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The 3 Rules To Teaching Dogs To Come When Called Reliably

I have been told by clients before that, when their dog bolted out the door, they tried to call them to “Come” but the dog ignored them. But when they yelled “Treat” instead the dog turned around right away!

Hmm…can you guess what’s wrong with this?

I’ll tell you…

The word “Treat” has more value to the dog than the word “Come” although “Come” should be the most valuable command in a dogs vocabulary, right?

So, what is happening here? When the owner asks the dog “Do You Want A Treat?”, the dog always gets a high value reward (often times for doing nothing) so the dog thinks “Treat” is the BEST WORD EVER!

Fact and a big problem is that the command “Come” is highly overused and under rewarded.

There are a few rules that should apply when you teach your dog to come when called!

When you are asking your dog to “Come” it should be:

  1. Nonnegotiable (the dog must come)

  2. A very specific task that you are asking from the dog

  3. Highly rewarded every time

To me a proper “Come” means, I want my dog to immediately turn around, come back, sit in front or next to me (I really don’t care about the position) close enough that I could attach a leash to him if I wanted and he is not to move away until I allow him to. If he completes all of this, he gets a very high value reward (praise, food or toy, whatever is the highest reward for the dog) every single time.

What I see a lot is inconsistency and the overuse of the word.

Inconsistency I see in a way such as that the owners will call their dog without being able to enforce the command and then give up when the dog doesn’t return. In that instance, your dog has just learned that it is optional to come back and that his reward in that case is keeping his freedom without listening (yes, that is the dog’s perspective).

Therefore, you lost out on Rule Nr. 1 NONNEGOTIABLE

You should never give your dog a “come” command if you can’t 100% enforce it.

I also see a lot of inconsistency with what is expected. Whenever we have boarding dogs in our care from clients that have trained with us in the past, I know exactly who is consistent and who is not. More often I will ask a dog to “come” and while they come back, they don’t directly come to ME. They may just kind of come and walk by or around me or come close to me but not TO me and/or they don’t really stop and sit.

Here we lost out on Rule Nr. 2: A very specific task that is also nonnegotiable

When this happens it means that I will have no control in a situation where I really need the dog to just come and stay by me such as if there is the danger of a car, another dog or who knows.

Overuse of the command by using it casually without making it a high value rewarded and special thing.

This for example could be using the command in the house to have your dog “Come” from one room to the other. Or casually “come” inside from the yard. They dog may follow but it is so casual that nobody thinks of enforcing the specific task it should be or rewarding the dog.

Another way of overusing it would be if you are asking your dog to “Come” on a walk (on or off leash) when you just want your dog to keep moving (to me that is called a “let’s go). Again, in most cases when you do that you are not enforcing the strict task and there is no reward so it is a boring.

You lost out on Rule Nr. 3: The command should be highly rewarded every time

So you can see, by over using the “Come” command, which should be a highly important safety command, it just becomes that casual all day command that loses value. But on those occasions where you say “Treat” it’s always special and always highly rewarded because you always give the dog what he wants because you promised him a treat by saying so.

If you can’t get yourself away from saying “come” as a casual command, maybe then you should chose a different word that is very special and unique and then always highly reward it. You could simply retrain your dog to another command of your choice (that for you has the meaning of “come to me”) and be very particular about your expectations.

Dogs will in most cases do what is in their own benefit and desire. If the desire to chase the wildlife is higher than the reward (treat, toy etc) you provide, your dog in fact might not come when called. Since we specialize in off leash reliability, this is where we can provide training techniques that still allow you to enforce your commands even at a distance and with the dog off leash at any time.

Our training techniques allow you to have a dog that comes when called every time, so you can consistently enforce it and every time are able to add value to the command through praise, food etc; because with a high reward, your dog will always turn around faster than without it.

Now you know, only tell your dog to come when you can 100% enforce it and we would be happy to help you to achieve that!

Get in touch and trust your dog again! or call 250-490-6211


About the author:

Simone Krebser - CPDT: Owner and head dog trainer of K9 Possible Dog Training serving the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia from Osoyoos to Penticton and Kelowna with result based dog training. Certified dog trainer, certified pet first aid instructor, member of the IACP, dog crazy and chocolate/cheese addict. “My life revolves around dog’s day in and out and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is my goal to help enhance the lives of as many dogs (and their owners) as possible. Your dog is my priority and I’m as committed to your dog as you are. But I can only help those who sincerely want to help their dogs and not only themselves.”

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