About the long line... While they can be an invaluable tool for many areas and stages of training, they can also be a clue to the leash wise dog when you are able to enforce commands and when you are not. Traditional long lines and commercially available long lines can have some pretty heavy clips for attaching to collars. A leash wise dog will very easily be able to feel the weight of these clips hanging on their collars and respond to every command because they are conditioned to know that when the weight is there they have to comply but when the weight is not there they don't have to. If you use a "house line" for umbilical cording or the recall is introduced to a puppy when they are very young you can usually get away with using a very light piece of nylon. My Mom starts with a 10 foot piece of the lightest "cat tie out" line available. It has very small clips at both ends and its lightness keeps it from being overly invasive to a puppy's movements. Because it is so light, most puppies won't notice it until it gets tight from a gentle tug. As an example, my little sister Téa was started on the same piece of cat line I was whether in the house or out. It gave my Mom the ability to tug when it was absolutely necessary without needing to run over to Téa to correct. As she got bigger and better she graduated to 20 feet, then 30 feet. Because she is so used to Mom being able to reinforce commands (and corrections only when absolutely necessary) without feeling the line attached to her, she just assumes that it is something Mom can do and learned from the start not to question it. Even though she no longer needs it in the house she automatically runs over to Mom when she hears the "Ah ah ah" for the correction of inappropriate behavior. Recalls in the house or in the backyard get the same response for the same reason... Because Mom was able to enforce it from the start and Téa did not have early opportunity to learn she didn't have too! Téa is already at the point that even when she is playing with other puppies and dogs at work she immediately breaks away from the melee if Mom calls her. She does her hand and/or verbal signals at almost 35 feet now and her "leave it" command she responds to as if the object she was sniffing suddenly turned into a coiling snake! Not to bad for a sometimes annoying 4 month old, huh?
8. When doing recalls from a stationary position (ie. Sit) try either using a "wait command" or just flat out teaching your collie to remain in a sitting position until you release it with a "release word" or some other command. For many trainers, this second option means they never even have to teach a dog what stay means. The dog just remains or "stays" where it is unless told otherwise!
(The "wait" exercise will be introduced in "Your Collie's Manners" shortly.)