West Highland White Terrier Club of America

Come, Rover, Come!!

by Deb Duncan

Every dog needs to be taught the COME command/behavior. Whether starting with a pup or older dog, the process is basically the same. Pups are easier in some ways & harder in other ways. Adult dogs have to overcome the incorrect behavior & habits you have inadvertently taught them. The basic theory is to make "coming to YOU" the greatest, most rewarding thing your dog can do!!!

With all dogs, you will want to take advantage of "accidental or incidental" behavior...and, reinforce it. Anytime your dog is coming toward you on their on accord, say COME, GOOD COME. Give them a treat, praise them...make them feel like they have just won the lottery...they CAME to Mom or Dad!!!!! Initially, the actual words will not mean anything to them. But, after many repetitions, they will attach the word COME to the behavior/action.

You can place containers with small dry treats or kibble around the house (out of the dog's reach). Then you will always have a treat handy to REWARD the dog when they come to you on their own or when you call. Additionally, you will want to do specific training sessions for the COME. (note: Training sessions for ANY behavior must be kept very short, only 2-5 minutes at a time.) For these sessions, you will "elicit/coax" the COME behavior & attach the word to the behavior.

Take a treat & put it in front of the dog's nose (let them know you have a treat). Then when you have their attention on the treat, walk backwards...keeping the treat right in front of their nose (nibbling is okay)...say Come, Good Come! Repeat these words while you are walking backwards. Then, stop & give the dog the treat & mega praise...come, good come...!! Caution: Do NOT back up too far or for too long without releasing the dog & giving them the treat OR the dog will lose interest. You never want them to lose interest in you (or the treat) when teaching the COME. Remember, you are teaching them that coming to YOU is the end all, be all!!!!!

When the dog seems to be getting the idea in the above process, you can be a couple of feet away from them...get their attention, let them know you have a treat, & when they start toward you & the treat in your hand....say come, good come! & start moving backwards as described above. You must know that when your dog "starts" to respond to this training, they are a long way from truly understanding what COME means!!!!! They are merely offering a behavior you are eliciting from your actions. It still does not mean anything to them..yet! They are reacting, reflexing...not doing a behavior they truly understand.

Eventually you can be across the room from them, call their name, when they look up...wave the treat & say come, good come. When they start toward you, repeat come, good come! Remember you must always have their attention & keep their attention.

Now, a few side notes to keep in mind when training the COME:

  1. Pups have very short attention spans...so, you must be super exciting, animated, & interesting! They are still discovering & investigating their world. Everything is interesting & new. So, you have to ensure you are the absolute MOST interesting...the BEST!!!!
  2. Adult dogs may have learned that you repeat come over & over. This means they have learned that they do NOT have to really come till several comes. They may even have learned to "tune out" the word come. This is not their fault or them being stubborn. They are only responding to what they have been taught & conditioned to do.
  3. With a pup or adult dog, IF you have used repeated COMES....as in "come, come, come, Rover, come, come, COME, come....",by this point you are pretty ticked off/upset/not happy!! So, when the pup or dog does finally come you are exasperated & you yell at them...I TOLD YOU TO COME....GET IN HERE!!!! Well, if you are that displeased or angry when they DO come to you...believe me, "coming to you" will be the last thing they will want to do again!!!!! The dogs do not understand that your displeasure, irritation, or anger is because it took six comes to get them into you. They ONLY understand that when they DO come to you...it is not good & you are NOT happy, pleased!!!!! Always be aware of WHAT you are actually teaching & communicating to your dog.
  4. BE PATIENT...BE CONSISTENT...BE INTERESTING, KEEP THEIR ATTENTION!!!!
  5. Always take advantage of the dog coming to you on their own accord. Use the command... come, good come...every time the dog is moving toward you. Give them a treat, praise them, play with them (if even for just 1-2 minutes). Make the fact that they came to you the absolute GREATEST!!!! You may think this takes more time than you have to give. Consider that this is a meager amount of time compared to the amount of time you will spend for years trying to call them.....IF... your dog does NOT have a solid COME!!
  6. Take the entire process slowly. DO NOT set the dog up to FAIL on a come command. When teaching them, always make sure that whatever you are doing will ensure the dog will move toward you before you use the actual COME command.
  7. For many months, NEVER use the come except when doing a training exercise or when they "offer" the behavior. Make sure that the only time they hear the COME command is when you can "guarantee" the correct behavior will occur.
  8. Remember, it is ALL important to have the training of the come be 100% POSITIVE!!!! Coming to Mom or Dad CANNOT be negative in any regard or at any time. If this happens, the dog will always have a slight hesitancy in "coming to you"....because they will never be sure when it is good & when it is bad.

