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 series of small 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. It is not so much a “how to” series as pointers to keep you successful as you go.
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 dog’s behavior without even realizing it, and then continue to struggle down the line, wondering why the dog won’t listen to them.
Ideally, your dog should run toward you with enthusiasm when you call him. If your dog comes when you call, but meanders over to you rather than charging full speed in your direction, then these tips are for you:
- Call, then run away. Dogs love to chase things (they are predators, after all), so let him chase you and he’ll get into the habit of showing a burst of speed when you call. Reward once he catches up. (If kids are helping, make sure they are older and won’t get knocked down. Only let them play this if you have a fairly calm dog–not a puppy or overly excitable dog. And always supervise the game.)
- Sneak away. Play it up, crouching away on tip-toes. Even a distracted dog will key into a sneaky creature trying to make its getaway; he’ll come bounding after you once you call.
- Mix it up. Don’t always reward with food. Use “real life” rewards that your dog loves, like a car ride or a game of tug.
- Surprise him. Dogs are incredibly intelligent and thrive on novelty. Use a new toy, a new type of treat, a new game to reward him and he will try to get to you twice as fast.
Train with enthusiasm and that’s likely the response you’ll get from your pooch.