“Fido, come here!” Do those words sound familiar to you? And yet, does Fido seem to have a mind of his own, looking at you blankly, or worse, scampering off in the opposite direction? Getting your furry friend to respond to your call isn’t just a matter of convenience—it’s a crucial aspect of his safety.
With this article, I aim to lead you through the labyrinth of dog communication, right to the heart of the secret: How to get your dog to come to you?
Table of Contents
Understanding Dog Behavior
Dogs are pack animals with an ingrained hierarchy. In the wild, they rely on clear signals from their leaders. Domestic dogs, likewise, look to us as their leaders. Recognizing this pack dynamic can help us communicate effectively with our four-legged friends.
But why doesn’t your dog come when called? Well, imagine this—you’re at a party, lost in a captivating conversation or tantalizing buffet, and someone calls you. Would you leave instantly? Probably not. For dogs, the world is one grand buffet of scents, sounds, and sights. Our call is just one among many distractions.
The Science of Dog Training
Dog training isn’t a mysterious art—it’s a science. And like any science, it has principles, methods, and even formulas. The formula for recall (getting a dog to come when called) is fairly straightforward:
Command + Response = Reward
The magic lies in how you execute this formula. Let’s take a closer look.
Principles of Recall Training
Recall training, at its core, revolves around positive reinforcement. This includes:
Setting the Stage: Just like an actor performs best on a familiar stage, your dog learns best in a familiar environment. Start in a quiet, distraction-free zone, like your living room. Over time, as your dog begins to understand and respond to your recall command, gradually introduce distractions—a squeaky toy, another family member, or even another pet. As your dog becomes adept at recalling amidst distractions, you can venture into busier environments like parks or trails.
Positive Rewards: Dogs are simple creatures. They associate an action with a consequence—positive or negative. Our job is to make the act of recalling an overwhelmingly positive experience. To achieve this, use a reward that your dog finds irresistible—maybe it’s a chunk of grilled chicken, a favorite squeaky toy, or just an enthusiastic “Good boy/girl!” and a belly rub. Remember, rewards must be immediate (within 2 seconds), consistent (every time your dog comes), and meaningful (something your dog truly loves).
For example, a friend of mine, Sarah, has a Beagle named Charlie. Charlie was motivated by one thing—food. Using tiny bits of chicken, Sarah was able to teach Charlie to come whenever he was called.
The Right Command: The recall command should be a unique, unambiguous cue. Commonly used cues are “Come” or “Here”. However, if you use these words commonly in other contexts, your dog might get confused. In such cases, choose a unique word, a whistle, or even a hand signal.
It’s crucial to use the same cue every time and by everyone in the house. For instance, if you use “Come”, don’t switch between “Come”, “Come here”, and “Come on”. Consistency is key in helping your dog understand and respond to the command.
Detailed Instructions and Variations for Each Training Technique
- The Reeling-in Technique: This is the most direct method.
- Step 1: Attach a long leash (10-30 feet) to your dog’s collar.
- Step 2: Stand a few feet away, then give your recall command in a clear, upbeat voice.
- Step 3: Gently reel in the leash, guiding your dog towards you. Reward your dog when he reaches you.
- Step 4: Repeat the process, gradually increasing the distance.
Variation: If your dog is running towards you before you finish reeling in, let go of the leash and let him come to you on his own.
- The Run-Away Technique: This is particularly useful for dogs who love a good chase.
- Step 1: Give your recall command in an excited tone.
- Step 2: Immediately turn and run away. Most dogs will instinctively give chase.
- Step 3: Once your dog catches up with you, reward him.
Troubleshooting: If your dog isn’t interested in chasing you, try incorporating a toy or a treat in your hand.
- The Ping-Pong Technique: This works best with two or more people and helps teach your dog that he should respond to the command, no matter who’s calling.
- Step 1: Stand apart, each with treats in hand.
- Step 2: Person A calls the dog, rewards him when he comes, then person B does the same.
- Step 3: Continue this back and forth (“ping-ponging”) until the dog reliably responds to both people.
Case Study: A man used this technique with their Labrador Retriever, Bella. Initially, Bella only responded to the man of the house. By using the ping-pong technique, they trained Bella to respond to recall commands from all family members, including their young children.
Real-life Scenarios for Recall Training
Scenario 1: You’re at the dog park, and your dog is off-leash. Suddenly, he begins chasing a squirrel. You need him to come back to avoid potentially dangerous situations like running into traffic or getting lost.
