Teaching your dog to come to you in any situation is one of the hardest things to teach a dog to do reliably. The reason why it’s so tricky is because it’s so hard to train ourselves as humans to consistently positively reinforce our dogs when they do come over to us. Humans are very busy creatures who are always trying to get from point A to point B very quickly. Dogs are very happy animals because they love to soak in the sights and smells of the moment. We don't find as much joy in smelling lamp posts or spending another twenty minutes at the dog park, and we want our dogs to come right away. If they don't come right away, people get really frustrated and end up calling their dogs over and over again. They start to yell more and more and then once their dogs finally do come, they're so frustrated with them that they may end up swatting them or giving them a big jerk on the leash. Nobody wants to run right over to a person who's a jerk. Instead, you want to teach your dog that coming to you is the best thing in the world, because you may one day even save your dog from a dangerous situation. A reliable recall is the most important command that you can teach your dog. Here's how to do it...
1) When first teaching your dog to come, never call your dog over to you when he is engaged in play or very interested in something smelly and wonderful. You will get ignored and then you will keep calling him and then he will learn that come basically means nothing to him. You might as well be yelling at the top of your lungs, "Keep ignoring me!". Instead, wait until your dog has lost interest in the present distraction, and then capture your dog's attention with an interrupter "kissy" noise and big hand motions. Once your dog looks at you and has taken one step towards you, call him over to you while waving your hand above your head and take a few running steps away from your dog. If you walk towards your dog, he will think that you are following him and he will continue to move away from you. By running away from your dog, he will think that you're running somewhere to have fun without him and then he'll want to get in on the action too. When teaching your dog to come to you, it's very important to always have a reward ready for when he comes to you. Once your dog is reliably coming to you, you can start using the variable ratio method, meaning that you only reward him sometimes and only for really quick and snappy 'comes'. It's also important to vary the different types of rewards and to use a very high value reward (think hot dog pieces or cheese) when faced with big distractions.
2) Call your dog to come for anything and everything good. Meaning, call your dog when it's dinner time, when it's time to go for a walk, when it's time to play, when it's time to cuddle, when it's time for a car ride, etc. Always call your dog consistently and constantly the same way. You should always say your dog's name first and then "come" or if you prefer, "here". So for instance, if your dog is in the other room, randomly pick up a toy and hide it behind your back, then call him over to, "Bruno, come!" and once he comes over to you and sits in front of you, give him the toy you've been hiding.
3) Using a 15 ft long line, a clicker and treat bag full of goodies, have your dog sit and then call your dog to come to you. Then take several fun running steps backwards. The second that dog takes a step in your direction, click and then treat. If you click and treat when your dog approaches you and sits, then he may think that he is getting rewarded for sitting. Also, by clicking right when your dog makes a move, it will make him come over to you much faster. Keep calling your dog while moving around with big, fun, erratic motions. Think of it as a fun game because you want your dog to think that coming to you is the best thing in the world. Be sure to end the game before your dog loses interest in the game to make sure that you're building his drive and motivation.
4) Playing Hide-and-Go-Seek with your dog and a friend will also build up your dog's motivation and willingness to come to you. Have your friend hold onto your dog while you go hide in another part of the house or yard. Make it easy the first few times and then call your dog to come to you. Once he races over to find you, give him lots of praise and a treat or toy. Then hold onto your dog and have your friend go and hide. This game will not only teach your dog how to reliably come to you, but it will also build up your dog's confidence when he finds you and it's a great way to burn off your dog's mental and physical energy.
5) Be very mindful of not calling your dog to come to you when something unpleasant is going to happen to him. For instance, when it's time to clip his nails, clean his ears or come towards anything that your dog is fearful of. You want the command for come to mean that great things are coming to him once he reaches you. If something negative happens, you will be decreasing the behavior and the effectiveness of the command. When your dog is playing at the park, teach your dog to check in with you when you call him over to you and then reward him by telling him to "go play" again, but never put him on his leash and leave when you call him. Instead, just walk over to him when he’s taking a break or getting water and then snap his leash on him. It’s also always good to keep a goody stash in your car with lots of different kinds of treats and toys so that you can give your dog something great when you leave the park. Your dog will want to leave if he gets a goody every time. Same thing goes for at home when you call your dog inside when he's been playing outside. Make sure that the fun doesn’t end when you call him in and then be sure to give him a treat or toy when he comes inside. If you do this consistently when your dog is young, he will have a very reliable recall when he is older.
Most importantly, never ever get frustrated or mad when your dog doesn’t come right away. Nobody wants to hang out with somebody who they can't trust. Always exercise great patience when dog training. Dogs who have very calm, confident and benevolent owners have great recalls. They know that their owner isn't going to punish them for coming over to them and they also know that they just might get a jackpot of good things. Be the happiest human ever and your dog won’t want to leave your side. The happier you are, the faster your dog will start coming to you.