Click Here for next Workshop: Getting your dog to come when called.



by Sasha Futran


Dear Madame Good Dog!


I have a one-year-old lab that really needs to run off-leash, but sometimes I can’t get him to come when called. Last weekend was the worst. We were at Point Isabel. He raced off and actually disappeared for a few minutes. I yelled and ran after him. I was so angry when I finally got him leashed!


Frustrated in Richmond


Dear Frustrated,


Get out the party supplies! At least the hot dogs, cheese, liver treats, tennis balls, or whatever your dog thinks is just the absolutely best. Get ready to throw a party for him, well, lots of parties, whenever your dog does come when called.


The only way to get a reliable recall is to put it on automatic. Think of it this way: When you’re driving and see a red light, you automatically move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake without giving it a thought. That’s what needs to happen when you call, “Spot, come!” Only you want your dog to move all four paws rapidly in your direction.


There are a few basic principles for getting a recall on automatic. Let’s start with the parties. Always be really happy when your dog comes when called. Even if it took five minutes, smile through your gritted teeth and give him a huge welcome, complete with pats and treats. Say things like “Good dog,” “Excellent” or “Yes!” as though you mean it. (Contact me for a list of places where you can take acting classes.) The harder it is for your dog to come when called, the bigger the party.  Make a bigger, happier fuss over him that can include playing, tossing a ball, a tussle with a tug toy.


Practice a lot and start at home. You’re probably thinking, “But at home my dog always comes when I call him.” That’s exactly why we are going to start there. Remember, we’re trying to put this on automatic. So we want the association to be that he hears his name and the word “come” and that means fun so he races over to you. We want him to be successful.


Practice at home can include playing hide and seek, which dogs just love. When he isn’t watching, get behind a door or crouch next to a piece of furniture and call him. Do it again. Working with another person, you can both go to different places in the house and call him back and forth between you.


While in training mode, set aside a few minutes at least twice a day for practice with supplies in hand. Remember, the first and most important supply is your smile and joy at seeing him. To keep him trained, whenever you think of it, call him to you and give him a minute of your time.


After practicing a day or two inside, move the training to the back yard for a session or two. Next go out front using a long line or flexi-leash so that he can get some distance from you before you call. When your dog always comes when called in one location, practice where there are more distractions the next time. If you practice somewhere and he doesn’t listen, backtrack to a quieter location and do more training there first. Always end a practice session with success.


When you start working with your dog off the leash outside your home, go to an area where there aren’t a lot of dogs. Try a fenced dog park mid-morning or afternoon or a trail that isn’t very busy on weekends and evenings.  And practice, practice, practice. Watch him and wait for a moment when he isn’t chasing or playing with another dog and then call. In other words, call when you are reasonably sure he will come. When he does, throw a party. When you are ready to leave and call him, don’t pop the leash on immediately. Throw a party to end all parties first.


Here are a few other tips that may help.


·       When walking with him on a leash, call his name periodically and give him a treat when he looks at you.


·       When he is off leash, you need to be the most interesting thing around. So think of what will appeal to your dog. Maybe it is tossing a ball or running in the opposite direction and getting him to chase you.


Whatever you do, don’t run after him if he doesn’t come. Instead say, “I’m leaving” and start to walk away. Let him get worried about where you are, but do make sure you can still see him and know what is going on . . . without his realizing it, of course.


Finally, the more positive obedience training you do in general, the more likely you will succeed at a reliable recall.


See you at Pt. Isabel in a few weeks!

Click Here for next Workshop: Getting your dog to come when called.



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