My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Come When Called: Five Things That Work Against You

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GettinTraining a dog to come when called is easier when you avoid these common mistakes.g your dog to come to you when called is a challenge for many pet owners and there are five things that people commonly do that don’t help. Knowing what those things are will help you be a more effective and positive trainer. And here they are:

Start by stopping everything that makes coming to you unfun. Here’s a partial list:

Yelling at, scolding or smacking your dog when he finally comes to you.
Yelling at, scolding or smacking your dog when you finally catch him
Calling him to you and then doing something he finds unpleasant.

Now stop everything that is unproductive:

Calling him when he is excited and distracted and off leash.
Producing treats after your dog ignores you.

Let us explain:

Yelling at, scolding or smacking your dog when he finally comes to you.

This is pretty common. You’re so darn frustrated with your dog that when he finally arrives you want to scold him but the problem is – he’s a dog. What he learns is that coming to you causes bad things

to happen. Lesson he learns? Avoid coming to you.

Solution: No matter what – and we mean no matter what – if your dog comes to you, you praise him.
Or if you can’t pull that off, you are neutral about it.

Yelling at, scolding or smacking your dog when you finally catch him

This, too, is pretty common. You’re so darn frustrated with your dog that when you finally catch the little imp that you lose your temper a bit. You are trying to teach him not to run away from you but the problem is – he’s a dog. What he learns is that being caught causes bad things to happen. Lesson he learns? Avoid getting caught.

Solution: You get your hands on your dog after a merry game of keep away, you must praise him.
Why? Because you want him to let you catch him in the future, right?

Calling him to you and then doing something he finds unpleasant.

Your dog needs a bath or needs his nails cut or ears cleaned. You call him and when he comes you get right to business doing what needs to be done. Next time you call your dog, he’s a bit slower to come, because he really doesn’t know if this is going to be a happy time or a time when you’re going to do one of those things he doesn’t really like.

Solution: Always praise your dog and make it a happy occasion when he comes to you. If you need to do something he won’t like so much, go to him instead of calling him to you, praise and pet him, then do what needs to be done.

Calling him when he is excited and distracted and off leash.

You can never create success by practicing failure. So, if you believe that your dogs past behavior predicts his future actions (until such time as you make changes) then you know that if he didn’t stop barking at the neighbors and come back when you called him yesterday, you can guess he won’t again today. So, instead of standing at the door teaching him that response is optional – go out to him, call him from just a few feet away and praise him when he complies! Can’t quite do that yet, then the next few weeks (at least) you walk him on leash and practice calling him back when distracted. In other words, you create success, you practice success and, pretty darn quickly, you will have success.

Solution: You actively create success and when you cannot create it, you try really hard not to practice failure.

Producing treats when your dog ignores you
You call your dog, he ignores you. You get a treat and hold it out then call him again. He comes. Uh-oh. From the dog’s perspective this is what happened: He ignored you, you showed him a cookie. In human terms, you ask your kid to take out the trash. He ignores you. You then tell him you’ll give him $10 to take out the trash and he does. Was that a success? Or will he start holding out for the better deal? Well… so will your dog. If he ignores you, go get him. Either he wasn’t ready for this level of distraction or he didn’t understand so… go get him. And, while you’re going, think on what you’re going to change to create success next time.

Solution: If you call him and he does not respond, go get him! If you cannot get him, try running away from him clapping and sounding VERY happy. That sort of movement + enthusiasm often does the trick. Once you have him, commit to not practice failure again (as much as that is humanly possible) and get to working on building a better understanding between you and your dog.

Now that you have some solutions to general issues, let’s get specific:

Keys to Success

Any training problem can be solved by applying the following principles:

Create Success
If your dog does not respond when off leash then put him on leash. You must be able to create success consistently to fix a problem, (which are usually failures that have been practiced).

Practice Success
Once you have created it, practice it. Dogs can only learn when we practice with them. Period. Think how much practice you needed to become really good at a skill – say a sport. And every athlete, no matter how gifted, continues to practice for as long as they play the game. Your dog needs the same thing. If you don’t practice, he can’t learn.

Make Haste Slowly
Oh, we know, it is tempting to think that a good session or two in the yard means you’re ready to go run him off leash on the beach. Not so fast. Great off leash in the yard = on leash at the beach. Every new environment means you step back to the beginning and make sure your dog understands in this new place. And each time you do that, you’re dog will get better faster in the next new place.

Build the Habit to Responding
Obedience is a habit. Your dog doesn’t distinguish between ignoring sit in the house and ignoring you outside. If you want consistent response, you must insist on it every time you ask something of your dog. Don’t ask if you cannot cause and be sure you cause if you asked.

Raise the Bar
Yes, use treats and toys and fun but, once your dog is pretty good, only deliver them for the very best response possible. Keep “raising the bar” – a little at a time – so your dog is always trying his very best. Over time (and not that long a time) your dog will be coming when called better than you ever could have dreamt.

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By Sarah Wilson, author of the two handbooks of MySmartPuppy.com: My Smart Puppy (Kindle Version here) and Childproofing Your Dog (Kindle Version here)

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