TOTAL RECALL: How To Train Your Dog to Come to You When Called
Your day of destiny has finally arrived, you have found your new furry family member and you bring him home. You love him, cuddle him, play with him and of course, you began to train him. Yes, it has introduced several beyond challenging moments and you’ve been sleeping about 2 hours per day, but things seem to be going rather well and you’re pretty content with your parenting skills. And then it happens; your dog is outside and you call him back inside, but he doesn’t come to you. What, defiance? No, this can’t be so. You call him again, but he still doesn’t come. So you now find yourself in your pj's, hanging halfway out your backdoor, shielding yourself from the winter wind with one hand and preventing your door from closing with the other, while you call your dogs name about 55 times over the next 7 minutes. As you try to brushoff the dirty looks you just received from your judgmental neighbor, you can’t help but feel disappointed and stressed. You think for sure your dog understands what “come” means, so whats going wrong?
Dogs are natural people-pleasers, they will do just about anything to make their humans happy. That means, they will do nearly anything you ask them to do. However, in order to do it, they must first understand what it is you want. When trying to teach your dog how to recall (to come to you when you call them), you may think they understand what “come” means if you have said the word to them several times, but if they do not have anything to associate with the word as an example, then the word means nothing to them. It would be like not knowing how to speak French and someone saying, “manger la pomme” to you over and over again. You would have no idea that their saying, “eat the apple” if they don’t demonstrate it to you by eating an apple when they said it. Most likely no one on the street will randomly start telling you to eat apples in French with horrible grammar, but hopefully you get the point. So you want to make sure as you teach your dog the word “come”, you always give them a clear example of what it actually means. How do you do that? It starts with motivation.
Just like people, dogs sometimes need motivation to do the things they do. Although some believe that demonstrating dominance over a dog and using forcefulness is the best way to get them to do what you want, it has been strongly proven that fear and punishment is not the most effective way to train. Clearly, if someone who has threatened to, or has hit you in the past is asking you to come to them, your first instinct will most likely be the exact opposite. Using dominance may also lead to a dog only obeying one individual. And training with yelling, aggression or physical punishment, instills violence, anxiousness, and/or poor behavioral skills, which is both disheartening and dangerous for the dog, as well as humans. And of course, those who want to build a loving and respectful relationship with their furry family members, do not wish to frighten their dogs and can’t even imagine harming them in any way.
We want to use motivation to teach dogs how to understand what we want, as opposed to making them afraid not to do what we want. This will also help build a good foundation towards providing them with the tools they need to start making good decisions on their own. Many motivational tools that can be used to help your dog are similar to that of people. Money on the the other hand, which can be a big motivator for people, unfortunately is not one that would work well with puppies. “Oh Skipper, hey boy! If you come to mommy she’ll give you a whole dollar bill!” No, not going to work. However, there are other similar motivators between people and dogs that can work, such as food and fun.
Oh, the power of food. I’m pretty sure I would do almost anything for a big piece of warm Italian bread. More often then not, our dogs feel the same way about their food and favorite treats. Here are a few ways to use food as motivation to teach your dog how to recall:
1. Call Your Dog to Dinner
This might be a bit challenging if your dog runs over as soon as you even think of putting food your their bowl. The trick is, tell your dog to come (by saying their name, followed by the word come), just before you begin the process of putting food in their bowl. If they have already begun to learn sit and stay, you can also practice those commands by asking them to sit, stay, pour their food and then follow up by telling them to come. However, be careful not to mix too many commands if your dog doesn’t know them well enough, as they might get confused as to what means what.
2. Backyard Meal/Treats
Go in your backyard or safe area with your dog. You’ll want to allow her to run or sniff around for a bit to release some bottled up energy and so the yard doesn’t seem so shiny and new. Once settled, call her to you and give her 10-15 tiny pieces of her favorite food or healthy treats, one by one, each time she comes to you when called. Avoid giving them to her all at once, as you will lose the chance for repetition, which is a major key to dog training.
3. Family Meal
At doggy dinner time, have each one of your family members tell your dog to come one at time, each time rewarding him with a small bit of his meal as a reward.