At this point you are saying, well...if I can't use the word...unless I can make sure it is solid...HOW the heck do I get my dog in from the yard. IF you are willing to walk out into the yard, get their attention, & show them the treat...this will work. Otherwise, you will need to use alternative means & words. Say... let's go, come on in here, let's go house, whatever....OR, use a noise maker...a squeaky mouse, a whistle...anything to get their attention. Then when they are headed into you solidly, you can say come, good come and, give mega praise & treat when they get to you. Note: When in the training phase, never say COME...unless you can ensure the dog can successfully COME!!!

When training ANY behavior, it is essential that the dog NOT be allowed to FAIL....the dog must be SUCCESSFUL... repeatedly!!! The learning process with the dogs is very parallel to the learning process with people. The dogs will experience confusion & the normal ups & downs associated with every learning process. There is a saying that "no behavior has been truly learned...UNTIL, it has been learned, forgotten & seemingly relearned again". Then, it is a solid behavior. This is as true with dogs as it is with people. For example, when we are learning a new language or skill...we will progress quickly. Then, it is like we hit a brick wall. Not only can we not seem to learn anything more....we are not even proficient at what we had learned up to that point. We struggle & many people will actually give up because the sense is "I can't do this!".

This is the exact stage when the dogs cannot do what they were doing "perfectly"...yesterday! This is the stage when people will think the dogs are being stubborn....NOT!!!!!! They are experiencing a very essential part of the "learning process". The very same thing we people experience in our learning processes. Unfortunately, this is also the point when we will "lose patience" with the dogs!!! And, this is precisely the point you should be MORE patient, understanding, & clear in what you are teaching them. You can get them through this stage with the behavior strongly in tact...or you can totally confuse the dog...or demolish all sense of understanding they had up to this stage. The most amazing part of this phase is that it is the precursor for "total understanding" and subsequently, an enormous learning upswing...IF we don't destroy it & set the dog back. You are at the threshold of the dog truly understanding...preserve this & reinforce it!!!!!!

Back to the teaching of the COME, you want to always keep the dog's interest & since it takes many months to "lock in" this behavior....we need to have fun & be creative!!!!!!! So, do crazy, fun games that cause your dog to move toward you. Each time they move toward you, reinforce the behavior. Say, come, good come...treat & praise them mega big. Some examples are:

  1. When playing with the dog, suddenly turn & run the opposite direction. They love to chase. When they are running after you, say come, good come. Then, turn & give them a treat.
  2. Get 2 toys your dog loves. At first, throw one about 2-3 feet ( further distances later). The dog will run out for the toy, as soon as they have that toy...get their attention waving the other toy. They will come running back to you for the second toy. When they do... say come, good come. Then repeat this process several times. It is a great game for the dogs. Now, if your dog is NOT into toys...use a treat . Toss a treat, when they get that treat....get their attention on the second treat & call them to you. When they are coming toward you, say come, good come. You may also want to start getting your dog interested in toys. Do this separate from the come exercise. Develop this behavior in separate "play" sessions devoted solely to playing with your dog.
  3. Restrained Recalls/Comes: This take two people. When I am teaching the recall/come, every person that comes to my house is enlisted to help & contribute. This includes friends, family, service people, yard guys, delivery people, everyone. I have even enlisted the help of my postman & UPS guy. This only takes about two minutes, so it is not a big deal to get people to help.

You & the other person have a couple of treats with you. Have the other person kneel down. They hold (restrain) the dog while they watch you walk across the room. The dog will be squirming & lunging to follow after you, the other person holds on to them. When you get across the room, you kneel down, pull out the toy or treat, wave it to get dog's attention, call their name several times (excitedly) to get them really revved up. When the dog is at a fever pitch wanting you, the toy, or the treat with all due fervor, say COME (once) excitedly. At this "precise" moment, the other person "releases" the dog. It is like the dog is jet propelled or catapulted. They tear into you. When they get there, give the treat or play with the toy big time!!!! Mega praise!!!! This will keep them "wanting" to tear into you!!!! Then, you hold the dog & repeat the above process in reverse (dog tearing into other person). Most dogs will do this process toward the other person. Some will not. If yours does not, meaning when you release them...they just turn around to stay with you....Then, just do your repetitions with the other person holding the dog each time.

This entire exercise is great for teaching the recall/come. However, other important benefits are occurring. This allows your dog to have interaction with many different people which is wonderful for basic & necessary "socialization". Also, the different situations you use for this exercise helps acclimate your dog to having a solid recall/come...regardless of the situation they are in.

