When I talk to dog owners about how good their dogs are at coming when they are called I nearly always get the answer that the dog is trained to come when she’s called and is very good at the recall, except when something distracts her. To me that says that the dog is not really trained at all! It’s not difficult to encourage a dog to rush to you if there’s nothing better around but true training means that your dog should come every time you call, without fail.
Why do so many of us find ourselves in this position?
First of all, many dog owners don’t start training their puppy as soon as she arrives. The sooner you establish a habit, the easier it is to maintain it.
When your dog doesn’t return on command many of us yell and keep shouting the command. Shouting is not likely to encourage your dog to want to be close to you and if she hasn’t learned the meaning of the word ‘Come’, saying it again and again will only desensitise her to the sound.
When you train a dog to do anything you need to be in a position to enforce the command. Say it once, clearly and then make it happen. So, this means that if your dog doesn’t always come when you call, put a long line on her so when you call you can tweak the end of it to remind her that you are in charge. As she comes towards you, you can then move backwards a little making lots of encouraging noises. We seem to be resistant to taking our dogs out with lines attached to them. I understand that they’re not practicable in areas where there are lots of tress to snag the line, but they are so valuable that I would always recommend using one for reluctant returners.
When your dog finally appears close to you don’t tell her off. Frustrating as this is, the slower your dog is at coming to you when she is learning, the more you need to encourage and congratulate her when she finally makes it! In that way she will associate coming when she’s called with praise and do it again.
Start training your dog in a quiet place with no distractions. Inside your house is perfect. When she’s reliable indoors take her out into the garden and try there. At any stage if she stops obeying go back a step and try again, so the session always ends on a positive note. Many dogs do not associate what they are doing with the place that they are doing it in so make sure you train the recall in all sorts of different environments. Just because she comes to you in the house or garden doesn’t mean that your dog understands that she needs to respond to the command when you are in the street.
Some dogs will do anything for food and some are really not interested at all. Find something your dog really likes to reward her with when she gets to you. A treat, a favourite toy or even a tummy rub. You get the idea.
Don’t set your dog up for failure. Keep in mind how reliable she is likely to be and don’t expect too much of her too soon.
If you find she’s too distracted or you’re too far away from her for her to respond, move closer the next time you call her and try training her where the distractions are less.
Think about the associations your dog makes with coming when you call her. If you call her when she is about to be put into the bath or when she expects something else negative to happen, she is not going to want to obey you, so think in advance and go and get your dog instead, if you know she wouldn’t like what is coming next. In situations where you expect that she may be slow, like licking the scraps in her bowl when you want to go out, use a different phrase to encourage her. Reserve the ‘Come’ command for positive times when you expect her to come immediately and praise and reward her when she obeys.
There’s a constant dilemma that owners of dogs who don’t come back face every day. How do I give my dog enough exercise if I can’t let her off the lead to have a good run? I either end up with a frustrated, under exercised dog or one that’s on the other side of the county! It’s a really hard one. My advice would be to search around and find an area that is enclosed. Maybe a local farmer would allow you to take your dog into his field or a friend has an enclosed garden. If you exercise your dog with another dog which is reliably recall trained that’s another way of at least having a better chance of getting your dog back, as if she likes the trained dog she is likely to stay near it. Either way, get your dog to a place where she can run and chase before you start recall training. After a good run around she’s more likely to be amenable to training and then you can put a line on her and maybe enlist the help of a friend to stand with her when you call.
Do pay attention to how much your dog is concentrating. Don’t forget that all dogs will do what motivates them most at any one time, and if your dog is bored or fed up she will start to resist and stop concentrating. Training should be fun so stop when you think she’s had enough.
If you have a long line, a positive attitude, patience and practice, practice, practice, you will get there!