Calling your dog: How to get your dog to come to you
The ability to recall is arguably your dog’s most important skill. The 'here' or 'come' command is essential, as it can get your dog out of dangerous situations. However, it seems that some dogs simply don’t want to listen. So, why do some dogs refuse to come when called? And how can you ensure that your (pet sitting) dog always comes on command?
Why doesn’t my dog listen?
There can be several reasons for this. Whatever it is: it’s certainly not to make your life difficult. It could be that your dog associates the 'come' command with a bad experience. Perhaps you were angry with your dog, or used it to signal the end of a fun play session with other dogs?
It’s also possible that your dog simply doesn’t understand what you want. In that case, the 'come' command must be taught from scratch. Don’t worry - even old dogs can learn new tricks! Training your dog to come will also deepen your bond with each other. If it is done the right way, your four-legged friend will be happy to listen and will even begin to cooperate with you in other areas!
Link the command to behaviour
Want to (re) train your dog to come on command? Start at home using small steps. Choose a consistent command (‘Here’ or ‘Come’, for example) and use your dog’s name (such as 'Buddy, here!!'). Make sure your dog has a positive association with their name. Never use a negative tone (such as 'Buddy, No') when your dog does something wrong, as this is a sure-fire way to stop your dog from responding to their name in future.
Try to get your dog's attention in a variety of different situations by using their name. If your dog comes to you 'by coincidence’, then repeat the command so that your dog starts linking the word with the desired behaviour. As soon as you’ve got your dog’s attention and they take a few steps in your direction, immediately shower with praises or treats.
Practice on a long leash
Does your dog associate the ‘come’ command with something fun when in the comfort of home? Then practice outdoors using a long leash and lots of treats and toys. Start by getting your dog's full attention by cheerfully calling their name. Once your dog is focused on you, use the call command. As soon as your dog starts walking in your direction, shower them with praise. You can do that by cheering, jumping with joy, or talking in a breezy, high-pitched voice. Don’t let the curious glances of passerbys deter you :-)
You’re the best thing since sliced bread
The real trick is ensuring that coming on command is a consistently fun experience for your dog. Recall must not spell the end of fun and games, but instead signal a welcome opportunity for more fun and treats.
Many dogs refuse to come when called because they perceive the command as an annoying interruption to a fun play session. So, make sure that your faithful friend enjoys being on-leash as much as off! Whilst you can certainly achieve this by giving your dog regular treats, try to maintain your dog’s interest using other techniques too. Does your dog have a preferred toy? If so, bring it with you and use it to play 'follow my lead’. Make sure that your dog keeps you in sight at all times and, instead of merely walking in a 'straight line', spice things up a little by leaping over park benches, hiding behind tree trunks and weaving around!
Know when to issue the command
In many cases, a dog ignores the recall command because they are attending to more important business: they are either engrossed in a frenzied sniffing session, have dug up something interesting, or are busy playing with a canine companion, for example. It makes little sense to call your dog in such situations as your dog simply won’t be receptive. If you try calling them regardless, then you’re actually teaching your dog to ignore the command. Wait until your dog has finished sniffing or has done their business, and you'll be more likely to get their attention, and then use his or her name in combination with the command. Does your dog come when called or, at least, attempt to? Then reward profusely!
Hide your frustration: don’t try to catch / punish
Ever tried running after your dog, and frantically trying to catch them? Then you’ll already know that most dogs consider this a very enjoyable game. Once you do finally get hold of your little runaway, it can be tempting to scold. Unfortunately, for your dog, punishing only reinforces the idea that: being with my owner isn’t any fun, being with my owner is bad. Your dog is not a person. He or she won’t perceive not being allowed off the lead as a 'punishment'. Your dog has absolutely no idea that this is a consequence of not coming when called. It will merely result in them running even faster next time. So, whatever you do, don’t run after your dog and never get angry. Instead, walk calmly in the opposite direction, and try to get your dog's attention using a high-pitched, enthusiastic tone. In an emergency situation, lie down on the ground (yes, really) and call your dog's name using an appealing, high-pitched tone.
Be present during the walk
Dogs with a good recall tend to have an extremely good relationship with their owner (or dog sitter). Giving your dog your undivided attention during walk-time can strengthen this bond.
If you’re not mentally ‘present’ and your thoughts are elsewhere, this is equivalent to your dog taking their 'own walk', and as a result, your dog will be more inclined to ignore your commands. Dogs love being the focus of your attention. That’s why they prefer walking a few metres in front. It gives you (their highly-esteemed pack leader) sufficient oversight. And you need not continually look behind you to see your dog. Read more about the right way to walk your dog.
So, get rid of your phone and any other distractions, and give your dog your undivided attention throughout the walk. Practice recall in a playful way, and reward your dog for every paw in the right direction, no matter how small. Train on a daily basis, and in each and every conceivable situation: on-leash, off-leash, indoors and outdoors. That way, you’ll achieve optimum results and your pampered pooch will soon be consistently coming on command.