Teaching your dog to come when called | Hometown Focus

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a two-part article on how to train your dog to come when called. Part two will appear in the October 2 edition – Kirsten Reichel, HTF Staff Writer

One of the proudest moments I’ve had with my dog was getting her to stop mid run and come back to me while she was chasing a rabbit. I was dumbfounded. My dog just stopped mid run and came back to me? Oh yes — it is possible.

We achieved it by consistently working on her recall over many months. My trick was to make sure I was always more interesting than her surroundings, so I became a constant supply of treats, games, and praise. It wasn’t easy, and there were frustrations, but seeing your dog stop mid run and come right back to you enthusiastically made it all worth it.

We’ve all seen that person at the park yelling and screaming at their dog to come back, but have you ever thought about what that experience is like through their dog’s eyes? If I were that dog, I’d much rather sniff that tree or roll in something smelly than come back to my angry, yelling owner. Frustration and yelling seem to come naturally to us when our dog doesn’t listen. It doesn’t, however, do anything to entice our dogs to come back to us.



Eventually I figured out that my methods weren’t working. I started doing research on positive training methods and reward-based training. I had to train myself to try new methods that were unfamiliar and learn more about dog behavior and motivation.

Your dog’s recall is arguably the most important command you can teach, but it can also be one of the hardest commands to get reliably. Trying to be more interesting to our dog than a squirrel, and then punishing them when we do manage to get them back. If you were your dog what would you do next time? I’d chase the squirrel.

Chasing that squirrel is highly rewarding to your dog, especially if they’ve got a high prey drive. When you’re chasing after your dog yelling “come here” in a negative tone with extra expletives it’s no wonder they’re going to continue to chase rather than come back to you – the angry, yelling owner.

They’ll continue to chase and disobey if their distraction is more rewarding than what you have to offer. It’s always going to be more fun to chase that squirrel rather than be put back on a leash and taken inside.

For many dogs going outside is their big “yippee” moment of the day; it’s their time to run around, play, and have fun. It’s pretty hard to compete with that, especially if they have pent up energy. Playing with your dog throughout the day helps them burn off some of that mental and physical energy and makes it easier for them to focus later on.

Avoid that instant excitement of going outdoors by playing with your dog beforehand. The more you actively play with your dog and engage them, the more attentive they’ll be when it comes to training. It’s all part of establishing a strong bond with your dog.

The trick to getting your dog’s recall reliable is to assure them that they’re always making a positive choice, and with a lot of practice. Don’t start your recall training where there’s a lot of distractions; you’d just be setting yourself up for failure.

Consistency and patience are key when it comes to training a dog. When you begin teaching your dog to “come here” the rewards must be given readily and excitedly. Clearly communicate to your dog that coming to you was the best choice they’ve made.

Don’t rush out and try to train a new behavior in a three-hour-long session. Dogs don’t have the longest attention spans so keep the training sessions short and sweet. If your dog starts to show signs of growing bored, pack it in for the day and start again tomorrow.

It’s very difficult to achieve 100 percent reliability. Not all dogs are as naturally willing to please, and some are much more motivated to roam than others. Recall can be hard for certain dogs to master – it goes against their natural instinct to sniff, explore, or chase. Even the best trained dogs will find certain distractions more rewarding than their owners from time to time.

The more your practice using positive reinforcement and consistency, the more reliable your dog’s recall will be. You know your dog best – when they make the right choice and come back to you make it worth their while with a high value treat or game. If your dog keeps receiving great benefits from obeying the “come here” command they’re much more likely to make that same rewarding choice in the future.

Once you have a reliable recall you might be tempted to go leash free at all times. It can be quite exciting and liberating, and some of the best times are had off leash, but sometimes it’s not worth the risk.

No matter how well you think your dog is trained, there are certain situations where your dog may take off. Some dogs will find chasing a rabbit irresistible, while some may take off after getting spooked by a motorcycle. If your dog always comes when called that’s great – but it doesn’t mean you should walk him down the road without a leash.

With enough practice you’ll be able to gauge your dog’s personal distraction threshold and know when it’s better to keep them on lead rather than setting up an instance where they won’t listen or might run into an unsafe situation. If you’re unsure about your dog’s reliability, it’s always better to keep them leashed to avoid potential dangers.

Your dog’s recall depends on your consistency. The command you use to tell your dog to “come here” must only be associated with positive things. Every time they come back to you let them know that they made the best choice possible by rewarding them with a yummy treat or quick game.

If you use the term “come here” for negative things such as bath time or getting their nails trimmed, they’re less likely to obey when called since it’s been associated with things they don’t like. The term needs to be associated with great outcomes. I use “over here” since I was guilty of using “come here” for many bad experiences.

Reprinted with permission from www.puppyleaks.com.

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