Help! My dog won’t come when I call him. He’s great in just about every other way, he also eats deer droppings, but I can ignore that, it’s the not coming when called that drives me crazy. He runs off leash everyday so it’s not for lack of exercise. What do I do?
First of all, I congratulate you for focusing on it. So few dogs have a solid recall, even though it’s one of the most important behaviors we can ever teach them – and one of the few they’ll use their entire lives.
First a couple of reminders
- Spring is the hardest time of the year to keep dogs in check – so many new and amazing smells (so even if you’re not initially training them in Spring, chances are you’ll have new – and difficult challenges when it rolls around)
- Be sure you’ve taught your dog an impulse control term, like Leave it! This will give them crucial information during this behavior; if they seem too busy to respond to your Come cue, add Leave it! before the Come
- You’ll be calling your dog to Come for the rest of their lives, sometimes when they do, it’ll end with something they don’t particularly care for (coming in the house, coming away from a cool dog, etc) because of this, it’s crucial that you really solidify the association between Come and a delicious treat. To do this, use treats longer than you do for other behaviors and be sure to use delicious treats; hotdogs, cheese, chicken, meatballs etc
- Decide ahead of time what your word and hand signals are. Consider using a phrase, “C’mon” or “Let’s Go” rather than barking out a command like Come!
- Watch your body language; if you’re facing your dog with your hands on your hips, you are not inviting; instead turn away from your dog; clap or take a knee
- Notice every time your dog comes to you on his/her own; and acknowledge it!
- On a personal note, until my dogs show me months of rock solid Comes they’re managed with a bell, walkie talkie and/or backpack
So with those pointers in mind we follow the below framework of teaching our pups. Realizing that if we go too quickly or jump over crucial steps it’ll be obvious in their response rate. Take the time to do this right and you will be able to trust your dog and expand their world exponentially.
Freshman Level Come – In the beginning we’re teaching dogs what we want them to do; when I say a particular word or phrase, or when I make this gesture, I want you to do a certain behavior. We work close to the dogs in freshman level and focus on lots of treats/reinforcements to solidify how cool this behavior is to do – be generous!
Note: some dogs have a bad reaction to the word come. If this is your pup, use a different word or better yet use a phrase. At pranaDOGS we use Touch! (we initially teach dogs to touch our hands) then use the Cue from across the yard to get our dogs to come to us without using the Come word.
Sophomore Level Come – Here you generalize come; you show the dog that come means come when there’s dogs or poop around, when there’s kids around or when there’s a cool smell or noise. Sophomore level come includes A LOT of reminders. You’re in teaching/showing mode – not reacting; use everything as a learning moment. Add distance, distractions, durations and destinations!
Junior Level Come – This level is focused on Practice. Each success is reinforced and followed by a little more difficult of a challenge. If your dog stumbles, make it easier and practice, then add the additional challenge. Here your dog is coming 85% or more of the time and doesn’t get caught up in distractions
Senior Level Come – 100% of the time no matter what’s going on; as immediately as possible; happy!