WHY WON’T MY DOG COME WHEN I CALL?

A good recall can truly be a life saver yet it’s one of the cues that owners struggle with the most.  Do you always do as you’re told?  Why not? An honest answer to that question can unravel the mysteries behind why dogs ignore their owners when they’re called.  Maybe they’re having more fun doing what they’re doing than they think they’ll have by complying.  Maybe something unpleasant happened the last time they listened.  By understanding your dog’s motivations for obeying or disobeying when they are called you can quickly teach your dog that good obedience will have a good pay off.

4 RULES FOR EFFECTIVE RECALLS

It’s easy to teach your dog not to listen use these following ‘Rules’ to help your dog create a habit of good obedience!

1. Fabulous rewards get fabulous recalls.  

It’s not always about food but you DO have to pay your dog  with something they truly enjoy.  Mix it up use variable, high value rewards.  You’ll know if your dog found complying with your request unrewarding because the next time you call them they won’t listen.  Aversive activities such as nail clipping, bathing, or leaving the fun all teach your dog to avoid you when you call them.

2. Set your dog up for success.

When your dog has unrestrained access to interesting things you are only one choice of many.  Keep your dog on leash if you’re not sure they’ll listen.  Calling your dog from too great a distance or amongst too much distraction will only teach your dog to ignore you.

3. Reinforce what your dog is already doing.

If he is walking and sniffing: Great! – give him a treat.  Laying in the grass?  Great, give him a treat!  Looking at you? Give him a treat!  Have you tricked your dog in the past to gain compliance? Whoops! Bet it didn’t work the second time.  If your dog thinks you’ll pull a fast one on him he’s not going to listen.  Be a giver, not a taker.

4. Cues are only a window of opportunity.

 If your dog complies, he’ll get something awesome.  If he doesn’t he won’t get something awesome.  It’s his choice.  As you have likely determined already, words themselves have no power which is why your dog didn’t magically appear in front you the moment you told him to ‘Come!’  If the word didn’t work the first time it’s probably not going to work the 2nd, 3rd, 4th… oh, look! SQUIRRELL!!!!

HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO COME WHEN CALLED

STEP 1: REWARD YOUR DOG

Start within arms reach of your dog.  Whatever your dog is doing, tell him he’s a good boy and give him a treat.  Then let him go back to what he was doing.  Repeat this 10 times every 3-5 seconds and at the end of the set let your dog take a break.  You’re trying to enrich your dog’s fun, not end it.  Use cheerful tones and high value rewards.  

Repeat step one 3-4 times per day or every time you take them out to potty.  Within a day or so your dog will enthusiastically turn to find his reward when you tell him that he’s a good boy.  Then you can move on to step 2.

STEP 2: ADD A LITTLE DISTANCE 

Start within arm’s reach of your dog.  Praise your dog and once he turns to you, back up 2 steps as you present his reward.  TWO STEPS! ONE-TWO.  1 step, 2 step!  You’re asking him to work a touch harder (but not too hard) to claim his reward.  Repeat this no more than 10 times in a row, 3-4 times per day.  

Once your dog is following you 5-10 steps to get his reward try calling him from 1 foot beyond arm’s reach.  You may move backwards or remain stationary at this point.

STEP 3: SIT & LEASHING UP

Once your dog is consistently moving toward you within 5-10 feet add the ‘Sit’ cue or lure.  Raise the food above your dog’s head as he moves toward you so that he looks up.  Give the reward when he sits or looks up.  Repeat in sets of 10 repetitions, 3-4 times per day.  

Now present the leash at your own side so that your dog notices.  Reward your dog for staying seated!  In one hand present the leash low at collar level.  Simultaneously present the treat or sit cue above your dog’s head with your other hand.  Reward when your dog looks up at the treat, away from the leash.  WITHOUT CLIPPING THE LEASH, touch the leash to your dog’s collar and reward your dog for looking up.  Repeat in sets of 10 repetitions, 3-4 times per day.  Once you are able to attach the leash to the collar release your dog immediately.  The leash isn’t the end of fun, it’s a positive experience!

STEP 4: ADD A LITTLE DISTRACTION

Once your dog approaches you enthusiastically from short distance and leashes up willingly it’s time to increase the level of distraction.  Start with a distraction that’s curious to your dog but not TOO interesting.  Introduce the distraction further from your dog than you are, beyond the fence or leash range.  You want your dog to acknowledge that something is happening nearby but you still want to be the best option for your dog to choose.  

Training regressions are common as you increase the difficulty of the exercise.  When adding greater distractions remember to up the value of reward and reduce the distance from which you call your dog.  Even if lower value food and greater distances where working previously.   Once your dog becomes habituated to the training scenario you can quickly catch up previously acquired skills.

How did your dog respond to greater distraction?  What adjustments did you have to make in order to keep your dog successful?

TROUBLESHOOTING DOG TRAINING CONNUNDRUMS

If you’re struggling to get your dog to respond to you consider these points:

  1. Go back to step 1 and increase the value of reward.
  2. Decrease the distraction level of the environment
  3. Crouch down to make yourself more inviting.
  4. Record yourself and count the number of steps you took backwards.  Make sure you’re starting at 1-2 steps.  
  5. When increasing the difficulty of distraction, reduce the level of difficulty for distance.

Ask yourself at the end of each set of repetitions whether the previous exercise was too hard, too easy, or just right and adjust accordingly for the next.  By devoting a little time to your dog each day and using the resources you already provide as payment for their effort you will soon have the obedient dog you’ve always dreamed of!

Have questions about teaching your dog to recall or other behaviors? Join us for our Weekly Q&A and Nail Trim sessions hosted on Zoom and streamed live through Facebook. We stream live most Saturdays at 11 am!

What rewards worked best when you taught your dog to come when called? Did you have to make any adjustments for unforeseen challenges along the way?  Share your journey below!