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The question speaks for itself: what techniques or approaches do you use to develop a strong (reliable) "Come" command for those instances where your dog is off-leash in distraction-filled environments?
 

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I always reward. Every time. Food ideally, or if I'm caught unawares I throw a big praise party.
My 7 month old pup is highly motivated by food, but doesn't always clue in when distracted. She ran out of the backyard last night, and I got her to come by dangling the tug rope. She loves that thing.
 

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My 7 month old pup is highly motivated by food, but doesn't always clue in when distracted. She ran out of the backyard last night, and I got her to come by dangling the tug rope. She loves that thing.
Yea, in an emergency you do what you gotta do, I was talking more about building the command.

Aside from that I periodically reward for choosing to pay attention or keep tabs on me when out and about.
 

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I would walk the husky off leash in the woods and when I did this I'd bring a slim jim every time. I'd break off a piece and give it to him before setting him free. Whenever we called him he'd have to stop and sit in front of me to get a piece. He comes 100% of the time unless he's stuck or lost. And if he can't come he'll start howling, so we can go to him.

Rogue is easy. If he can't see you he's already on his way to fix that.
 

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I start with teaching a reliable down/stay, and from there start working on recall. I use techniques that build a strong attraction to handler (pushing, tug/push tug), and play hide and seek.
 

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The question speaks for itself: what techniques or approaches do you use to develop a strong (reliable) "Come" command for those instances where your dog is off-leash in distraction-filled environments?
Really awesome treats. More awesome than anything else. Age does have a bit to do with it, as in that ripe teenage phase they want nothing to do with you unless you're wearing Lady Gaga's meat dress. Also, in the training stages, don't call them if you don't think they will come. That way they never learn recall is optional. "Leave it" is also helpful so then they kind of snap out of whatever they are focused on, and then you can call them.
 

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my breeds have always been high prey drive so recall training is started using chase games either chasing me or chasing toys past me. that is the first skill I teach is run and drive it as hard as I can excite them to come at me.
 

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I mostly own breeds that are inclined toward really strong handler focus and either working with humans rather than away from them or who are inclined to be companions and close, just because.

Barring that (I have a terrier and a pain in the butt mutt besides the 'sticky' close dogs), good treats, periodic recalls, and never 'test it' if I think they might be able to blow it off and never use it to end playtime or anything unpleasant/the dog might not like (like nails or bath time or being leashed up again or crated or whatever). For one dog that meant until he was over 3 years old before the long line got ditched. In contrast to the BC who has never blown a recall, ever, from the time she was 7 weeks old. Like seriously was never anything BUT 100% with it.
 

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What gets rewarded gets done.

Yes, big rewards for coming when it is not necessarily what your dog wants to do. Rascal knows that if I call him, good things will happen, especially when he is off leash outside our house with lots of traffic out front! High value treats to begin with and then easing off, but always a praise party.
 

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The environment can often be a formidable foe. It's wise to make sure whatever reward you use ALWAYS trumps the surroundings. With some dogs and situations, weaning down to praise or lesser rewards may weaken the strength of response in the long run. That said, after compliance and high value reinforcement, using a release back to the environment can be the icing on the cake. aka: Premack.
 

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What sorcery is this?!?
Realllllllly good handler focus and biddability?

Actually I lied. When she was about a year old, she blew one. In agility class, it was the one tim she ran toward another dog she had been having a hate-on for, for weeks, and really hated. Her brain fell out.

Otherwise, seriously, has never happened. Off chasing wildlife, off retrieving, out from playing, whatever. She's just super focused on me/what we're doing. Our distraction work with agility Tuesday was people standing between jumps, other dogs wandering trough them, and discs and balls flying around. At one point she was actually doing jumps in tandem with another dog. She LISTENS.

I mean, I train her, obviously, and recall uses most of the stuff in here, but a lot of it's just innate to her. Otherwise, I could say that about all my dogs and I can't. Molly just *super* wants to be a good dog who does what she's told.
 

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Realllllllly good handler focus and biddability?

Actually I lied. When she was about a year old, she blew one. In agility class, it was the one tim she ran toward another dog she had been having a hate-on for, for weeks, and really hated. Her brain fell out.

Otherwise, seriously, has never happened. Off chasing wildlife, off retrieving, out from playing, whatever. She's just super focused on me/what we're doing. Our distraction work with agility Tuesday was people standing between jumps, other dogs wandering trough them, and discs and balls flying around. At one point she was actually doing jumps in tandem with another dog. She LISTENS.

I mean, I train her, obviously, and recall uses most of the stuff in here, but a lot of it's just innate to her. Otherwise, I could say that about all my dogs and I can't. Molly just *super* wants to be a good dog who does what she's told.
Ralphie typically is a good boy who wants to listen, but he's a stinker sometimes. We were practicing one day and I called him, he wasn't really doing anything interesting, and he just looks back at me with this expression of "And what you gonna do about it?" I could almost see a raised eyebrow. It was ridiculous. I didn't know what to do. I HAD A HOTDOG IN MY HAND. I just...just what?

And that was the day I learned that if that dog had thumbs I would be in a great deal of trouble.
 