A final note on puppies:
They have a built in "quirk" that will absolutely occur somewhere between 3-6 mos of age. Even when they have been very good on their come, (because you have done everything right).....they will suddenly start to DART away from you. This happens anytime you get close to them to pick them up OR when they are asking you to interact. They are setting you up to "play" their new game. They try very hard to get you to learn & play the "chase" game. I promise, this WILL happen with the pups at some stage. Remember that ALL dogs love to play games & they are trying to teach you their new game!!.

This means when you reach to pick up the pup, pet them, or take the toy from them to play.... they will dart away. This behavior will entail them jumping, hopping, darting, play crouching...enticing you to play. And, the "play" they have in mind is for you to chase them. When your pup hits this stage, you CANNOT play the game. You CANNOT scold them for it either, even though this phase is exceedingly frustrating. You must IGNORE it!!!!. The dogs are not doing anything wrong, rather they have accepted you as their family & are wanting to interact with you. However, for your sanity & their COME training, you cannot play the game. So, you just walk away. Never go after them. Never say NO. Never scold. Never chase them at this point! Just ignore the game & leave them. Understand that they are wanting to interact with you & when this behavior causes you to IGNORE them...they will after several days or weeks abandon this game. Know that IF you try to catch the dog at this point, you are playing the game!!!!!

Don't get me wrong, playing "chase" is great fun for the dogs & for you. But, the only time you play chase is on YOUR TERMS....not when working on the COME. CAUTION: If your pup is in this stage, make sure you have plenty of time to "wait them out/ ignore them" before you have to leave the house. Meaning, you have to get them in so you can leave & IF you do not give yourself this extra time, you will only be setting yourself up to play the game and, ultimately, get upset at the dog.This is totally counterproductive & the worst possible scenario when you are trying to teach the dog that "coming to you" is the end all, be all!!!!

Another WARNING: With pups or adult dogs, even if you manage to CON them into letting you get close enough to pick them up...you are feeding the very behavior you want to stop. What I mean is IF you get the dog in your arms or hands & then you put them into their crate so you can leave...they will learn that coming to you means I get put up & Mom/Dad leaves!!!! This will only increase their "darting away" from you. When this occurs, they are not darting to play the chase game. Rather, they are darting away to keep from being put up & you leaving them. In their mind, IF they keep from being picked up...they will NOT be put up & left.

So, you will want to be certain that you frequently pick the dog up, contain them, hold them...and, pet, hug, love on them for just a minute or two....then, release them again to play more (even if only for a couple of minutes!). This teaches them that coming to you is great...hugs, love, etc...then more play. And, it is only periodically that they are put in their crate & you leave them. You NEVER want them to associate coming to you or being picked up or contained with ALWAYS being put up & you leaving them. Rather, they must learn that coming to you, being picked up or contained more often than not...means I get much praise, treats, toys, love, affection...and, then another play session!!!

Remember to have all due PATIENCE & CONSISTENCY when teaching the COME. Continue to reinforce the wonderfulness of "coming to you" throughout their life. Even when you think your dog is solid in this behavior, continue to reinforce the COME throughout their life & on a regular basis. Some suggestions for this are:

  1. When the dog isn't expecting anything, call them & have a treat for them or a toy & play for a minute.
  2. Walking across the room, pick up a toy & get the dog's attention. Call them & toss the toy between your legs or to the side of your legs... so the dog runs "past" you.
  3. Call the dog to you & suddenly take off running away from them so they are chasing you.
  4. If in one room, unexpectedly take off to another room, call them, & when they are chasing you... stop & give them praise & treat or play with a toy for their reward.

Keep your dog ALWAYS wanting to stay alert for the best WORD in the entire world...COME!!!! No other word should bring such wonderful things into their lives. No other behavior should make Mom /Dad happier!!!! All dogs love to play games & they always want to win. Make sure the COME game is the best & most rewarding game they can play with you. Ensure they always WIN the game. Meaning, make sure you do all the right things to make sure your dog "comes" to you when you call.

When you do all of these things, you & your dog will both WIN!!!!! This process will make your relationship with your dog stronger. It will help make you the center of your dog's life. This will make your life easier. It will make your life with your dog more satisfying & rewarding. And, it could truly save their life!!!

***Disclaimer***

Any information contained on this site relating to training and behavior of Westies is for informational purposes only. The WHWTCA recommends that Westies undergo obedience training. For assistance in locating an obedience training club in your area, please consult the American Kennel Club's website at www.akc.org/events/obedience/getting-started/