The world is full of interesting distractions and fun things to see. This is true for people and it’s true for dogs! I think this is one of the reasons I often get emails from frustrated pet parents who want to know how to get their dog to come to them. So in a world full of distractions here are some things no one tells you about teaching your dog to come.
First, remember your dog isn’t ignoring you because he doesn’t love you. Even if you have a strong relationship with your dog, there may be times when your dog will get involved with something really interesting and might need a moment before paying attention to you (it’s the same thing that happens when we don’t hear our kids or significant other talking to us while we are engrossed in a T.V. show, sports event, or website). I’m not saying this is necessarily good, just that it’s reality. Your dog loves you even if he might not be paying attention to you.
Second, you need to train your dog to understand the come cue. Too often I see folks who assume their dog knows what “come” means because sometimes when they ask the dog to come, the dog does it. But if you haven’t been intentional about teaching the word “come” to your dog, then it’s likely he is only coming because he is a social animal that likes to be near you. When nothing else is going on and you encourage him to come to you, he is very likely to head your direction. He’s doing this because you seem friendly…not necessarily because you’ve taught him to come.
For puppies this is especially true. Puppies under 4 months tend to stay close to people (and return to them quickly) because they are a bit wary of the world. This often leads the family to believe their dog has a beautifully trained recall. Then at 5 months of age when the puppy isn’t so wary, he discovers the world is a big fun place and stops coming to you. That’s when I get the calls stating, “My dog no longer listens to me.” The truth is, he wasn’t really trained before. When he was younger he was coming because you were his safe place and he was too scared to go far away.
Third, practice and repetition are key to training your dog. Here are two tips to training your dog to come to you:
- Set your dog up for success. Start close to him. Call him to you and then give him a really good reward (like chicken, cheese, or a fun toy) and then let him go play again. Repeat this over and over so that your dog learns that coming to you gets him something really good and then he can go play again. This is a great time to take advantage of the young puppies that come to you easily. Rather than simply marveling at your brilliant dog, remember to actually reward him for the behavior. What gets rewarded gets repeated!
- Increase distance and distractions gradually. Dogs need to learn how to come from farther distances gradually. Don’t go too far away too soon. The same applies to distractions. Calling your dog away from something boring is much easier than calling him away from something fun like another dog! So expect that he will need some help (by you moving closer to him) when he is far from you or around distractions initially.
Finally…avoid the biggest pitfall to teaching “come” to your dog: Be careful that you aren’t calling your dog to you only at times when he gets put in the crate or put in a room alone. Far too often the only time we actually use the come cue with our dogs is to get control of them and take them away from the fun they are having. This is a sure way to mess up the come behavior because the dog starts to learn that coming means all the fun ends.
With practice and patience you can have a dog that comes to you all the time!
What other ways have you used to teach come to your dog?