Teaching your dog to come when called is one of the most important commands because it can, quite literally, save your dog’s life. However, dogs do not have an English software package installed therefore we have to teach them the behavior, add the cue and then practice the recall so that it becomes muscle memory.
Learning to do anything well requires practice, and practice is required through all four stages of learning:
1. Acquisition: First your dog has to learn the skill of returning to you, this may be through giving him a treat, or playing ball. Always be sure to use a command such as “come” and make a big fuss of your pup.
2. Fluency: Then you practice so the action is fluent and occurs with regularity. It’s a bit like learning a new language, which is exactly what it is for your dog. After all, their native tongue is “dog”!
3. Generalization: Now you need to practice this behavior in a variety of places and settings. Remember to always start in a low-distraction environment, and as your dog progresses move to a slightly more distracting setting.
I cannot express the need to do all of this first and ensure your dog has a solid recall before taking him to a highly distracting environment, such as off leash play with other dogs.
4. Maintenance: It’s a game you play every day and, in every scenario, to ensure your dog comes to you when you call him. I always use my “squeaky” voice when calling Jackson, it’s high pitched and it’s fun, it means “let’s play chase together” or “treat”, it’s always something good even if after that we must leave the dog park. We practice recall so the behavior stays solid.
Why Your Dog Won’t Come
Here are a couple of scenarios why your dog stops coming when you call him.
1. Once the behavior is learned dog owners start using the word “come” very casually, thereby taking the behavior for granted, and failing to acknowledge and reward it. I try to remember to always have dog treats in my pocket for Jackson, so he is always rewarded, and then on the few occasions I forget, he forgives me because next time I have them!
2. Another scenario: Your dog is outside playing, you call him in, then grab your keys and go to work. He came to you because you have some reinforcement history but then you bring him inside and leave. You have taken away the fun stuff and shut him up which, to your dog, constitutes punishment and makes the behavior less likely next time. So instead, I give Jackson his favorite K9CRACK snack to work on when I leave.
3. Finally, if you want to ensure your dog never returns to you, it’s screaming or yelling, or heaven forbid hitting, your dog when he doesn’t come back to you. Your dog will find your behavior unpredictable, and you will have difficulty building trust with him again.
Whenever I speak to Jackson I use my happy voice, even if I am pissed that he dug a hole in our garden, the words I use might indicate what I have in mind for him (returning him to the Hound Pound - LOL) but I keep it light because I love him and I have learnt to be a nicer person because of him. He is a dog, and because of this his priorities are different from mine, we have to learn to communicate with each other so we can live in harmony together.