Three Tips For Training Your Dog To Come When Called

Do you have a dog who hems and haws when called?  Do you wish your dog found this exercise to be nearly as important as you do?  Here are three tips for training your dog to come when called.

Tip 1 - Urgency

People tend to be too lackadaisical when they call their dog. It’s no wonder the dog has a lackluster response. If you want a dog that reliably comes when called you need to convince him that coming when called is important. Here are three tips for creating a sense of urgency:

  • Speed: Speed is directly linked to reliability. Allowing the dog time to weigh his options, even just a few seconds, may lead to him forgetting you called. The equation is this: Rapid Response = Reliable Response,  Slow Response = No Response.
  • Physical Communication: People use words but dogs don't. Physical communication helps create a reliable recall. If you are in close proximity you can tap your dog on the shoulder, otherwise use a Leash Pop paired with your voice. This is not punishment, it's just a physical signal that builds speed and accountability in a way that words alone simply do not. Use a soft touch with sensitive dogs. Obviously, this should be in balance with praise and rewards. (see Salesmanship below)
  • Avoid Intimidation: Many people call their dog with intimidating tones or gestures. This actually makes dogs slow down or run away. Dogs instinctively avoid conflict by displaying Appeasement Behaviors which include moving slowly, lowered body posture, looking away, approaching in an arch, sniffing the ground, scratching, yawning or standing still...pretty much the opposite of a good recall. Often this is interpreted as defiance, stubbornness or aloofness which causes the human to escalate the threat which causes the dog to move even slower. Did someone order a vicious circle?

Tip 2 - Salesmanship

Coming to you should be urgent but it should also be fun! People tend to call their dog and then just stand there like a bump on a log. Why would a dog come to that? Where's the love? Where's the passion? Where's the motivation? If your dog isn't buying it, you probably need to work on your salesmanship. Below are three tips for improving your sales.

  • The Hook: You gotta hook ‘em before you can reel ‘em in. With your dog right by you, say her name and reward her the instant she looks at you. (Rewards can include treats, toys and affection but be sure to include verbal praise.) The secret is to verbally “mark” the instant of the head turn and reward immediately. The dog does not need to hold eye contact, all you are looking for is a turn in your direction or what behaviorist call an Orientation Reflex.
  • Encouragement: As you call your dogs from farther away you obviously cannot deliver a reward instantly but that's OK. Simply praise the instant of the head turn with, “Good girl”, and then encourage the dog to come by moving backwards. DO NOT go towards the dog. You are teaching her to come to you and a moving target is magnetic to a dog. Put some charm and personality into it. You gotta sell it...“C’mere girl! That's right! Good dog!” Let your enthusiasm say, “This is gonna be bitchin’, you’re gonna love it!”
  • Deliver The Goods: Ok, your sales pitch worked, your customer has arrived and now it’s time to deliver a product they will keep coming back for. Pet your dog, give her treats, play tug, throw a ball...whatever. The important thing is that it’s not just about the treats or toys, it’s about you. Much of dog training today leans too heavily on extrinsic rewards, particularly treats. Treats are great but genuine praise and physical touch build an authentic, loving bond.

Tip 3 - Relationship

Whether or not a dog comes when called is less about training techniques and more about relationship. My dogs are trained but they probably wouldn't come to you because they don’t know you. How your dog views you, treats you and is treated by you during all your daily interactions is massively overlooked as a deciding factor in the matter of coming when called. Let’s look at three qualities your dog should see in you.

  • Provider: Your dog should see you as a provider, not a captor or servant. If your dog spends a majority of her life behind walls and fences and make a jailbreak any chance she gets, she probably sees you as a captor. If your dog barks orders at you, “Pet me, feed me, walk me!” she may see you as a servant and will therefore not take orders from you. You can avoid captor/servant status by providing your dog with food, water, shelter, affection, walks and adventure but without being at her beck and call. The most important provision is leadership.
  • Leader: Your dog should see you as his leader or authority figure, such as a parent, teacher or coach. One way of establishing leadership is to control resources by using the "Nothing In Life Is Free" policy. Make him work for anything and everything that has value to him such as sitting for food or waiting at doors. Your attention is a resource so use the "Play Hard To Get" rule and don't give it away for free. Obedience training helps establish leadership but it’s the application of the commands in life situations that really develops the relationship.
  • Friend: Man’s best friend, that’s the relationship we ultimately want. What are the qualities of a best friend? They’re fun to be with, have similar interests and there is a mutual sense of love, trust, respect and loyalty. You can have all that but since you are responsible for your dog’s well being, as well as their actions, you also have to be a parent, teacher, coach and boss. Playing all those roles is what creates a best friend that always answers your calls.

Having a reliable recall should be viewed as not only a handy command to have but a necessary one, and, in some cases, a life saving one.

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-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2017