It is probably one of the main worries for those of us who share our lives with dogs and also one of the main questions we ask canine educators:
“I am worried about letting my dog off the lead in the street in case they don’t come back”.
“When we are in the park and I call my dog they never come back”.
“My dog runs away from me when I want to take them home”.
“What do I do so that my dog comes back to me when I call them?”
Calling them is one of the most important commands that dogs must learn from the moment they arrive at home, whether they are an adult or a puppy. Making sure that your dogs comes back when you call them will not only save time running after them and shouting them when it is time to leave the park, but you will be able to guarantee their safety.
When your dog is a puppy it is a lot easier to hold their attention and they come to you given that at that age you are the most remarkable and entertaining person in the world to them; however, with age, dogs become more curious about what is around them, the world seems a lot more interesting to them than we do. For this reason it is very important to start teaching them this command from when they are young.
Some dogs have even developed a great stubborn ability to not come back, like this chatterbox Husky:
What are we going to need to teach our dog to come when we call them?
To start with, your dog must be relaxed and ready to work and learn. Also, you must start their training in a place where there is nothing to stimulate them, as can often be the case at home. They must have a lead on and a comfortable harness or collar. And of course, you will need a good amount of their favourite treats.
How do we teach the command?
With our doggie on the lead, in the house, we will say the word that we will use to call them back and immediately give them the prize. What is important at the beginning is that our dog associates the word with the treat so that your dog comes when you call them. After a few repetitions we will move away from them a little and say the word again and give them their prize when they come to us. We will continue repeating this process and little by little we will increase the difficulty level: from a greater distance, in other rooms out of sight of our dog, adding distractions that could cause your dog not to come to you ….
Once your dog has understood the command and comes to you most of the time when you call them in the house, we can start to practise on the street. Remember that the street is a very strong stimulus in itself for the dog so we must begin little by little, on the lead and at times when there are no other dogs, games or things that call their attention away from the activity.
It is an exercise that you must repeat every day, over short periods of time in order to not overwhelm your dog and cause them to lose interest in the prize.
Remember to end the exercise after a good call, never after failing or your dog seeing you frustrated. The last experience in a training session is very important so that in the following session they are motivated, for this reason if you don’t think that they are going to come to you or the level of difficulty is too much for them, get rid of anything that stimulates them or make it easier for them so that they carry on.
Never call your dog for something they don’t like. For example, if your dog associates you calling them with telling them off, they will stop coming back when you call them.
When you go to call them to put them back on the lead or to leave a place that interests them, before leaving play with them, give them some treats so that you don’t leave directly.
Use a fun and friendly tone to call them. If your voice is too firm or serious it could be that they think twice about going, especially if they are accustomed to hearing this tone when they are being told off.
Always give your dog a prize if they come to you, even if they have done something you don’t like before getting to you.
Little by little start to put distractions in the sessions. If your dog fails a few times, lessen the number of distractions and increase the difficulty more slowly.
Keep your dog on the lead in the training sessions, this way you will avoid the possibility of your dog going off somewhere else.
If your dog doesn’t come back on command, don’t repeat it again, go and get them.
If they run away from you, don’t go behind them, dogs find this a extremely fun game. Instead, run in the opposite direction, make them see that it is more fun going towards you. You can show your dog one of their favourite toys or something that they can’t resist.
If you have a dog that is an expert in spotting things that move miles away and that doesn’t stay close to you, you will need a stronger sound so that your dog comes back. For this you can call them using a dog whistle. It will be just as easy as following the same process with the word but this time only blowing the whistle before rewarding them.
What if the word that you use doesn’t work with your dog?
Before getting to work on training your dog to respond when you call, you must take into account that the word you choose is very important. Make sure that they haven’t already heard it too much or that it has a negative connotation for your dog, especially if you have ever told them off after hearing this word. If you realise that the word isn’t working, change it for another and start the training from the beginning so that they associate the word with positivity. This way you will get your dog to come to you and it will be a much more reliable method.