I often hear the complaint that a dog doesn’t come when off the lead. The familiar story often goes like this: “He comes just fine in the house, especially if I have a treat, but outdoors he completely ignores me as if I weren’t there.”
Okay, it’s time to take a deep breath and analyze the situation. Don’t take it personally or equate it to a child refusing to mind while stomping off in defiance. There are some very good reasons why your dog is not responding and it is high time to discover what can be done on your part.
Why Doesn’t My Dog Come When I Call?
As a trainer with decades of experience, I always ask myself “what am I doing wrong” when I don’t get the desired result with a dog. After all, we are the superior intellect with impressive reasoning powers! Dogs are animals who rely on clear signals from us combined with positive reinforcement to show them what we want. If the cue is not recognizable and the reward not timely, then there is no connection and/or motivation to act.
We need to look at life from the dog’s perspective to aid us in developing patience and compassion rather than frustration and anger.
When training any new skill you need to keep it at a level where the dog can 1st, figure out what you are attempting to teach and 2nd, succeed!
How Do I Teach A Better Recall?
With the “Come” exercise or recall, it is great to start up close where there aren’t a lot of distractions (like in the house). And absolutely use treats to reinforce! Do not consider it a sign of weakness on your part to use them. You can later phase them out to a degree, but they are the means by which you indicate that your dog has given the correct response.
Now, your next step is to extend the distance little by little, always going for success. If your dog hits a point of distraction that makes it too difficult to succeed, then back up a step to a do-able level. Get a win and celebrate!!!
I also like to have a little drop cord or leash hanging from the dog to be a little encouragement to comply. Another tool I love for this fun drill is a little squeaker like the ones inside of dog toys. This happy sound alerts the dog, it is always consistent and then he associates it with a good time/treat. I always have a few squeakers by the back door to call dogs from the yard. It’s so much more effective that hollering the dog’s name.
You should keep working with your dog often around the house. When you think the dog has got it down, you may then take him outside dragging a little line. Don’t let him get too far away when you squeak and call. When he turns to respond to the squeaker, then back up a few steps, pulling him in with a treat and PARTY!!!
You must understand that when outside the distractions are immense for a dog! They get carried away by their noses as that is what they were bred to do. Experts now believe the dogs’ sense of smell to be anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times stronger than a human’s depending on the breed. That means that you really need to work on this skill if you want your dog to drop what he’s sniffing just because you said the word “come” in what is often an impatient tone.
Your overall attitude should be one of encouragement and happiness. Who in their right mind would go running to greet a grumpy person? And, never scold or chase your dog if he doesn’t come or comes in slowly. Fear will never improve the execution of this important exercise.
It’s All About Success…
Gradually increase the distance and distractions. My rule of thumb is that unless I feel like the dog has a 95% chance of succeeding on the recall off lead, I just don’t call him and set him up for failure. If you find yourself in a bind with your dog on the loose, it’s better to go the other way and urge him to follow you rather than pursue him.
In summary, act like you are teaching him something totally new and be upbeat! Move forward slowly always going for the win. Use the tools and don’t forget awesome treats. Do your training before the dog’s meal and make those treats special! Most importantly, have an enjoyable time and show your dog that engaging with you is more fun than exploring!