“We were taking a lovely walk in the woods last Sunday and out of nowhere a rabbit leaped out of the bushes and ran off in front of us. My dog took off after it. No matter how strongly I shook my bag of treats to distract him, he didn’t come back! Why didn’t he stop and return to me?”
After my last post, I wanted to write a follow up. It’s great knowing our dogs need to listen, but… how do we convince them?? Help!
It’s not something we get over night or can buy at our local pet store for with a 10% discount. When I take my pack on a walk, almost every person I see is shaking a bag of treats to get their dogs’ attention or calling after them 20 times, only to give up when they aren’t being taken seriously.
One of my dogs is 4 months old and (so far) I have been able to reliably call him away from any situation. He can be mid sprint towards my other dogs to play with them and if I call “Monty!” just once, he spins into a full 180 degree turn and sprints back to me with his tongue and ears flapping behind him. So how did I get that at such a young age? I’ll write down the main points (there are always other factors that I could only teach in person, but these are the rough, important points) for you in this post to give you a general idea of what I find important;
- The most important thing to keep in mind, that 80% of the people I see don’t seem to understand, is to keep your dog on a long lead until he comes when you call him. If you have your dog on a long lead and he doesn’t respond to his name, there is no way he will come when you call him off leash. Start here and build your way up. If he is great off leash and gets into the habit of not listening, put him right back on the long lead so he doesn’t make it a habit. The whole idea behind teaching your dog on the leash, is that they don’t have any success not listening to you. If they don’t listen, you can bring them to you with the leash. Leash. Is. God.
- Coming to you on a walk is the best thing ever. Even if your dog randomly walks up to you to “check in”, show them how amazing you find that. Coming to you is the best choice no matter what. When my puppy came up to me (which was a lot at that age), I would always give him some treats or kneel down and snuggle with him for a second – no matter where we were – and act generally excited to see him.
- Don’t get mad at or punish them in any way when they don’t listen. You can correct your dog (see next bullet), but not when they finally get back to you. This is what you shouldn’t do: your dog runs off, you call and he doesn’t listen, eventually he comes back and you yell at him, get angry and/or punish him in some way. This will give you the opposite results we had worked on in the previous bullet. Coming back to you is the goal of all of this, and needs to be a positive thing. That’s not to say that you should shower your dog with kisses if he didn’t listen, but don’t get mad or frustrated. When he finally comes back, calmly put the leash on and stay as neutral as possible. This way you are not going backwards or ruining anything in your training and can work on what went wrong in the future.
- The only time you can correct your dog is if he is very close to you and you can reach him in time, or if he is on a leash (this is why the first bullet is so important, especially in the beginning!). That being said, once your dog is gone – it’s too late. All you can do then is go back to the long lead in the future and work on his come back.
- Don’t just call your dog to put him on the leash! All too often, we let our dogs run around and do as they please, until there is a serious situation where we need them to come to us immediately, or the walk is over and we want to put the leash on. Leash = no fun. Calling = leash. Our dogs are no fools… they learn these equations very fast! Our walks are perfect training opportunities. I am very regularly calling my dogs to me as a constant practice. I call them, pet them for a while or give them some treats and the let them continue playing and walking around. This last point is also very, very important. Don’t just call your dog when you need something. Just like a friend – sometimes it’s nice just to check in and not only call when it’s an emergency.
Those were some points to keep in mind for developing a highly reliable and stable “Come!”! There are some more tips and tricks I am keeping for future posts, so if this is a topic you’re interested in and needing at the moment, stay tuned! Tell me what you think in the comments and I would love to hear some of your stories!