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Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

November 13th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dog Trainers Say it is the Most Important Training Command

Teaching one’s dog to come when called may be a live-saving endeavor.  A dog that is running toward a busy highway or encountering some other hazard must be taught to respond immediately to the come command in order to avoid the danger.

What is the Best Way to Teach My Dog to Come When Called?

Dogs Respond Better to Praise and Kindness than to Punishment

Dogs Respond Better to Praise and Kindness than to Punishment

Most dog trainers these days agree that the old style drill-sergeant method of dog training just does not work.  The authors of The Well-Mannered Dog note that dog trainers have come to recognize the obvious:

Dogs are intelligent, sensitive animals who don’t deserve physical punishment.  In fact, they respond a lot better to praise and kindness.

In fact, pack leaders in traditional packs do not rule predominantly by physical aggression.  Rather, dog pack leaders more often rule with mental control and discipline.  With those ideas in mind, here are a few things to avoid when trying to train a dog to respond to the come command:

  • Even if you get frustrated, avoid yelling at the dog.  It is counter-productive and likely to just make the dog want to stay away from you as opposed to come to you.
  • Do not chase the dog.  Depending upon the relationship you’ve already established with your dog, chasing her will be understood as either intimidation or as an invitation to play.  Intimidating the dog into coming when called fails to develop the trust necessary to get her to follow your lead.  And if the dog takes the chasing as an invitation to play, she will just keep running because, in her mind, it is so much fun.
  • Don’t fail to be consistent in your word choice.  If you want your dog to come, and you are teaching him to come using that word as the command, do not expect him to come when you say “stop” or “get over here,” or “come on,” or merely shout his name.

Make Your Dog Want to Come When Called

Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

In her excellent book The Loved Dog:  The Playful, Nonaggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior, author Tamar Geller insists that games and positive reinforcement are the best dog training techniques.  She suggests the following approach to teaching one’s dog to come:

  • Bend down in a posture that resembles the dog’s “play-bow” position.  “This kind of bow is wolf sign language that implies an invitation to play,” Geller states.
  • Use the dog’s name in addition to the chosen command.  The dog needs to hear her name so she will know you are calling her instead of one of the other dogs in the dog park, for example.  Thus, “Come, Lucy” is better than just calling, “Come.”
  • If you are having a lot of trouble getting your dog to come when called, Geller suggests feeding him out of your hands instead of a bowl for several days, and only when practicing the come command.  According to Geller, this will make it not a luxury but a necessity for the dog to come when called.
  • Make a game out of practicing the come command.  According to Geller, a game of hide-and-seek can be a fun way to teach your dog to come when called.  Use special treats – what she calls “gold treats” – to reward your dog after he has spotted you and obeyed the come command.  “Dogs love a challenge, especially if they know the end result will be a pleasurable one,” says Geller.
  • Reinforce good behavior with random rewards.  If your dog learns to associate the come command with something that does not give him pleasure, he may prove stubborn just when he most needs to obey.  For instance, if “Come, Frankie” always means that the fun is over and it is time to go inside, Frankie will not want to come when called.  Geller suggests calling the dog off several times during play time, then rewarding him with a treat and, most importantly, an invitation to continue playing.  “You’ll be teaching him the pattern that coming and checking in with you is a good thing.”

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Categories: Dog Behavior
  1. November 13th, 2009 at 20:36 | #1

    these are all great suggestions. i still believe in absolute obedience though. some dogs no matter how great the reward, may not come. (sibes, sigh). long lines of 20 feet or more with very GREAT distractions, like fun puppies/dog friends or food from other sources, are a great way to add a small instant correction to the dog. and tho i’m not a fan of using e-collars, they are a good final resort for the really stubborn recall at a distance. the reason is becasue it gives the dog instant correction for not coming. i would NOT go to e-collar until i’ve exhausted all positive reinforcement and tried the long line first. long line under distraction, then go to a shorter long line then to a regular leash, then to a tab and then finally to no leash. the dog is conditioned over time and doesn’t realize the long line has gotten shorter. all of the correction i’m suggesting is of course AFTER the dog ABSOLUTELY KNOWS what ‘come’ means and still blows you off.

    one of my trainer advocates zipping your mouth and going to the dog to get it. but in my opinion this drives some dog into anxiety and avoidance and the dog will run from you. that’s why i like the e-collar. a quick smallest level of stim possible reminds the dog “oops, pay attention to mom, not that puppy over there” and then he instantly comes. because chasing him down to give him the recall correction in my mind just destroys relationship with the dog. e-collars get a bad rap. they MUST be used a certain way. dog must be conditioned to wearing it without using it for several weeks so the dog doesn’t associate stimulation with the collar. lowest level of stimulation possible. it’s not painful. i’ve used it on me. yes higher levels are painful. but usually aren’t necessary.

