Getting a dog to come reliably in any environment with any distractions is a dream of many dog owners. Can it be done?
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I have a 4-year-old pitbull/pointer mixed breed dog. He is very well trained, walks well on a leash, comes when called when in the house, sits, etc. The problem we are having is that he will not come when he is off-leash (for example, if he bolts out of the house or if we visit dog parks). In the past, we have very much enjoyed visiting dog parks because he’s high energy and loves to run and play fetch. We have been unable to visit them since he has started refusing to come. Can you suggest a way to train him?
Twyla in Minneapolis
This is a question I get a lot. Here are a few tips on getting a reliable recall outside and everywhere.
1. Use the right body language
Remember, dogs don’t use verbal language like we do. They are used to looking at another beings body language for clues to their intent. If you are standing legs straight shoulders forward facing your dog, in dog language you are saying “don’t come any closer.” Even if your voice is saying “come” your body is saying “don’t approach.” Dogs will probably listen to the body language because it is what they understand best. To send “come” signals to your dog, try squatting down or running the direction you want your dog to go. The dog is much more likely to pick up on these cues.
2. “Come!” should always mean good things.
If you say “come” and proceed to trim your dog’s toe nails, punish him, leash him up and leave the dog park or put him in his crate and leave for 8 hours the odds your pup will not come when he hears “come”. He’s likely to try to run the other way. For anyone who is reading this and thinking “crap!” don’t worry. If you have already ruined the word “come” by saying it and having bad things happen there is an easy answer. Pick a new word. Try saying “here” or “pronto”, any word your dog doesn’t know. Teach him good things happen when you say this word.
First, put away his food dishes, you won’t need them this week. Instead purchase a “bait bag”, a pouch that hooks to your belt and can hold food. Measure out your pup’s food but instead of putting it in the dish, put the bait bag and put the bait bag on your belt. Go about your business. When Fido is close say your new recall word and give him a treat. He should get every bite of his food for hearing his new recall word, for instance “pronto!” Be sure that by the end of the day he’s gotten all his food. At the end of one week he should be turning on a dime when he hears “pronto!” Make sure to do it on walks and in the yard too.
3. Drive the idea that coming to mom is fun.
This will happen in part because you are now a kibble pusher, but you can play a few other games to drive that point home and have some fun with your pup in the process.
Game 1 – Hide and Seek
This teaches your dog that coming to you is fun and rewarding. Start in the house and hide in an easy spot where you are still visible to your pup. When he comes to you, praise him, pet him and play with him. Perhaps even bring a toy when you hide, and when he finds you have a real party. Then hide in harder and harder spots. (Feel free to give Fido a hint with the old fake cough if your hiding spot fools him.)
Game 2 – Chase ME!
If you play chase with Fido where you chase him, STOP NOW. Never chase your dog. This is a tough one because dogs love to be chased. In fact, when they dart out the door or don’t want to leave the dog park, they are often trying to initiate a game of chase. Luckily reverse psychology works as well on dogs as it does on people. So, turn the tables. Have him chase you. Take off running and say “Fido, catch me!” Dart all over and let Fido try to get you. This is great exercise and teaches Fido that running toward mom is great fun. (He may nip at you with this game. If so, don’t play it anymore as this is a bad habit).
Game 3 – Chase me more! (From Beyond Fetch by Caroline D. Coile)
If Fido likes to hop up on the couch and snuggle with you, this is another time to use reverse psychology and drive the behavior of chasing you. When you sit down on the couch and he jumps up say, “I guess I’ll sit over here!” and leap over to the love seat. When he tries to follow you there say, “Oh wait! I guess I’ll sit over HERE!” and leap into a chair. When he tries to follow you to the chair say, “Maybe I do want to sit on the couch after all!” and jump back to the couch. Eventually settle down and let him snuggle with you. (Yes, do actually say these things. You’ll find it’s ever so much fun for you!)
Game 4 – Get away (From Sue at Total Recall School for Dogs)
Another trick that sometimes works to create a Velcro dog is “get away.” When your pup comes up to you looking for attention or petting say in a chipper voice “get away” and playfully push your dog away from you and turn and walk the other direction. When he comes back say “get away” and push him away and turn again. Continue to do this until you couldn’t shake him if you tried.
4. After all this ground work venture back to the dog park.
Plan for a long stay. He is going to be pretty excited to be back and not want to leave. Wait there until all the novelty has worn off and he is very tired before trying to leave. While at the park, feel free to say “pronto” (or whatever your recall word is) and when he comes back give him a treat and send him on his way. This way he will learn that “pronto” doesn’t mean “Fun is over. We’re leaving.” If Fido runs away at any point, disappear. Find a tree to hide behind and let Fido think he’s been abandoned. Wait for him to notice you are missing let him sweat a little bit (remember, you’ve been his only food source all week and he’s been playing games where he gets you and finds you, he’ll worry if you’re gone and be in “look for mom” mode). Before he becomes really stressed reappear. Let him go about his playing with you in site. If he runs off or you call him and he doesn’t come, disappear again.
5. Micro chip and license your dog.
In the event your pup does dart away and you can’t catch him, there is a much greater chance he will be returned to you if he is micro chipped and licensed. It will also expedite the process of getting him home. If he is licensed and animal control finds him they will be able to quickly access your address and phone number and contact you. In Minneapolis you can also furnish animal control with your dog’s micro chip ID. Then they can scan him and find you very quickly.
About the Author:
Anne Hendrickson is a dog trainer and owner of Downtown Dogs Daycare and Boarding. Her passion is helping pets and their people get the best from each other and giving everyone the best quality of life possible. She is a mom to two fur and one human baby.
For more information on Downtown Dogs Minneapolis call (612) 374-DOGS or E-mail: anne@DowntownDogsMinneapolis.com
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