There is no question that every dog needs to be trained, but what are the most important cues a dog should learn? Of course, there is the ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ and ‘down’ commands hich are basic and should be part of every pet’s repertoire, but what a lot of owners fail to focus on, especially in the early stages of training is the ‘come’ and ‘leave it’ commands. Some owners may believe that these are more advanced training cues, but any age pet can begin learning these cues immediately.
The importance of the ‘Come’ command
The dangers and frustrations of not having a pet respond to a recall word are obvious and numerous: getting out and lost in the neighborhood, running into the middle of a street, charging up to a stranger (whether or not this is aggressive, it can scare the other person and set off a negative chain of events that is best to avoid), or not coming back in the house when called.
Puppies have a tendency to run. They love to play chase, and an owner will often unintentionally oblige by running after the dog with the leash yelling a combination of ‘come,’ ‘stop,’ or ‘no.’ The words themselves lose their meaning and become nothing more than noise as the game goes on. What is important to the dog at this point is that they are getting exactly what it wanted: playtime.
It is never too early to begin teaching a pup that coming back to his owner is the best idea in any situation, but first they must learn to associate with fun. During an actual play session, begin asking the puppy to ‘come.’ Say it once and in an even tone of voice, and offer a toy or treat. When the puppy responds, give him lots of love and attention, play tug, or give a tidbit of food. Always associate the word ‘come’ with positive rewards. Never have the call the dog over to punish him as this will teach him that coming to you is going to be a terrible experience.
But sometimes puppies−or even adult dogs− can be stubborn or unaware. They still have to learn the language their new owner is trying to communicate to them with and it will take a lot of patience on the part of the human. Following are a few things to keep in mind before getting started:
• Be consistent: use the same word as the recall word. Whether it be ‘come,’ ‘back,’ or ‘here,’ when teaching a dog to associate a word with an action it is best to be consistent so that he knows what is being asked of him, or can pick it up quickly. Using many different words for the same action prolongs the time it takes the dog to make the connection.
• Be generous: it is okay to give treats generously while training. A lot of dogs are highly food motivated, meaning they will do anything for a treat so using small, bite-sized bits of food as a reward will focus the dog on the trainer. Show the dog the treat, ask him to come, and as soon as he makes a forward motion or returns to the trainer hand him the treat and say ‘Yes!’ It is up to the trainer whether or not to use a clicker for this training. After the dog is consistently coming when called, it is best to wean off the treats, giving a food reward every other time the dog comes, then every three times, until the dog is coming consistently.
• Be patient: this is a learning experience for both the owner and the dog. Each one is trying to figure out how to communicate with the other. It is going to take a lot misses before there is that hit, and when it does happen, bother owner and animal should rejoice!
But what if the dog just does not understand the premise of coming when called? Following are some techniques that can be used to get the dog to stay with the pack:
• Do not repeat the command more than twice. If the dog did not come the first or second time, the dog will not come the third or fourth times. It is time to stop screaming with no results and switch tactics.
• Try a different behavior. Is the dog a fan of sitting? Is he really good at targeting? Does he love to ‘find it?’ A dog exposed to a multitude of activities will undoubtedly find a favorite, one that he does exceptionally well or that he just seems to enjoy. Whatever the dog is a master of, ask him to do that particular task instead to lure him within arm’s reach.
• Playtime! Invite the dog to play a game, but a game of the human’s choosing, not his. Grab a favorite toy and begin a game of tug, grab a tennis ball and begin fetching, squeak a squeaky toy to get his attention. Each of these underline the fantastic time the dog will have if he comes back to his owner.
• Run away!! As stated early, dogs love to play chase. If a human is coming at them trying to get them inside and the dog runs away, a game of chase has just commenced. That animal will keep running away as long as there is something there to chase it. How can a human outsmart the cunning dog? Run the other way. Simple as that. Make a loud whistle or squeak one of his toys and as soon as that dog glances toward the human, run the other way. Make a show of how much fun is going on, how great it is for a dog to be by its human. Remember, always reward the dog that returns.
• Emergency Recall. There is a word for every dog that is associated with the most absolutely wonderful thing in the world. Owners usually know what this is, but don’t necessarily connect the dots to use this as an emergency recall. Does the dog always respond to the request “Go for a walk?” Or the word “treat?” Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a word at all. It could be the sound of a treat bag, or the clinking of a collar? Whatever it is, be prepared to use it, especially in an emergency, so that the dog and the human can stay out of trouble or danger.
Remember, always be positive once the dog returns. Put on a happy face and let the dog know how perfect an animal he is. He must always associate you with good times or it will be just that much harder to get him to come next time.