Scenario 2: You’re hiking with your dog off-leash, and she becomes very interested in a certain bush—perhaps there’s a rabbit or another intriguing smell. You need her to come back to you to keep moving or to avoid potential hazards like a snake in the bush.
Scenario 3: You’re at a beach, and your dog starts to wander towards an area with lots of people or towards the water. To prevent him from disturbing other people or getting into the water, you want to call him back to your side.
Remember, recall is more than just a neat trick—it can be crucial in ensuring your dog’s safety. It’s a skill that requires practice and patience, but with the right approach, you can effectively train your dog to come when called.
Addressing Specific Concerns in Recall Training
Training Older Dogs
The adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is misleading. Dogs, regardless of age, are capable of learning. However, it may take more time and patience to train an older dog, especially if they’ve picked up bad habits or haven’t been trained previously.
Start with the basics. Make sure your reward is highly enticing, as older dogs may require a stronger incentive to break old habits. Be patient, and maintain consistency. If your older dog has health issues such as poor hearing or vision loss, consider using a vibrating collar (not a shock collar) to get their attention before giving the recall command.
Dealing with Distractions
The world is a symphony of smells, sights, and sounds to a dog. Distractions are inevitable. The key is to slowly build your dog’s ability to focus amidst distractions. Start in a distraction-free environment and gradually introduce distractions as your dog becomes proficient at recalling.
For instance, you could start in your living room, then progress to a backyard, then a quiet park, and finally a bustling dog park. Each step increases the level of distraction, testing and solidifying your dog’s recall skills.
Adapting Techniques for Specific Breeds
While it’s essential to remember that each dog is an individual, certain breed characteristics may influence training techniques. For instance:
- Retrievers (like Labradors and Goldens) were bred to return game to their handlers, so they may naturally excel at recall. They might especially enjoy the ‘Fetch’ game to reinforce recall training.
- Hound dogs (like Beagles and Bassets) are scent-driven and might become ‘nose-blind’ when they’re on a trail. Training might need to focus more on dealing with distractions.
- Terriers (like Jack Russells and Scotties) were bred to hunt independently and might require extra motivation and practice to master recall. The ‘Run-away’ technique might be particularly effective, leveraging their instinctive drive to chase.
Remember that these are general guidelines. Your dog’s individual personality and history will also significantly influence their training.
Recall training can be a challenge, but with understanding, consistency, patience, and a little creativity, you can build a reliable recall response in your dog. Regardless of age, distractions, or breed-specific quirks, every dog can learn to come when called, enhancing their safety and your peace of mind.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Dog training can be a minefield of potential pitfalls. Here are a few to watch out for:
- Inconsistency: Changing commands or varying the reward can confuse your dog. Stick to one command and a consistent reward.
- Impatience: Training takes time. Don’t expect immediate results.
- Negative Reinforcement: Punishing your dog for not coming when called can create a negative association with the command. Always use positive reinforcement.
Making Training Fun: Engaging Games and Exercises
Just like us, dogs learn better when they’re having fun. Incorporate games into training sessions:
- Hide and Seek: Hide somewhere in the house, then give your recall command. Reward your dog when he finds you.
- Fetch: Use your recall command to bring your dog back to you after he’s retrieved a toy or ball.
Understanding Training Difficulties and Resistance
Every dog is unique, and some may have more trouble with recall than others. Factors such as age, breed, past experiences, and individual personality can all play a role. If you’re having difficulty, consider seeking help from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.
Consistency, Persistence, and Patience: The Holy Trinity of Training
Dog training isn’t a quick fix—it’s a journey. Be consistent in your command and reward, persist despite the setbacks, and exercise patience. Remember, the end goal is a safer, happier life for your dog and a stronger bond between the two of you.
- Understand your dog’s behavior and perspective.
- Follow the principles of recall training.
- Utilize effective recall training techniques.
- Avoid common training mistakes.
- Make training fun with games and exercises.
- Understand that each dog is unique, and some may resist training.
- Always be consistent, persistent, and patient.
Have I unlocked the secrets of the labyrinth for you? Remember, dog training is an art backed by science. With the right knowledge, patience, and a heap of love, you’ll soon have Fido coming at your call!
So, are you ready to embark on this rewarding journey?