Puppies love to explore and play. They wrestle with slippers, pounce upon wriggling toes, chase giggling children, stalk aloof house cats, engage in mock battles with plants, and in their sleep, twitch and growl as if they chase imaginary rabbits. This is the way puppies have learned and practiced necessary life skills for hundreds of thousands of years. Puppies seem genetically programmed with innate curiosity. They love to play, and play to learn.
We can use this natural play instinct to teach our puppy to come when it is called. Puppies respond quickly to noise and movement and explore their world utilizing an incredible sense of smell. Associating the smell of food, the stimulation of movement, excitement generated by sound, with the word, “come”, will help to get puppies to come quickly and reliably.
Try this exercise to help your puppy to learn the command come. Cut up a few pieces of food about the size of a dime. Weiners, cheese or dog treats work well. Take one piece into your hand and encourage your puppy to explore the smell hidden in your palm. Slowly move your hand around and observe the behaviour of your puppy. Say “come” as you slowly pull the treat to a position in front of your body close to your knees. As soon as your puppy comes to the treat, say “good come”, give the puppy the treat and encourage your puppy to play with you. The aroma of a treat combined with the slow movement of your hand creates an irresistible attraction. It’s like an invisible leash.
Children love to help their parents with this next exercise. Have a family member sit about a meter away holding the puppy by the collar. Call out the puppy’s name, and create some excitement with your voice and movement with your body, especially your fingers.
When the puppy get’s excited and is trying to run to you, say “come” and move the hand holding the food directly in front of your knees. At the moment your partner hears the word “come” they should release the puppy. The puppy will fly towards you and target on the treat in front of your knees. When the pup arrives, say “good come” and immediately open your hand to allow the puppy to take the treat.
Now, it’s your turn to grab the collar and have your partner excite and call the puppy. After a few repetitions of this exercise, your puppy will think “come” is the most wonderful game in the world and will enthusiastically play this with you at every opportunity.
A training program based on play and positive rewards will provide
your puppy with a clear understanding about what “come” means. Later,
when the dog matures and enters the `adolescent period’ of development
and desires more independence, you will be able to shape this come
foundation to exact more reliable results. A positive, consistent and
playful approach will reduce stress, build confidence and create an
excellent foundation for a happy and rewarding relationship with your
puppy. Think positive!
Noel Pepin — Noel Pepin Canine Behaviour Specialists