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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“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”

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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.



5 replies
  1. sandra
    sandra says:

    my dog wont come when I say ‘come here’, but if I put my hand in my pocket as I say it, she will come in leaps and bounds as she knows that’s where I keep the treats.
    She never wants to come back in the house after walks, I have to pull her or offer her a treat.

  2. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Rose: thanks for your comment. you have a lot going on here, much of which can not be solved in a blog post. I will tell you that dogs learn in context, which means what your dog learns inside your house ( a low distraction arena) does not mean she will give you
    the same behavior outside (a high distration arena). You must work on sit, down, your tricks etc outside. Try a Gentle Leader for the pulling issue – get the one that comes with the DVD so you can see how to fit it properly and also how to get your dog used to
    wearing it. Not only will it resolve your pulling issue but many trainers, including me, use a Gentle Leader for fearful dogs – it seems to help calm them down. Don’t let strangers just approach her – you are probably overwhelming her. Have them ignore her
    You can have them toss treats on the ground near her for a few minutes without looking at her and let her approach people on her terms. The more your force this issue the more fearful she will become.

    Hire a good positive reinforcement trainer who can help work with your dog AND you and help you understand leadership role with your dog which will help address her insecurities. You have work to do ! 🙂 Jim

  3. Rose Richerson
    Rose Richerson says:

    I rescued a one year old female Border Collie/Australian Shepherd/Blue Heeler mix about a year ago. My mother had the dog from the time it was a puppy, and it was clear to me that my mom could not handle this high energy dog so I asked her if I could take it but at that time she refused to give it up. So the puppy spent all day outside with little human interaction and no training for an entire year while I continued to plead with my mom to give it to me. She finally agreed when she discovered that the dog was covered in tick eggs and close to death. I had the dog treated/cured and brought her home with me. Right away I began working with the dog (her name is Leeloo) and teaching her to sit, stay, etc. I have owned and trained herding dogs in the past so I felt confident about training Leeloo. However, Leeloo had some serious behavior issues that had never been checked before. It took some time to get her to stop jumping on me constantly. She also loves to play, but she would bite without knowing her own strength. She now knows how to sit, stay, and lie down. She follows hand commands very well and loves to jump, so I’ve taught her to follow my commands to jump on select benches, chairs, etc. for a treat. She learns new words very quickly, especially the names of toys so it is often very exciting to ask her to find a specific toy and see her emerge from another room with the exact toy in her mouth!

    All of this improvement is encouraging, and I can see the potential this dog has for learning. However, she still has some problem behaviors that I am struggling with. For instance, all the “tricks” she has learned and her attentiveness to me completely disappears when we go outside. It is like she becomes a completely different dog and I no longer exist to her. She has the ability to become super focused on one objective, which is an amazing ability but also dangerous if there is a stray cat across the street! I NEVER take her off leash because I am terrified of never seeing her again! I love to go running, and I always take her with me, but it is more like a battle than a run. She pulls and pulls until she chokes herself, and when I call her name or say “hey” to try to get her attention, I am lucky if she even looks in my direction. She is always looking around because I imagine there are too many other, much more exciting things to see.

    I had a trainer do three session with us to help with the pulling on the leash. The trainer tried a few techniques with her and me before shrugging her shoulders and giving up! Very discouraging. I should also mention that Leeloo is extremely timid with new people. She will run and hide from anybody who tries to approach her. Other Border Collie owners tell me this is a common trait, but she seems to be an extreme example. I would love to get a professional to help me with her, but I don’t want to spend money to watch my dog cower and hide from yet another trainer. She is VERY good with other dogs, in fact, she loves going to the dog park and making new friends, and in that setting, she is much more open to contact with new people as well.

    The past week I have had a huge knot on my neck and pain through my shoulder and I did not know why it was there. I went running with Leeloo yesterday, and when she saw a cat across the street, she tried to take off, pulling me with her and that is when I felt the shooting pain through my arm, shoulder and neck. This 25 pound dog is literally tearing my arm off! The worst part of it is, I feel like I’ve failed her. I tried to rescue her from a very unbalanced way of life, and although I saved her from the ticks and a lonely backyard, I have not yet created the balanced life she deserves.

    I am very willing to put in the time and effort to help Leeloo walk (and run) nicely on a leash, to come when I call her in any situation, and to become more comfortable meeting new people, I just need to know how! Please help!

  4. Rosalind
    Rosalind says:

    This really helped. Now I understand that I expect my dog to listen whatever is going on, but I haven’t trained him to listen no matter what is going on.

    This made me feel so much better and I’m changing the way I train my dog today

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