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Using games to teach your dog to come when called can significantly enhance the learning process. Games are inherently motivating and fun for our pets and us! This increases both the puppy’s and owner/carer’s willingness to practice, participate and learn. Gamifying your pet’s recall also helps to build positive associations with the recall verbal/visual cues (such as “Come”), helping increase the likelihood of your puppy responding reliably when called. Here is a quick recall game idea for you to play with your puppy – Puppy Ping Pong!
Your recall game – Puppy Ping Pong
What your need:
- Your puppy!
- Your puppy’s favourite treats and or toys – check out my Preference Testing video to help you understand what your puppy prefers.
- A helper to play the game with you and your puppy
- A secure outdoor or indoor space
- Long line attached to the puppy’s harness if you are working outside in an unsecure areas (e.g. the local park – go at a quiet time of day to maximise your pup’s success when introducing new behaviours)
How to play?
- Stand about 10 feet apart with another person in a safe and secure area. Your puppy should be in the middle of you two.
- The person who starts first will call the puppy’s name (e.g. “Fido”) then use a recall verbal cue like “Come”.
- As the puppy starts moving towards the person who called, the other person should stay silent, still and keep any food/toys away to avoid distracting the puppy from the first caller.
- Once the puppy reaches the first caller, the puppy should hear a marker sound such as “Yes” then swiftly receive their reward (e.g. food, chance to play with their favoured toy and praise, etc).
- After the reward, the second person now calls the puppy using the recall cue.
- Repeat these steps, moving further apart as the puppy gets better at the game. If there are distractions and the puppy loses focus, decrease the distance between the two people and try again.
- Always reward your dog for coming when called – this helps to build a strong history of reinforcement, increasing the likelihood of your pup coming to you.
- Do switch around your rewards as you play. For example, use a combination of praise, food, toy play, allowing them to sniff on verbal cue and so on – use what your pup is most motivated by. This helps to maintain the game and, importantly, build a positive association with coming to you when called.
- Keep practice sessions short and fun, such as no more than 3 minutes twice a day, or think of your practice sessions in repetitions and sets, such as 1 set = 10 reps, so you could practice 3 sets across the day (= 30 reps). This helps to keep the puppy’s attention and motivation high.
- Overtime, aim to increase your distance from one another but keep distractions to a minimum when increasing the distance. Or, reduce the distance between you and the other person and your puppy but now introduce some distractions. When looking to progress on your puppy’s training, always work at their pace – we want them to be able to perform the behaviour so they can be rewarded as, afterall, what gets rewarded is more likely to get repeated.
The goal of this game is to build your puppy’s recall and strengthen the bond between you, other handlers and your pup, making them more likely to focus and listen to you in other situations as well.
Remember – it’s a marathon not a sprint, so work at your puppy’s own individual pace when it comes to their training and introducing them to new and repeated experiences. Always consider the training environment you are practicing in, your distance from your puppy, how many distractions are within the environment, what you are using to reward the recall behaviour and so on. Check out my Pet Behavioural Diary to help you monitor and keep track of your training sessions, to set you and your puppy up for success.
For more advice, support, training games and troubleshooting – check out my Puppy Package; the one-stop shop for all your puppy’s training and behaviour needs.