Tuesday, March 30, 2010


     Finally, it looks like spring is arriving. If you and your dog have been hibernating most of the winter it's time to dust off your walking shoes, find your dog's leash and get outdoors. Of course, there will be plenty of new and interesting changes to the environment which means your dog may decide to follow his nose rather than respond to your cues. It's time to not only spruce up yourself physically, it's a good time to dust off the cobwebs on your dog's training skills. One of the most important skills you can teach to your dog is coming when called. How many times have you screamed your poor dog's name over and over and over as he continues to act like he's deaf or he's busy sniffing other dogs at the dog park. When he does finally come you're angry and give him a good verbal lashing. By doing this you are simply teaching the dog to come to you much more hesitantly as he attempts to avoid the ensuing verbal punishment and possibly to not come at all. Rather than make yourself hoarse and angry, instead build reliability by teaching your dog with patience and consistency. Here are some simple steps for 'spring cleaning' this behavior and getting an improved, happy response when you call your dog to come to you.
  • Use a word, not a paragraph, like "Come" or "Here". Say it in a clear, confident, pleasant tone of voice.
  • Use high value reinforcement that will make it worth his while to come to you. As he comes toward you use verbal encouragement and jump around to make yourself more interesting. When he gets to you give him something he really, really loves like a chunk of cheese or liver or garlic chicken or the chance to chase a frisbee or a ball. A bonus: let him go back to the fun thing that he was doing.
Be wild and crazy, be generous,
be genuinely happy that he came to you!

  • Set him up for success. If you aren't 100% sure he'll respond, don't use your "Come" cue and risk the chance that he'll get to practice not coming to you. Instead try running in the opposite direction or jump around and wave your arms or hide behind a tree or crouch down. Different things work for each unique dog so if one idea doesn't work, try something else. Once he begins coming to you say your cue and continue to give him verbal encouragement.

  • Reinforce him every time he "checks-in" with you. You want your dog to know that coming back to you on his own is just as important as responding to the cue.

  • During your practice sessions if your dog does not come to you when you've called him, avoid the temptation to continue to call him over and over. It was your error, so your only choice is to calmly to to him and at least reinforce him for not running away from you.

  • Build trust by never associating coming to you with anything negative. Not all dogs like baths or taking medication or nail trims so go get him for these things.

  • Never punish him for coming to you nor use intimidation or threats to make him come to you.
A little behavior spruce up this spring will go a long way to develping a dog that comes running to you with joy and excitement!