One essential key to teaching your dog to come, or doing any basic puppy training routine, is to allow the puppy no alternative but to obey the command. Non-compliance can never be an option. What this means for you is that you must set your dog up for success and when doing any kind of dog training, give it the opportunities it needs to succeed. A common error when teaching “come” or any other command is to use it when you do not really want the dog to perform the action. In the case of “come,” you want to use the word only when you really want to dog to cease any other action and come to you. This also means that you have to learn how to monitor yourself a bit when your puppy is within hearing range.
I’d like to recount one example of how my own dogs picked up a phrase and ran with it and what the consequences were. The phrase in question is, “Let’s go.” My dogs like to ride in the back of my car, and I like to take them out with me. I rather carelessly started saying “Let’s go” before putting them into the car with the result that every time they heard me utter, “Let’s go,” they would leap up and race each other to the door in expectation of a ride. Fortunately, this was not a bit problem–more humorous than anything else–and I was able teach them out of that habit.
With particular respect to the “come” command, it is important to not give your dog the choice of not coming. Thus, a very basic way of starting out is to always have your dog on a leash. I recommend a leash of at least 3 or 4 feet. Attach the leash to the dog’s collar and position him (or her) at one end and you at the other. I also advise that you do not use a choke or pinch collar for this. Say the command, “come” in a firm, civil voice and then very gently tug the leash so as to encourage the dog to approach you. It is important to use only the minimum force necessary. After the dog comes to you, give it lots of praise and a small, tasty treat.
Next, create only positive associations with the word “come.” When you tell your dog to “come,” you want it to want to come. Ideally, this should be something it looks forward to doing for you. For that reason, try to avoid saying, “come,” when the consequence might be something unpleasant, such as grooming or giving the dog a bath. For some reason, my dogs have come to look upon bathing as punishment so I have to be careful with the choice of words I use. However, these days, when they see the shampoo, they put their tales between their legs voluntarily come over to be hosed off and cleaned.
In situations where you discover your dog behaving badly, your first impulse may be to say “come” in a somewhat angry voice to get it to stop misbehaving. If possible, take positive, corrective action, but do not associate “come” with the correction. It is difficult to always remember exactly what to do in stressful situations, but as much as possible, create in your puppy’s mind only positive associations with your command words.
Another effective tip is to always take advantage of times when the puppy happens to be moving toward you. You can leverage this to your training advantage by saying, “come” and then letting the puppy do what it is doing naturally. And of course you give it lots praise. A trick that can work with a young puppy (6 to 8 weeks) is to put it on a leash with plenty of slack. Toll a toy a small distance away and let the puppy run to get it. When the puppy has the toy, tell it to “come” and then gently tug it in your direction, and reward it with generous praise and occasionally with a treat. This is almost as easy as it sounds, and your dog will love learning how to please you!