By guest author, Kika Dorsey, Animal Trainer
The most commonly asked question in my class is how do I get my dog to come to
me when called? People complain that their dogs come only when it is convenient
to them, and certainly not if there is another dog or a squirrel in the
vicinity. Too often these people have used the "come" command in so many
unsuccessful circumstances that it has lost meaning. In this case we need to
start from scratch and build a dependable foundation.
First of all, you must establish yourself as leader of the pack in your
relationship to your dog. You accomplish this by creating rituals around food
and territory. When feeding your dog, you should always make sure it has to wait
before you release it to eat. Also, make sure you are not giving out treats for
free. Oftentimes people get in the habit of telling a dog it is good and giving
it a bone when the dog has done nothing more than watch them come home. It is
also good to eat something before feeding your dog, because an alpha in a pack
always eats first. Make sure your dog waits before entering or exiting a new
territory, until you take the first step, then release it. Make sure it learns
the "leave it" command with toys and treats. Practice long down stays.
You may wonder what these directions have to do with creating a reliable recall,
but establishing a firm foundation in training and doing your alpha work will
make the recall more secure, because you dog will be looking to you for
direction and leadership.
Now for the recall work. To begin with, you need to choose a command that you
haven't ruined, so if you already used "come" and your dog often didn't come,
then choose "here" or "now," something short and easy, a one-syllable word.
Start using this command when your dog is on a six-foot leash, pulling it
towards you after you say the word, followed by praise and a treat. Do this on
and off throughout the day, so that your dog learns the somatic relationship
between the command and the pull on the leash.
More than anything, you need to make sure your dog associates coming to you with
something good. Praise and treat your dog even if it comes to you without being
called, if you are sitting on the couch or at a park, for example. If your dog
is off leash and is being distracted by a squirrel, do not use the reliable
recall word while still working on it, but use an unreliable recall, like its
name. That way, if you aren't successful, you won't be back to square one.
Make sure you only call out your command once. Dogs learn quickly that they
don't have to listen to a command if it is repeated again and again. Also, make
sure you are using good treats and a variety of treats and vary the amount, so
that your dog doesn't know when it will hit the jackpot. It's like gambling;
your dog will keep coming back in hope of hitting that big steak payoff again.
Eventually you'll be using treats randomly, but while in training use treats
consistently, to program the positive association.
Begin using a long-line when outside, calling the dog to you and reeling it in
if it doesn't respond. Use the command indoors several times a day off leash,
when you know it will come. Make sure you consistently praise the dog when it
comes to you. Use the long line outside when your dog is distracted by a
squirrel. Control distraction by having a person feed your dog while you call it
to you, so that it learns to make the choice to come to you instead of staying
where the distraction is. Make sure your treats are better. If the dog fails,
leash it and practice the recall three times on leash. Keep up treating it
intermittently and praising it to make sure the recall remains consistent, and
don't only use the recall command when it's time to go home and the fun is over.
Make it a command you work on even after you feel you have it down.
If you follow these directions and slowly increase distraction, you will have a
dog that comes to you reliably, and it's a great moment when your dog chooses to
come to you instead of chasing squirrels.
Recommended Training Books
Don't Shoot the Dog
Discusses reinforcement &
clicker training, ending undesirable habits, shaping behavior without pain and
tips for training the dog, kids & yourself!
Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs
Did you know a dog can feel threatened by a hug? This book describes how our actions effect our dogs and how we can improve communication.
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