By Sandy Modell
Alexandria, VA – One of the biggest behavior issues our clients complain about is that their dogs won’t come when called, or sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Dog owners can feel angry or frustrated when their dog does not consistently come when called. The truth is, this is a difficult skill for dogs to learn because we are often asking them to ignore their natural instincts.
The environment has so many exciting things for dogs to explore. Unfortunately, when they don’t come when called, it’s because everything else out there is more exciting than us. The key to building a reliable recall is to make you your dog’s big cookie. It requires conscious effort for your dog to associate coming to you with the most fun, rewarding thing in the world. Here are some tips that can help build a really reliable recall:
Step One: See things from your dog’s perspective
If you feel like you’ve tried everything but are not seeing success with recall, it may be because your actions inadvertently teach your dog not to come.
If your dog gets away from you, your instinct is to chase your dog to catch up with them. Unfortunately for you, your dog sees this as a really cool game of chase and is thrilled with excitement. When you finally catch up with your dog, what is your reaction? Likely, you react sternly and even “punish” your dog for not listening to you. Your dog is thinking, “Not only is the fun over, but now I’m in trouble. I better not let them catch me next time.” Your dog is learning that being chased by you is fun, but being with you when caught, is not so much fun.
Step Two: Positive Interactions
Your dog is always learning. That’s why it’s essential to remember that every interaction with your dog is a training opportunity. Start right away with a new puppy or dog to make coming to you the bomb. Set up exercises that will reinforce your dog coming to you as a positive interaction. Even if you have had your puppy or dog for years, it’s not too late to make coming to you better than sliced bread.
Teach your dog that being close to you is good. Fun happens, play happens, belly rubs happen. And, be aware that calling your dog to you when the outcome is a negative one, such as getting a bath, clipping nails, going to the vet, or taking their toy away, leaves a negative association. Dogs are very good about making associations, both good and bad. In their minds, they think, will this be good or will this be bad. So, make sure that when you say their name and the word come, it is only associated with good things. Otherwise, you can see how your dog may be learning that coming to you is likely not in his best interest.
Step Three: Set Your Dog Up for Success and Practice
As a rule of thumb, training should start with little distractions, like in a small space in your home. Once your dog has mastered one room, try another room. Dogs do not generalize well, so what you train in one room should be taught in all different places in your home. The first step is to practice recall in distraction-free environments and gradually add more challenging situations. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to practice outdoors or at the park with success.
Start by grabbing a few tasty treats, and just say your dog’s name and the word “come” in an upbeat tone. Mark the behavior with a clicker or verbal marker such as “yes” and give them a treat. I call this the “In Your Face Recall.” After you have primed the pump, repeat this exercise but take one step back. When they come to you, give them a tasty treat and lots of praise.
Call your dog using their name first to get their attention, followed by the verbal cue, “Come!” You can also use “Here” or a recall word of your choosing. Be consistent and use the same word, but only say it one time.
There is a concept in learning theory called “learned irrelevance.” When you repeat cues over and over again, your dog will soon tune it out. Just like kids! So, only say your recall word one time. If they don’t come, use other words and sounds, such as “puppy puppy,” kissy noise, clap, whistle, anything, but don’t repeat the word “come.”
Every time your dog comes when called, you should act like a miracle has just happened. Because it has. We want this miracle to happen every time your dog shows up. This means lots of praise, lots of high-value rewards, lots of fun and lots of play when they do come, and lots of practice. Before you know it, your dog will not only want to come to you, but they will also want to stick around.
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head Trainer of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes are starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.