    FINALLY NEVER EVER EVER EVER punish the dog for not coming when he eventually comes. so if you call him 3 or 4 times and you’re ticked cuz he didn’t come the first time, it’s YOUR bad, not his. you conditioned him to call him 3 or 4 times. you shouldn’t yell or correct him for it. he should always be rewarded for coming no matter what. I use a command once. if he doesn’t do it, i either stim him on e-collar (which i only use for recall work) or i zip my mouth and go the dog and give him the leash correction for the command (right now i’m working him on instant downs during play, running, distraction of other dogs, things like balls, food, toys thrown toward him). i make it a game. he gets HUGE rewards when he downs fast. he gets correction if he doesn’t. i use a long line or 6 foot leash. i use command ONCE. if he doesn’t do it fast enough and i’m not near the leash i put pressure on him by walking to him. if he downs while i’m walking toward him, i take pressure off him, stop walking and give him praise. if he downs faster than that, he gets MAJOR HUGE rewards (food or toy) rather than just praise.

    to get the fast down at a distance from you, it’s important to use the leash or long line. same thing with recall. send the dog on a chase of a ball or toward other dogs, then recall him while you’re at the end of a 20 foot line. if he doesn’t come, pop the leash. if he comes, HUGE rewards. and release him again to play. tho i’m a fan of pos reinforcemnet and most of my training is done this way, there will always be a point where the dog will blow you off. and this is why some correction is necessary. but it must be FAIR. dog must know the command and have done it somewhat under distraction. if he can’t do it under distraction, USE THE LONG LINE and a small pop to remind him he MUST listen to your voice. you will never get a second chance when your dog is running into traffic. the recall is most important command and I really do advocate some correction when teaching it because every dog has it’s breaking point of when they feel they can blow you off. you may not see it today or tomorrow or next week. you may have a perfect recall at the park, at beaches, etc. then one day, something will show up and it will test you and he will think he doesn’t have to recall to you because the distraction is so great. this is why some correction is necessary, to teach the dog your voice is GOD to him/her. but of course correction should never come unless the dog KNOWS 100% what the word “come” means. period. it must be fair.
    ~end of soap box~
    hope i didn’t offend.
    wild dingo
    .-= Wild Dingo´s last blog ..WTF? Six Days, Thousands of Dollars and Still No Answer =-.

  2. Suzanne
    November 16th, 2009 at 15:46 | #2

    Of course you didn’t offend! LOL! I always value input and different perspectives on dog training. For a non-professional like me, it is all a learning process. And I must say that I am working with two dogs with VERY different personalities (caninalities? dognalities?). We found Frankie when he was 3 months old, and he was a healthy bundle of energy from Day One. He can be stubborn and has required a firmer hand. We had good success with the long line and treats, although we have not used an e-collar. We’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but he is Frankie-on-the-spot when called these days.

    Lucy is a different story altogether. We adopted her 4 months ago at about a year old. She was found starving and she has obviously also been beaten. She’s just a special little case who is only gradually learning to really trust her new, very loving, humans. Not many dog training experts seem to address how to deal with a dog that has suffered what I can only describe as psychological damage, for want of a better term. We tend to go with a soft, playful touch in our training of Lucy, mainly because any attempts at being firm just shut her down and make her cower, although she is getting better and more confident every day – with less frequent relapses. Fortunately, she is a pretty smart little girl and picks up on commands very quickly.


  3. Cheri Spain
    November 16th, 2009 at 18:42 | #3

    It has been my experience, especially with Dobermans, that Praise and Kindness is the only way to go. The whole e-collar doesn’t work especially with a rescue and trying to reestablished self-esteem and empower them. More often than not the rescue has had the beaten to the point of no longer having a sense of self or a will to life for a human. I have found that small kind gestures and continuous praise really can turn a dog around. Once they understand what you are asking of them they will do it, because all dogs want is to make us happy. The e-collar doesn’t key into the part of the brain that will make a dog WANT to make you happy and that is the key to having a dog that is 100% obedient 100% of the time.
    Thanks for letting me comment.

