Dog Obedience: Not coming when called

My dog won’t come when called!”  I hear this a lot from people who call looking for the secret to a great recall or come command.  Another thing that I notice is that when they call, it’s always immediately following a crisis like: the kids left the front door or back gate open and the dog got out.

I’ve also had a neighbor ask me, “Have you ever tried to call a 130 lb. Great Pyrenees (using every form of bribery known to man) that sits his butt down in the front yard of a house two doors down and won’t budge? “

While there’s “no time like the present” to start training, one can’t help but wonder what kind of training has been going on up to that point with each and every dog owned by all these people.

So I asked.  

The overwhelming response was:

“We took a basic dog obedience class when our dog was a puppy and we thought our training was done.”

Group class does provide a good beginning for teaching your dog the basics – but there’s much more than that. Once you get the tools and your dog learns to come on a long line for food treats, you’ve only just begun.

There is much more time and work that needs to go into training your dog

You need to make a list of all the distractions “that are important to you” where you would need your dog to come when called.

For example:   if you have children who play in the front or back yard and your dog is out there off leash, and you would need to call your dog back in the house.

Someone once asked me, “How will I know my dog knows the come command?”  My answer was, “If you can take your dog to five different locations (with different distractions in each location) and do the come command five times in each location on a long line, then there’s a good chance your dog has learned to come when called “on a long line.”

A good friend and past client, with whom I had specifically worked on the come command, called a while back and said that there are two rowdy dogs on the other side of her back yard fence that are always barking. When she lets her dog out they begin fence fighting and carrying on something awful and she cannot get her dog to come off the fence to her.

Well, even though she had trained her dog to come when called and had worked her dog in five different locations as I had explained, there were a few other things that contributed to his selective hearing:

He was not on a leash or line.
Many people think that once you train your dog on leash, he’ll listen to you off leash. This is not always true. And, the more head-strong your dog, the more likely this is true.

He was in “his” territory.
It’s funny how dogs begin to guard their territory. If he thinks it’s his back yard, this tends to increase the distraction even more. With him being off leash, this allowed him to practice territorial aggression while playing keep-away from his mom.

This was a distraction around which she had not practiced
Once your dog learns the basics of the “come command” you need to practice around distractions that are important to you.  She needed to get out her long line and begin working with her dog in the back yard with the other dogs present. As you see new distractions come up, get your long line out and begin to work your dog so that he eventually learns to always come to you no matter what.

Her relationship with her dog was not as balanced as it should be.
She had become very content in her relationship with her dog. She was not making him earn everything such as his food, access to space (sofa time with her) toys and love and affection.  As a result, her dog began to “not do” things she asked of him – like no jumping on her or her house guests barking out the front window, etc.

I recommended that she use pack activities like eating together, playing together, resting together, walking together and training together as opportunities to strengthen and balance her relationship with her dog.

I asked her to:

1.   Require her dog to sit and/or down to participate in one of the above activities. That was reasonable.
2.     Schedule these activities at the same time daily makes it predictable.
3.     Do these activities every day with your dog to keep it consistent.

If everything she does with her dog is reasonable, predictable and consistent, she will find that her dog’s stress and anxiety is greatly reduced.

In last Thursday’s article on barking I discussed using a whistle to interrupt the barking then call your dogs to you.  I mentioned that the whistle would help you get a good come command. Here are the steps you need to take to begin your training on the come command.  This training would be before you take your dog out to the five different locations:

1.  Teach your dog the come command at home in a distraction-free environment.
2.    Give your dog a tug on the long line as you say, “Rover here!”
3.    If after you tug, you back up quickly 2 to 4 steps, you will activate his prey drive causing him to run fast toward you.
4.    Praise/treat when he comes to you.
5.    Once he “gets it,” practice around distractions that are relevant to you.

By doing these activities every day at predictable times, she will also find that her dog will begin to look at her in a different way – a way of being important to him. Her dog will want to “belong” so he will start seeking her approval to be a part of her pack. This behavior means her dog will work for the things she wants from him – sitting for greetings instead of jumping and the other things dog owners complain about – including not coming when called.

Make long line training on the come command an everyday event when you walk your dog.  Keep a mental list of the distractions “that are important to you” and work him around them every day.  You will have a more obedient dog because he wants to listen to you.

Please comment below and tell us if you have problems getting your dog to come when called.

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Jim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients.  Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years.  One of his clients says it best: There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant.  Jane Wagner

(c)Jim Burwell Inc.