The Come Command, Why it is More Difficult for Your Dog than you Think
I wrote an article, Coming When Called No Matter What for more on that click on the link.
Click here for the 5 1/2 reasons your dog won’t come and the 5 ways to train your dog to come every time you call his name.
But I was thinking about it the other day… there really is not a “No Matter What” unless you work diligently on the behavior.
I think most people expect their dogs to come with some kind of homing pigeon gene that bring them home or automatically teaches come.
The truth is most dogs don’t.
We hear stories all of the time about dogs separated and traveling hundreds of miles to their new home, or their old home…
But these are the exceptions to the rule.
Dogs are Dogs
Dogs are dogs, they want to do dog things and entertain or amuse themselves.
And, let’s face it “dog things” most of the time include naughty things.
Like running the neighborhood, chasing things, digging things up and shredding things.
Those are all fun for your dog!
They are not fun for YOU after your dog has done them, but they are super fun for the dog.
Dogs aren’t people.
Although I often compare dogs to children or toddlers (which most of the time is pretty accurate) they don’t have a desire to be adult humans and adhere to our goals and rules.
They want to have fun.
And, they don’t recognize inherent danger or stop to think about getting into trouble later.
They simply live in the moment.
Running feels good.
Running away from an angry owner, can unfortunately, often feel even better.
Coming when called, often doesn’t feel good.
Understanding Your Dog
In order to make a true change, sometimes I think it is best to understand our dogs to the best of our ability.
Then we can see the differences between the species and try to make a lasting change.
There are 3 big problems when it comes to the COME command.
#3 You Have Never Really Taught the Command
A lot of people, as mentioned above, have never actually taught their dog to come!
It can be deceiving, because many dogs want to hang out with us and be around us, so when we talk to them around the house they come running.
They may even come in the house when we say COME, but if you never really taught it as a command that is rewarding (the same way you teach down, and heel) then your dog probably doesn’t even realize what you are talking about.
Be honest with yourself, how often do you work on it, and how much fun do you make the come command?
If you don’t work on a behavior you can’t expect to use it reliably in an emergency! What if your dog gets out or loose when you don’t want him to?
If you need help teaching the come command in a positive and fun way, click here.
#2 You Aren’t Worth Coming to…
Countless people are truly ANGRY when they call their dogs to come.
Dogs don’t want to stop whatever they are doing (that they probably like) if you aren’t worth coming to, or if you are angry.
Unlike children, dogs can’t rationalize that they need to come to an angry owner eventually. Your dog sees and feels your anger, doesn’t want to get into trouble (or have his bath or nails trimmed or go in his crate) so he thinks he can avoid you, basically, forever.
He doesn’t understand that your wrath increases, and eventually you are probably going to win.
He simply goes into avoidance.
Have you ever had someone REALLY mad at you, and you want nothing more than to avoid them for a while?
That is EXACTLY how your dog feels when he senses you are mad.
Even if you are mad, you must control your anger and not take it out on him when he comes back. Because if you don’t, or if he has come back to you and gotten in trouble.
Come=negative or bad things that he wants to avoid (like nail trims, crates, or baths).
Instead you must control your anger, and reward him for coming, even if it did take him 15 minutes to make up his mind.
I always tell people if your dog thinks 100% of the time, if he comes when called, he gets what he wants (toy, game, excellent tasty treat like liver) then his default will be to come to you when you call him.
If there is nothing in it for him, it makes your life much more difficult.
Come is the ONE command that I reward 95% of the time or more.
I have to be more exciting than the neighbor kid, the squirrel, or whatever else is competing for your dog’s attention.
#1 You Reward Him by Letting Him Run Free
What do you think is more rewarding, running free with your friends or in the woods, or coming to someone who is liable to take all that away?
In my opinion, unless your dog is 95% reliable at coming when called he shouldn’t get the opportunity to be off leash!
I have a friend who has taken his puppy to the woods to run off his energy off leash since he was very young. The problem is, this puppy barely listens to him when he shouts for him to come.
Yes, he often sounds angry when he shouts, but also the dog was never really taught or reliable with the come command.
And, in my opinion, running free and doing whatever you want in the woods with other dogs, or even by himself is much more rewarding than coming back when called. Almost nothing is more fun that doing exactly what you want.
His owner simply cannot compete with the fun he is having.
Even a dog that has been taught to come when called can learn to avoid his owner, if his owner is not careful.
How often do people let their dogs off leash, and then call them to hook them up and take them home (not nearly as fun).
The dog of course being a dog, doesn’t realize he can’t run through the woods for 4 hours (or however long), but if coming to his owner always = being leashed and taken away from what he wants (running loose) then coming to his owner is more of a punishment than a reward.
So to keep this from happening I call my dogs often, make them come to me, click their leash, reward them with a toy or treat, unclick their leash and let them run.
My dogs never know when we will leave or how long they will stay on leash, they only know that most of the time it is rewarding and they will again be set free.
Come is THE MOST IMPORTANT COMMAND and you must fix it.
What if your dog runs out the front door and heads towards a moving vehicle.
If you don’t have a good recall, your dogs life might be lost in an instant.
So fix it! Spend time working on it.
Make it fun!
Dogs can’t resist fun! If he thinks it is a game and he knows he will be rewarded, he is much more likely to respond.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.