Four Things You Never Knew About Coming When Called
February 25, 2013
For the most part your average dog owner seems to be getting a handle on this “coming when called” business. We’ve heard it all before. “Don’t call your dog if you’re going to follow it with something he doesn’t like”. “Make sure you give him a reward for coming and let him go party again”. “Make sure you bring really delicious treats to the park”. I can hear you falling asleep just reading this. Don’t be fooled…these are the MOST important aspects of teaching a half-decent recall. If you haven’t made these suggestions a habit then you might as well put the computer away or find something else to read. That being said, there are a whole lot of people that consistently put all these tools to use and STILL have a dog that takes twenty minutes to corral at the end of a walk. I’m seeing more and more of our students coming to class after a few weeks of practice that just aren’t getting the results they want. So what are we missing? I can tell you right now, that after six years of walking dogs, a good recall is always my number one priority. I have the occasional “independent spirit” in my group that takes a bit longer to come, but for the most part, all of them love coming when called. It all comes down to a few little tricks that often don’t occur to people.
1) Keep Moving!
All too often I go to the off-leash area and I see a little pocket of dog owners hanging out in one area. It’s usually around a picnic table or a bench. Very few of them are actually even paying attention to what their dogs are up to. It’s not surprising that their dogs don’t pay attention to them either. Why should they? They know that every single time they look over, you’ll be in the exact same spot you were ten minutes ago. They can just run and romp in carefree bliss knowing that there’s no possible way to lose you. Here’s a newsflash my friends: Your dogs want to know where you are and they want to be WITH you. Next time, try walking around the perimeter of the park. Ninety percent of your dogs will follow you because they don’t want to lose you as much as you don’t want to lose them.
2) Don’t Repeat the Cue.
You know when you’re in a foreign country and the person speaking to you figures that if they just talk louder you’ll understand? That’s exactly what happens when you’re screaming “COME!” at your dog. Although this might be groundbreaking information, let me be the first to tell me that your dog can hear you. Loud and clear. That’s because you’re standing ten feet from him screaming his name. He’s just choosing to ignore you. Quite frankly, when you sound like that, I don’t really want to be near you either. Rather than becoming increasingly irate, just stop and take a breath. Ahhhhhhh. Exhale. Now wait for an opportunity when you’re more likely to get his attention and try again. Eventually, you’ll have a breakthrough, which you can celebrate for the rest of the day and thank the Lord for small victories.
3) Separate The Name from the Cue.
Most often when I hear people call their dogs it sounds like “ROVERCOME”. “Rovercome” is not a cue. Every time you say the word “come” before you actually have your dog’s attention you’ve wasted the cue. You’ve weakened its meaning. I’ve got it down to a fine art with my group. First I say the dog’s name. If he doesn’t look at me or he’s busy rolling in dead raccoon, then there’s no way I’ll follow it with the word “come”. Instead, I’ll say his name again, but this time I sound REALLY excited. I am fully prepared to sacrifice my dignity in order to get my dog to notice me. When he does, and we actually lock eyes, THEN I say the word “come”. Not only do I say it, but I say it like I’m having a party. Trust me, it gets ’em every time.
4) There’s a Reason He Comes When you say “COOKIE”
The only reason your dog comes when you say “what’s this?” or “treat”, is because those words are more reliable predictors of a treat than the word “come”. By the time most people resort to screaming, “COOKIE”, they’re willing to pay up, and their dogs know it. You’re much less likely to pay up after using the come command. You use it too often, and rarely follow it with a reward. To my dogs, the word “come” means exactly the same thing as “treat”. It has nothing to do with actual word, but everything to do with how consistently that word is paired with a reinforcer.
These are the little secrets that will take your mediocre recall to a thing of beauty in no time. Start with a little work and a lot of consistency and before long you’ll be able to enjoy the forty-five minutes at the park without dreading the last twenty minutes spent chasing your dog in circles while you recite your favourite list of four letter expletives.