Did you know that the #1 problem that dog owners experience is that their dog won’t come when they want him to? So if your dog ignores you when you call his name, then you are not alone!
In this training guide, I will discuss the potential reasons your dog might not be willing to come to you. Then, I will give you three simple exercises that you can practice at home that will get your dog to come running.
The first thing that you must evaluate is what’s in it for your dog? Is coming to you a rewarding or painful experience?
Let’s take a common scenario:
A dog runs out of the front door and runs freely around the neighborhood. The owner panics and desperately tries to get the dog to come back. He tries yelling the dog’s name but the dog doesn’t respond. Then he tries yelling, “Come” and still the dog ignores him.
The owner is by now fuming with anger. He walks up to his dog and yells at his dog, “Fido! Get over here!” and the dog, out of fear, finally comes to the owner. Then the owner gives him a scolding to punish the dog for running out of the door.
What has the dog learned from this experience?
If you look at this scenario from the dog’s point of view, you would realize that the dog was actually rewarded for running out of the front door, and punished for coming back to his owner.
This means that this scenario will unfortunately happen again—and next time the owner will have an even harder time to get his dog to come to him.
Let me explain in greater detail:
Imagine the dog, bored out of his mind and locked up inside the house all day. All the dog wants to do is experience a little freedom, explore the world and feel alive. So when the dog sees the front door standing wide open, he sees it as an opportunity to experience these things.
And as soon as the dog runs out of the front door, that behavior is instantly rewarded. He gets to run anywhere he wants to, sniff anything he wants to … everything is rewarding to him!
Why would the dog ever go back to his owner? Especially since the owner is so angry the dog knows he’s going to get punished once he comes back.
The dog will weigh up both options, and the one that is most rewarding will win every time. So the dog weighs up: running free and feeling alive—or returning to the owner and getting scolded. That’s a no-brainer for most dogs.
The owner in this scenario is well intentioned: he wanted to “punish” the dog for running out of the front door so that it never happens again. But all the dog understands is that coming back to him is a painful experience.
By understanding the power of positive reinforcements, you can analyze situations and see what reinforces your dog. This is an invaluable tool that you must master to become a great trainer.
What could the owner have done differently?
Ideally, you would want to prevent this behavior by training the dog to remain indoors. But new dog-owners might not be prepared or have the experience to train this before it happens. So, here’s what I would do if I were in the shoes of the owner:
Assuming that they lived in a residential area with cars driving regularly, I would have no choice but to go after the dog. But here’s what I would do differently: I would not get angry; I would entice the dog to come to me and sound exciting. This way, the dog would see that coming to me is something pleasurable. I would even give the dog a treat for coming to me—if I didn’t have one, I’d bring the dog home and give him a treat.
But afterwards, I would immediately start training the dog to stay indoors when the door is open. I would do this by rewarding the dog for making the good choice of remaining inside the house. And I would do it very slowly and incrementally, like this:
1) First, I would open the door slightly and analyze the dog’s behavior. If the dog remained calm and focused on me, then I’d throw him a treat.
2) Then, I would continue to reward the dog for remaining calmly inside the house while I slowly opened the door until it was fully open. I would also keep a hand on the handle so that I could quickly close it in the event that he decided to run outside.
3) Finally, I would challenge the dog by making it enticing to run outside, while continuing to reward his good choice of staying calmly inside the house. I would walk outside and out of view for a few seconds, or throw a toy outside and reward the behavior of staying inside.
By practicing this training game with your dog, you’ll be teaching him that it is much more pleasurable to stay inside the house as opposed to running out of the front door. Plus, it will be extremely beneficial when you bring in groceries or anytime you need the door open for a while.
You can even continue building on this training game! You can add a “break” command to let your dog know that he’s allowed to go outside. But make sure that you reward him when he comes back inside so that he still sees value in being inside the house.
Below are some easy exercises that you can practice with your dog. They are the same exercises that I’ve used to train my dog to come on command.
Recall Exercise #1: The Boomerang
Description: The purpose of this exercise is to teach your dog to come to you upon hearing his name or the command “Come,” and that coming to you is rewarding.
Set-Up: Pick a large room in your home that is not distracting to your dog. Stand about six to eight feet away from your helper, so that your dog can run back and forth between the two of you.
Summary: Practice this exercise a dozen of times or so every day for a week. You’ll instantly see a difference in your dog’s response to his name—I guarantee it!
Recall Exercise #2: The Rocket Launch
Description: The purpose of this drill is to build your dog’s drive to come to you—so that your dog comes running as fast as possible!
Set-Up: Find a large outdoor area where you can train your dog off-leash, like a backyard or a fenced-in park that has no distractions nearby (including other dogs).
Instruct your helper to hold on to your dog until you call your dog’s name or say the “Come” command. A practical way for your helper to hold your dog is by holding the chest area, so that the dog can look at you as you walk away from him (see picture).
Then, try to entice your dog to come to you using your voice.
You can do that by saying, “Are you ready?” “Want to do something fun?” in an exciting and cheerful tone of voice. But do not say your dog’s name or the “Come” command, as this will be the release word.
Tip: To build even more drive, wait until your dog gets halfway to you, then immediately turn around and run away from your dog. This will trigger your dog’s chasing instinct and your dog will now run as fast as he can to get to you.
Summary: This is my favorite exercise! I practice it with my dogs all the time when I am at the park or when I notice that my dog is walking too far ahead of me. It really makes training fun, too!
Recall Exercise #3: The Right Choice
Description: The purpose of this drill is to teach your dog to come to you even if there are distractions, and that coming to you is more pleasurable than investigating the distractions.
Set-Up: Pick a large area where you can train your dog. It can be either inside or outside—you won’t have to run in this exercise so it can be done in a smaller area than the previous drill. But you will need to have a minimum of eight feet between you and your helper.
Make it easy for your dog to be successful. Start by placing ‘boring’ distractions like a shoe or newspaper, then, as your dog learns to ignore those, place more distracting objects like toys and treats.
Tip: If your dog stops at the distracting object, it means that your dog has made the wrong choice so you should not give your dog any positive reinforcement. Then, move the distracting object further away from the line between you and your helper.
If your dog goes out of his way to get the distracting object, then you will need to remove it and use a less distracting object.
Summary: Your dog will come after practicing the first two exercises, but he most likely won’t do so in a highly distracting environment. So please practice this exercise—it could save your dog’s life one day.
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