Coming When Called: Tip #1

A big priority for most dog owners is to be able to get their dog to come to them when they’re called. It’s actually not that hard to teach, if you go about it in a way that takes advantage of how dogs learn.

For this behavior (which is really a long series of  behaviors, or actions), I have a high standard of performance that I strive for. I want the dog to come immediately, quickly, and on one cue. After all, it’s just not all that useful to train it such that the dog responds eventually, approaches slowly, or does so only after multiple cues or threats. With that in mind, the next few Top Notch Dog Blog entries will offer some tips to improve your dog’s responsiveness to you when you call.

Some principles to keep in mind: Behaviors that are rewarded tend to increase in frequency, intensity and duration. This means you should make it worth it for your dog to come when called. Reward your dog’s effort, and be generous. Make him really glad he came to you. The flip side of this is to avoid punishing him when he does come to you. That may sound obvious, but many people punish their dogs’ behavior without even realizing it, and then continue to struggle down the line, wondering why the dog won’t listen to them.petunderneath

Coming When Called Tip #1: Body Language

Use your body language to your advantage. If you face your dog with direct eye contact, you may be encouraging him to stop before he reaches you or to come in more slowly than he might otherwise. You’ll make it even worse if you have a stern expression on your face. Try standing at even just a very slight angle, making more indirect eye contact (like looking between his eyes), and smiling.

When your dog reaches you, avoid looming over to pet him, grab him, or take his collar. That communicates you are taking up the space in front of you, and you want your dog to get out of that space. Of course, you don’t want him out of that space; you want him to come all the way to you. So remain standing, or squat down instead.

Finally, most dogs do not enjoy being patted on top of the head. As primates, it is our tendency to reach, bend over, and touch palms-down, but those are all counterproductive if you are hoping to reward your dog for coming. When you think about it, petting your dog on top of his head may actually punish his attempt to come all the way to you when called (that is, it may decrease the likelihood of the behavior happening again). You’ll know that’s the case if he comes in just short of reaching you, if he turns away, or moves away instead of coming closer for more. Try petting underhanded, under his collar or on the sides of his face. Avoid grabbing him, hugging him, or taking his face in your hands. Touch and praise him in a way he finds rewarding, and you may well find he comes closer to you.

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