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Why dogs don’t come when you call

Lance, come.
Lance, come.

Most dogs sit when we stand by the cookie jar in the kitchen. But if you were in your yard with one leg on a chair and your back to your dog, would he still sit? Maybe, maybe not. And sit is the cue most dogs learn first and practice the most. So there’s no surprise that calling your dog is not always fool proof.

Even if we teach a dog to come to us first and practice it far and wide, we also use it to corral our dogs at the dog park and gather them for a bath or medicine or nail trimming. In essence, we punish dogs for coming when called as often as we reward them. A major training fail.

Finally, we use a different emergency voice to call dogs when we really, really need them to do it and this is nothing like the voice or body language we use in training. You know, the friendly, treat wielding, cheery way we used to call her when she was a puppy.

So how can you fix this? The first thing to do is consider training your dog to touch your hand on cue . The plan is all laid out for you in what's called Target Training and it’s fun. Problem solved. But if you have an experienced escape artist or a dog who likes to play chase games or can’t see or hear you if there is a squirrel on patrol, her e are some rules and games to play to make both your lives a little easier and safer.

Rules for Recall

  • Make being near you something any dog would like or why should he do it? Fear ? That doesn’t work.
  • Don’t be stingy. If your dog likes meat offer that for coming when you call periodically. It can be a surprise but he should believe it will happen again someday. If your dog likes Tug games, use that. If it’s a squeaky toy, then that’s it. Don’t make the assumption that your dog likes thumps on the head or a squeaky mommy voice. Most dogs don’t and tolerating it because he loves you is not the same as feeling motivated by it.
  • Don’t let an untrained dog off leash. Train in a fenced yard or call a dog trainer who has a training facility you can use until you are ready.
  • Try not to chase your dog. That doesn’t work either. It’s so fun for him, it’s worth getting in trouble form the dog’s perspective.
  • Never call your dog to do something he doesn’t like. Go to him or run from him and let him catch you.
  • Don’t punish your dog for any reason if he does come to you. No matter what he just did.-
  • Getting angry rarely commands respect. Your dog will know you are unstable and avoid you until you feel better.

Games for Training

  • Round Robin-have several people (neighbors, kids) sit or stand in a circle and practice calling your dog one at a time. Your dog can go to anyone but only the caller will offer a delicious treat. Once he’s right about who called 8 out of 10 times, add distractions such as someone else throwing a ball. Still the only reward is from the one caller at a time.
  • Call your dog who is on a leash while running backward. When your dog catches you, give a treat. Or if you are in a fenced yard, remove the leash and play as a reward. This solidifies the final goal (reaching you) and makes the recall stronger when he's farther away.
  • Practice grabbing your dog’s collar for a treat at all times of the day. This makes it possible to suddenly reach for your dog at the end of a call without startling him.
  • Hide from your dog and call him. When he finds you be sure the reward is worthy of his persistence.
  • Practice using an emergency voice and grabbing your dog’s collar. Then let him run around a little more.
  • Add distance and distractions one at a time to ensure your dog can still come to you even when it’s hard. Just because your dog comes to you in the house or even the yard it’s not okay to believe he’s ready for the dog park. Practice calling him past an open can of cat food. How about past his best friend outside the fence? If he succeeds be sure to give him some of the cat food and a romp with his bestie to show him how respect for you pays off big.

I’ve heard many dog owners cry that they want a dog who comes when called no matter what. I understand this. The problem is to get that, you have to teach and practice. Teaching involves new ideas and lessons and experiments. If you don’t want a dog to “experiment” while out in public, get that over with at home. Your dog may have tremendous respect for you but there is no way he knows what you want while crossing a stream full of fish just because your voice is loud and you mean “now!”. If you truly want a dog who comes in all situations, you need to show him enough new situations during the training phase that he gets it- the situation doesn't matter.

Of course, it’s worth it. Reliability off leash is a ticket to freedom for you and your dog. There are many places you won’t want to take a chance—places in which you can’t control others. But a dog who will return to you when the situation changes is able to accompany you where naughty dogs never tread.

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