Does your dog run from you when you call him? Do you find it takes several minutes before your dog finally comes? Do you sometimes find yourself chasing your dog all over the neighborhood? Or maybe waiting several hours for your dog to come home? Then you are not alone. The number one problem facing most dog owners is that their dog won’t come to them.
Many dog owners make the mistake of thinking that their dog naturally knows what “come” means. So why doesn’t he come? Dog’s don’t instinctively know what any command means. So don’t assume your dog knows the command, you must teach it to him.
Of course, there are people who train their dog and he still won’t come. Why? Because many people in their attempt to teach their dog to come, actually teach their dog not to come. How? First of all, let’s look at how dogs learn. Dogs learn everything by association. When teaching a command, we give a verbal command or hand signal, show the dog what we want, and when he obeys we reward him.
The dog then associates the command with a certain action for which he is rewarded. The dog learns through this association what is expected of him. The dog obeys the command because of the positive reinforcement, or praise that he receives for his action.
The mistake that many owners make is that they teach their dog to associate coming to them with something negative. Here is one example. The dog runs away from the owner, the owner calls the dog and the dog doesn’t come. The owner then gets angry and when the dog finally comes to him, he punishes the dog. Here’s another example. The owner lets the dog out in the morning before going to work. He then calls the dog to come, and when the dog comes he is shut in a crate and left for eight hours.
In both of these examples, the dog has learned to associate coming to the owner with something negative, either punishment or confinement. You are punishing your dog for doing the very thing that you asked him to do. That is why so many dogs will not come to their owners.
How to teach Your Dog To”come”
When training, your dog must always associate “come” with something positive. No matter how many times you had to call your dog or how long it takes, you must always reward your dog for coming to you. You must always make it fun and rewarding for your dog to come to you if you want him to do it consistently. A reward can be food, a favorite toy, a ball, a bone, a play period, or even his dinner. This gives your dog an incentive, or reason to come to you.
Start your training on the leash. Put your dog in a sitting position and tell your dog to stay. Then you should walk to the end of your dog’s leash. Turn and face your dog. Say your dog’s name and then “come”. If your dog does not start to come to you, give a firm tug on the leash. Once he is heading toward you, gently reel him in with the leash. When your dog gets to you, have him sit at your feet directly facing you. Then give lots of praise and a food reward.
Your dog is now associating the word come with something positive and rewarding. Food is your strongest motivator. Keep practicing until your dog is obeying consistently. Now you’re probably asking, “what about off-leash?” There’s a simple step for that too.
I call this technique, “whistle while you train!” First, get yourself a referee’s whistle, available anywhere they sell sporting goods. Again we are going to teach by association. Your dog is going to associate the sound of the whistle with something rewarding. Start with your dog sitting in front of you. Blow the whistle and offer a food reward.
Practice in the house for about a week, with your dog sitting in front of you, until he makes the association between the whistle and the food reward. Then start putting distance between you and your dog. In time your dog will respond to the sound of the whistle by running to you because he knows he will be rewarded. As time goes on you can replace the food with other kinds of rewards and just plain praise.
When you start working with your dog outside, I recommend using a very long leash in the beginning. That way you will be able to correct your dog if he does not come to you when you call. The same as you did when you first started training on the leash, if he doesn’t come just give a tug and reel him in. After your dog is responding consistently even with distractions around, then you can trust him off-leash completely.