"Come" is a critical cue for dogs to understand. In my mind, "come" means stop-whatever-you-are-doing-and-come-to-sit-in front-of-me. I want the dog sitting close so that I can easily reach out and clip on the leash. It's important to note, that "come" can be interrupted midstream. Which means I may interject a second cue before the dog gets to me. An example of this would be the competition obedience exercise Drop on Recall. The handler calls the dog and, when the dog is partway in, cues the dog to lie down. Another example would be in agility when I want the dog to head toward me but then I redirect the dog with an obstacle cue or another directional cue.
To teach my dogs to come, I start with a backchaining technique, that is, I teach the last step first. So many dogs will come "near" when called but then dance around just out of reach. An incomplete come. So I start with a game I call "GOTCHA." With the dog in front of me, I take hold of the collar, say "gotcha," and give the dog a treat. Realizing that in some recall situations, the dog may have faced danger and I may be emotional, I progress from a "take hold" to a "grab." The dog learns that it is FUN to have his collar grabbed!
Next step is to "call" the dog as he happens to already be moving in my direction. This is done without a leash and outside of a formal training session. I notice the dog moving toward me, I say "come," and give the dog a treat when he gets here. The dog is being introduced to the verbal cue and is rewarded for coming in close.
Once the above two have been practiced separately, I start using them together.
More Games to "Come" By:
FIND ME...Without saying anything, I turn slightly away from the dog and wait. I want the dog to come around in front to find my face. Once in front, I give a treat. Using baby steps, I progress to turning my full back on the dog. Then I try moving a few steps away with my back to the dog. My goal with this game is to have a dog who comes to find my face whenever he...
a) isn't sure what to do
b) needs direction
c) feels disconnected from me
d) is anxious or worried
Many agility handlers will chose to always reward their dog when he is at their side (both sides) and never when he is facing them. This game can be easily adapted to a side position. Later, when I'm adding verbal cues, "come" will mean in front facing me, "heel" will mean on my left side, "by me" will mean on my right side.
TOSS AND CALL... Tossing a treat, I get the dog to move away from me. He'll eat the treat, then turn back to me. I reward the look back by tossing another treat in the opposite direction. As the game progresses, I vary the timing of my tosses. Sometimes I will toss for the look back, other times when he gets partway to me, sometimes when he gets all the way to me. I want to reinforce/reward for each part of the process, each piece of this come puzzle. As the dog gets good at this game, I add "Gotcha." I also add a Sit-on-Arrival some of the time. By keeping it varied, and rewarding each piece, I begin to build a reliable come!
COME CLOSE AT HAND... Hands full of treats! Dog is facing me and close enough for me to touch. I say "come" and take 1 step back. Dog will follow. Dog gets treat. I do this both with and without a clicker. Fairly quickly, I add a sit into the equation. Remember, "Come" means sit-in-front unless I redirect.
THE RECALL GAME... Since I mostly train alone, I rarely play this game as it requires two (or more) human players. Each person has lots of treats. We start just a few feet apart. One person calls the dog and treats when he comes. The two take turns calling and treating. To make it harder, I add more distance and/or more people. I always make sure to only increase the difficulty of one thing at a time. Example: If I've been playing at twenty feet, when I add a 3rd person, I'll go back to 5 feet. I've only played this game with Thor once. He played it very well at a distance of about 10 feet (2 people). He never gave me a chance to call! He would go to my friend when she called, get his treat, then turn and rush right back to me. Pretty funny!
RUNAWAY RECALL... I start this game in a safely enclosed area (my fenced backyard). Later, I will take it to the park with a long line. I wait for the dog to be interested in something other than me. Saying "come" in a happy upbeat tone, I turn and run away from the dog. There are few dogs who can resist chasing a running friend! I usually reward at my side as the dog catches up to me. Depending on criteria, some handlers might prefer for the dog to come around to "front" position.