Remember “Ted”, that guy that’s so boring, time with him has you fighting to stay awake? Remember “Sally”, that girl who is so much fun that time with her just flies by? If Ted called, would you answer the phone? What about if Sally called? No one wants to answer a call from a boring person and neither does a dog. Dogs want to play, do exciting things and have fun. Can you blame them? The trick to getting a dog to come to you, regardless of how much fun they are having, is to teach them that you are fun too. And to dogs, fun with their humans is the best kind of fun there is. Here are some tips on how to use fun as a motivation to teach your dog how to recall:
1. Call Your Dog To Play With A Toy
Playing often with your dog exerts energy build up, develops a bond, teaches your dog how to play safely with people and also shows them a good time. Next time you want to play with your dog, secretly get a toy and then call your dog to you as you show them the toy. Chances are, once your dog sees that you want to play with her, she will willingly run right to you.
2. Call Your Dog For A Walk
We all know how important walking our dog often is and many of us walk our dogs daily. Why not use this daily event as an opportunity to teach them how to recall? When preparing for a walk, before you reach for your dogs leash tell them to come to you, then follow up by asking, "You want to go for a walk?", and they will learn that to come to you, means fun stuff like walks.
3. Call Your Dog To Go Outside
Show your dog that you don’t only call them to come inside from the outside, but that you call them to come outside and play. It’s time to show your best friend that you can have fun with the best of them. Tell him to come and take him outside for a little catch, kick ball or to simply run around.
4. The Fun Run Along - Especially Good For Dogs That Are Easily Distracted
While your dog is on a leash with a relatively long line (but that still overs safety and control), stand next to your dog outside. Use your 'come command' and then immediately run about 15 feet away; your dog will run with you. Stop and give praise, along with a small treat or a toy and some play time. Practice that for a week or so. The next step is to do that again, but this time, wait until your dog is a good distance away from you before you give the command and start to run. This time you will have a good head start, which will naturally cause your dog to run to you. Again, upon arrival give them praise and give a treat or toy. Practice this for another week or so, and then you can try at a distance, but while standing completely still. Once your dog has mastered that on-leash, you can start trying it off-leash in a fenced-in or safe area. Start by running with them again, then the head start approach, and eventually from a distance while your standing still. *Be sure to use vocal praise, along with very small treats or toys only if you have concerns about your dog exercising and eating at the same time, which can cause stomach upset or digestion problems. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian.
A Happy and Consistent Tone
Remember those days when your mother or father had that certain terrifying sound to their voice that instantly made you feel like your life might be coming to an end? That is a 'tone' of voice. Dogs are extremely intuitive and sensitive to our tone of voice, so how we speak to them makes a huge impact. When calling your dog, say it in either a positive or even tone, so that your dog doesn't feel they'll be facing parental wrath when they approach you. This makes them more willing to come to you and easier to train.
The consistency of tone, intonation (spoken pitch; high/low), and rhythm within dog commands is also important, as dogs learn more easily from the way something is said, as opposed to the actual words since they do not know what the words mean. Think of the melody to your favorite song. You have it memorized because you've heard its beat, rhythm, and pitch over and over again. Imagine your commands to be like a song. Now, this doesn't mean you have to grow out your hair, get a rock group together and start practicing in your parent's basement, but it does mean you want to say commands to your dog the same way every time. Often, trainers will first say the dog's name and then raise their pitch when saying the word 'come'. Truly, you can say it any way you'd like, as long as it's not fearful and you're consistent.
This can be challenging if you are feeling embarrassed by that good old nosy neighbor, or are afraid that your dog is in danger. But do the best you can to always stay consistent in your tone and intonation, despite anger or fear, as this will help prevent your dog from being in that danger by better ensuring they will come to you in those moments.
It’s Always A Huge Deal
Think back to elementary school and how good it felt to see “Great Job” or “Nice Work” written by your teacher at the top of your schoolwork. Dogs like that reassurance too. Be sure to always cheer for your dog and say, “Good Boy / Good Girl!” anytime they come to you when called or do something you ask of them. Food and fun are awesome, but positive reassurance and cheering from mommy or daddy is like pure gold.
Going back to the French example, if you do decide to learn a new language, you certainly won’t learn it over night or continue to remember it if you do not routinely practice it. When we train our dogs, they are learning a new language too. Dogs want to do what we ask of them, but they need our help as parents to show them how. So be sure to repeat the above training methods and any others you find helpful, over and over again, every day. Even when you think your dog has it down pat, always continue to reward them for the wonderful things they do. Those rewards not only will give them a well deserved treat, remind them what they are doing is correct and prevent those awkward dirty looks from neighbors, but it will also tell our beloved dogs that they are making us happy and after all, that is what they wish for the most.