  4. Suzanne
    November 16th, 2009 at 20:50 | #4

    @Cheri Spain
    Thanks so much for your comment, Cheri! It has been a real eye-opener for me to learn that dogs, much like humans, do have a sense of self to a certain extent. And establishing trust with a dog is key, particularly with dogs that have had bad experiences.

    And you’re right, I think dogs really do want to please their humans. Although it is true they can be stubborn and willful as well when the mood hits! And that is why, when it comes to the come command, it is so important that they follow through, whether they want to or not. The trick is discovering the best way to reinforce the desired behavior taking into consideration the dog’s particular circumstances.


  5. November 17th, 2009 at 00:41 | #5

    I certainly would not use an e-collar or even a prong collar on a dog like Lucy. She’s going to need a LOT of time to build up confidence. I’m not sure that I agree that “all dogs want to make us happy.” I’m of the belief that dogs are motivated to make their current situation the most satisifying for themselves. and yes, praise from owner can be a part of satisfaction. but who want’s praise from someone they 1. don’t like, 2. dont’ trust or 3. don’t respect. The key with Lucy will be “trust”. When she learns to trust you, at some point there may be a time when she may disrespect you (blow you off). but this is a long time coming. as you know, i’m mostly positive reinforcement trainer, and that’s going to help her trust you. I’m not a big fan of e-collar work as a first thing to go to in training anyway because part of training is really “working closely” with the dog and then building up distance training. people jump to the e-collar and don’t put in the time to establish that relationship that “my voice is god to you.” You would not want a dog dependent on an e-collar to do the job. I use it as a training device and only under my trainers guidance and so far only on recall, and i don’t use it regularly. I’ve used it for recall under extreme distraction where my dog was “flipping me the bird” and telling me, i’ll come when i get around to it. I used it perhaps 3 or 4 times and after that, i never had to use it again. It was a training message i had to send to him a few times and he got conditioned to knowinng that he just cannot blow off the recall, ever. and today, he still doesn’t blow off recall. not ever. that’s the one thing he’s perfect at. and he gets rewarded every time he does it right.

    i would NOT introduce correction into Lucy’s training until she’s built up a lot of confidence. Correction has the ability to 1. raise drive in the dog to do the right behavior (and that would be a behavior he knows 100% but is blowing you off for) and 2. shut down drive, in Lucy’s case, she shuts down under correction which means she’s not ready for it.

    I do train mostly positive. however i do use correction when i’m certain they know what i want and are just ignoring me. I’ve learned how much correciton is necessary for each dog under different circumstances. I’ve “shut down” both of my dogs once or twice in “over correcting” — meaning they stop working and act like I’ve killed them. Lucy doing this is definitely a sign that she’s not ready for that and it will take mostly marker/clicker/positive reinforcement training to get her confidence built up. you may never need correction with her, but in your case, i wouldn’t test it in a very distracting situation!

    Finally, I completely agree with correction for two other reasons: 1. aggression of ANY kind (dogs, people, other animals). it should not be tolerated. 2. bad pack manners such as jumping on you or other people, humping other dogs, fence fighting, etc.

    I don’t think you need to rip their head off. correction level should fit the crime. it’s just as easy to peel your dog off another dog when it’s humping them and giving them a firm “No!” as it is to give it leash/prong collar pop.

    Even in a dog like lucy, low level correction for these behaviors is absolutely necessary (if she even does them, she may not)… I’ve never been able to “give a dog a different job” who’s barking his head off aggressively. BUT i have been able to read anxiety building prior to an aggressive behavior THEN give him the job to do to keep him busy. but once the aggressive behavior happens, in my opnion, there’s nothing you can do BUT a correction to stop it (then redirect).
    wild dingo
    .-= Wild Dingo´s last blog ..Puzzling Jodhpurs =-.

  6. August 31st, 2014 at 02:36 | #6

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  7. Bonita Abshire
    June 10th, 2016 at 15:41 | #7

    Really glad to read this post. Hope that it’ll help me in a great extent to train my lazy dog. Thank you.

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