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Don't set the dog up to fail. Do lots of foundation work before testing it, and only test it in situations where you're >95% sure the dog will listen. If a dog with very little reinforcement history for coming back to you ends up off-leash in a highly distracting situation there is very little you can do; it'd be akin to closing the barn door once the horse has already escaped.

In terms of how we actually work on it - foundation work for us means lots of recall games at home, like the ones recommended in Susan Garrett's "Recallers" program, practicing recalls inside. I like to use a hand-touch as recall, and taught my younger dog to touch her collar to my hand as part of the "Come" command; it's fun but not as useful as I thought it would be, as I can rarely get my fingers through her collar easily because of all her fur.
 

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I do Susan Garrett's collar grab too. Bucky would bite and Ginger dance away if I didn't work on it constantly. They don't even have much hair and it's still hard to get a finger under the collar.

Do loads of calling dog into the house for a cookie. Don't use Come, something more casual.

Reward check ins during walks. Bucky naturally has extreme difficulty doing this and Ginger naturally checks in constantly.

Do mini obedience sessions during walks. At traffic signals waiting for the light, when crossing the street, any place dog might be distracted like near noisy school yard or when bikes zoom past. I get to do 'inchworm' walks where I have dog sit/stay while I walk to the end of the leash, call and repeat until either past or close enough to that sniffy place he loves to lunge at. I don't mind the sniffing but hate the lunging.

When dog is having a blast digging or jumping at a ghost critter in tree or hole or sniffing that fabulous spot let him. When he starts to get just a bit tired put a cookie in his face and lead him away from the source of fun and give him the cookie. Then release back to the fun. Rinse and repeat. My dogs just light up when they realize the fun isn't over when human calls them away. Sure you will have to call them off barking at the neighbor's kitten on the fence for real someday but usually it's possible to get a few reps in before fun is over.

Dogs earn the right to be off leash with distractions. My dogs don't even get to be in the living room or back yard off leash until I know they can handle it! I start with a super short leash then give them the full 6' then the flexi on walks. Around here that's as far as I can go, no legal off leash places. Bucky has been seesawing between no slack and 4' for a year. He really appreciates the freedom but then he gets overwhelmed and forgets I exist. My goal is the same as off leash, I want to control the dog with cues with dog never hitting the end of the line. Ginger and Max could/can do this easily. Bucky will get there in the end.
 

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I agree with all the suggestions here so I won't write them all out again.

I did want to add that genetics, temperament, and personality play a huge role too. Some breeds are going to be more biddable and handler oriented than others. Some dogs within the same breed are going to be better than others. Some dogs might not have a great natural recall but will naturally orbit around you, while others won't think twice about taking off. So a reasonable time frame to get a solid recall can vary hugely dog to dog, and for some dogs it might not ever be 100% in the face of any distraction.
 

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According to Susan Garrett, one approach is to set up a long term incremental training plan with increasing distractions. For example, one exercise might be tossing a piece of kibble in one direction and then running a different direction with a piece of chicken while call the dog's name with an excited voice. You might need to come up with a ranked list of 10 - 100 distractions, depending on your environment and the individual dog. I've never done this, but I imagine that you don't need every possible distraction, just a few high level distractions, taught with patience.
 

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I HAD A HOTDOG IN MY HAND. I just...just what?
This reminds me of something I think is important...

I never have my reward out when I call my dog or any dog. The reward appears after they do what I want. That way, there is never any question that my dog performed because of me/relationship/training/etc. and not because of a bribe. Because when the bribe goes away, sometimes progress does too. I have literally seen puppies no older than 16 weeks learn to plant their butts on the ground every few feet until they SEE their owners pull out a treat every time. Within 5 minutes of getting the people to just wait it out and reward any forward movement without the bribe, the puppies would willingly walk with their people without the treat present.

Recall is the same, if not even more challenging. The dog needs to trust that coming over from 100 ft away (I would not recommend starting at that distance) is worth more than stopping for a smell, chasing the deer, playing with dogs, or just... not coming. You can't really bribe that unless your dog is never more than 10 ft away from you. And 'worth' is not just the reward at the end, but the 'game' of coming to you or even chasing you down.
 

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There's also a classical conditioning aspect... If your dog has tremendously and uniquely positive associations with the recall cue, it will make it more powerful. There are a few things I've done to build that.

-My recall cue is two notes that I whistle, something I don't ever do casually in everyday life. So the sound is very salient.

-Whenever I give my dog an outstanding reward (think: meat scraps, crock pot remains, raw meat, fistfuls of treats, a can of tuna, a can of cat food, etc.) I make that sound right before giving it to him. Sometimes it's for a true recall on a hike outside but if I'm lazy I'll do it right in the house. All that matters is I am tying the cue to the over-the-top rewards.

-Novelty. The outstanding reward is always different so he doesn't ever know what he's about to get... He just knows it's something exceptional.


I've had good results. My dog is very food motivated and generally biddable, but is also a little independent and very environmentally motivated. He's all about the smells and will chase things if I let him. "Come" only works in easy situations and that speaks to 1. How often I use that word in everyday speech and 2. How little I've worked on it. Also, sometimes he ambles, not runs, back to me. But his whistle recall is as close to 100% as it can be. Dead stop mid chase, immediately runs top speed back to me, and all that good stuff. When I make that sound I want him to feel like he's won the lottery.
 
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