Candee owns two mastiffs: Ch. Miyaka Misha, UDT (Utility Dog, Tracking Dog) (CGC, TDI, TT) and Foxglove Hope's Just In Time, CD (CGC, TT). The following was written by Candee in response to a request on the mastiff mailing list for information on teaching a puppy to come
I disagree with using anything but praise when FIRST teaching the come exercise. I have seen the results of the following method, and I would never use another!
- Assume the puppy does not know what the word come means
- Start with two people (if at all possible) that the puppy knows and loves.
- Sit down on the floor, a short distance from one another. The pup should only have to wheel around and take two or three steps to get from one person to another.
- Both people have soft small treats, that the dog can devour in the time it takes to say "good boy". Cheese or hot dogs work well.
- The first person feeds the dog a treat, and happily talks to and pets the dog. While this is occurring, the second person calls the dog in a happy voice, waving the treat, clapping, or slapping the floor, whatever it takes to get the dog to start toward you.
- As soon as the dog looks in your direction, use words of encouragement, cheerleading... hey, yea, good boy.... don't repeat the command to come!
- If you do it right, (and you have a smart dog, like a mastiff) the dog will begin to take the food, and run to the other person, before you even call him. That's great, just continue to use the come command.
- I have people use the dog's name, followed by the word come. "Alexander...COME" in a HAPPY tone. Your voice should promise him the world.
- IMPORTANT: while you are in the teaching phase of this exercise, never call the dog (using this method) if you can't reinforce it. You don't have to have food all the time, but pet and praise. Don't call him in from out side to end his fun, don't call him to you to cut his nails or put him in the bathtub or his crate. In the beginning you want only the positive association with the word come.
- As the puppy catches on, the two people move farther and farther apart.
- Add small distractions, like a dropped piece of food, or another person in the middle.
- As the dog gets better (2 days) hide around a corner, or behind the sofa, and act like a fool when the dog finds you! Praise extravagantly for the slightest thing.
- If you have a two story house, call up and down stairs.
- You are not only working on an immediate response, and a dog that will fly to you upon hearing the word, you are tiring him out as well. A tired puppy is a good puppy.
After you are certain that the dog knows the word come, and you have worked on distractions in a controlled environment, you can take the dog outside.
I start with a retractable lead. I let the dog know that I have treats. I let him go out to the end of the lead, sniff around, or do whatever, and then I call, "Alexander Come" in the SAME HAPPY voice. If he fails to come, and he may, this is a new environment, pop gently on the leash, run backwards, use encouraging words, and praise when he starts in your direction. Reward him with a treat, delivered close to your body (don't step forward and offer the treat with outstretched hand, or you will teach him never to come close.) Use a release word (I use OK) and send him away again. Repeat over and over until he flies to you when you call. This teaches him that just because you called him, it doesn't mean that it's the end of his fun. You will release him again as soon as he comes to you.
After he is proficient at this, take him to a small, new, enclosed area, like a tennis court. Play the game on lead, then remove the leash. Call him before he gets too far away. Release him, call again and again. If at some point, when he is 10 ft away, he doesn't come, walk calmly to him, attach the leash, repeat come in a sweet voice, and bring him to the place where you called him from. Praise him. Release again. If he doesn't come to you 3 times in a row, he is not yet ready for off lead, or you are letting him get too far away before you call.
Don't wait for a response. You have spent a week at least, teaching an immediate response, don't give him the wrong message now, that he can take his time, or you will undo all the previous work.
While teaching come, if you need to call the dog inside, or put it in the crate, use some other words, lets go, come on, etc.
If you don't have another person to play the game with, just let the pup wander around, come close to him, wave the treat, and run backwards. This works well.
After training in the enclosure (tennis court, school yard) take him to a strange place, and when he looks away, run and hide behind a tree or a building. If you do this with the right attitude, and make a game of it (act like a fool when he finds you) the dog will never let you get another chance to "disappears" on him. Sometimes, you can even just lie down in the leaves (or snow). It's such fun to watch the look on their faces when then think you are gone, and when they find you!
Have fun. I think you will love the response this method brings.