By: Gaye Amick, CPT
Northern Sky Obedience Academy
“All I want is for my dog to Come called!!!!”
Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that statement or something similar, I’d be a multi-billionaire!
An off leash recall (Come) can be an elusive and challenging skill to master, requiring a tremendous amount of patience, consistency and good timing. A dog that comes when called reflects a solid relationship with its owner, one built on trust, positive reinforcement and consistent training.
Dogs are somewhat selfish. They do what’s in their best interest. If a behavior gets them want they want they’ll do it again. So if your dog learns coming to you is good, she’ll continue to do it; if the results is bad she won’t.
Unfortunately, you and your dog may be practicing NOT coming rather than coming. For instance, you call your dog away from a play time at the dog park, attach the leash, put him in the car and head for home. Now from a dog’s point of view, that Come cue means the fun is OVER – it’s unpleasant and not in his best interest. Your dog is thinking “Oh, no!! We’re going home, run the other way as fast as I can”. On the other hand, if you’ve engaged in “catch me if you can” your dog is thinking “Wow we’re playing a game of chase, play time is extended!!” – NOW that’s fun and in the best interest of the dog. So, to get an effective recall, we need to make the dog believe that coming to you is in his best interest and that coming every time you call is a pleasurable experience.
There are only two rules to a reliable recall:
Rule number one means praise your dog when he comes to you, it doesn’t matter if you’re late for work, how long your dog has been gone or any other circumstance, PRAISE your dog! The moment your dog starts heading in your direction let him know he’s doing the right thing. Be the cheerleader “That’s it! That a boy! Yahoo!”. Punishing your dog for not coming, only reinforces, in your dog’s mind, what a terrible idea it was to come to you. Why come when the experience is NOT pleasurable (would you do it?)Praising your dog doesn’t mean a simple pat on the head and a good boy (how boring). Praise means doing something your dog likes and doing it with enthusiasm!! Every dog has its own favorite reward, special treats (chicken and/or cheese work great), belly rub, toss of ball or a quick game of tug. Get creative. The important thing to remember is that the reward should be something “very” special to your dog and that it happens for a least 20 seconds. I’ll say it again “something very special to your dog happens for at least 20 seconds”.Rule number two is a little more challenging. “Always set yourself (and your dog) up for success”. This means do NOT call your dog if there’s nothing you can do about it when he doesn’t come. Each time your dog hears “Rover Come” while he’s playing with another dog and doesn’t respond, he’s learning that he doesn’t have to and there’s nothing you can do about it.When you start working on Come say the dog’s name and the word Come. Always begin your dog’s training in a non-distracting environment, one you’re sure your dog will come to you. An excellent first step would be every morning and evening when you feed your dog. Say “Rover Come” and as he races towards you, praise him and give him his dinner.It’s important that you don’t over-use the cue. Practice the recall three times a day in the beginning. More than that and it loses its effectiveness. Your dog should WANT to hear the cue more often because it ALWAYS means something good is about to happen. As your dog gets better in the house and yard, your ready to add more distractions. Keep in mind that if you’ve been consistent to this point in training, your dog has never heard the word “come” and not performed the task.
Now it is time for long line work. A long line is a light weight leash approximately 10 to 40 feet in length that your dog gets use to by dragging it around on walks, hikes and beach runs. I recommend starting out with 10 feet, anything more is too much for a beginner (you) to handle. The line is there to prevent your dog from getting reinforcement from anything except you. This is NOT a flexi or retractable leash. You can buy a long line from most pet stores but making your own is a fraction of the cost. A soft light weight clothesline (or something similar) and a clip (like the one on the end of your leash) purchased from your local hardware store will work just as well.
A few quick notes about working with long lines:
From a training stand point, the off leash recall can take longest and is the easiest to ruin. The work can take anywhere from two to four months with few mistakes. Your training is complete, when after thirty days, there have been no mistakes. Let’s say you begin your long line work on October 1 that means if you and your dog have made no mistakes the line comes off on November 1. Here’s the kicker…..if a mistake is made on October 15, the 15th becomes day one of your thirty day training goal, which means the line doesn’t come off until November 15. Be patient – the longer the dog drags the line the more reliable the recall will be.
When you do make a mistake, go get your dog, or turn and go the other direction. Remember dogs are pack animals and if you have a solid relationship with your dog, his instincts will tell him that his family (you) is leaving and he’d better catch up. Chalk up any mistakes up to “owner” mistakes not the dog’s, back up a step in the training process and set the situation up another time, when you are guaranteed success. The Come cue truly illustrates the relationship between you and your dog. When a dog is off leash, it is his decision whether to come to you or not….so make yourself what your dog wants and needs. Remember you have to be better than a squirrel or rabbit racing across the lawn, children playing and dogs frolicking on the beach. Be consistent, be unpredictable and most important, be OUTRAGEOUSLY FUN. Trust me, your dog will love coming when called!
Gaye Amick is a professional dog trainer located in Charlevoix, Michigan. She can be reached at (231) 237-9510 or at http://www.onefinedog.com