Why Your Dog Won't Come When Called - And How To Fix It
Unreliable recalls are a common complaint among dog owners. Generally speaking, there are two primary reasons for this. One - rock solid recalls require a tremendous amount of training. Most dogs will come when called inside the home, but get the dog outside in a high-distraction environment and all bets are off. It is absolutely crucial to train your recall amidst all kinds of distractions once your dog has learned the command in a low distraction setting. This is not a skill that is learned quickly. It really has to be developed and proofed over the course of the dog's life. You can set up all kinds of training scenarios so that your dog may learn to love coming to you when called. And be sure to always ALWAYS praise and reward heavily when your dog follows through. Which leads me to my next point.... In addition to lack of high-level proofing, unreliable recalls are usually the result of insufficient rewards and inadvertent punishments. Picture this... My dog, Punk, and I are out in a park. Punk is off leash, running around, having a dog-tastic time. He finds something naughty on the ground to get in to, and concerned for his health and safety, I decide I need him to return to me. "Punk, COME!" Impressively, Punk does come (after I have repeated the command several times) and when he does, I scold him for getting in to something bad...he should know better! This type of scenario is extremely common, and from a human perspective, it makes sense. But from the dog's perspective...not so much. Punk doesn't know that the scolding is in response to his naughty behavior, in his mind he just got scolded for complying with the request to "come". Furthermore, he just left some delicious, stinky, rotton sidewalk snack in order to obey Human, and then was punished??? In this sequence of events, we have taken something pleasurable away from the dog when we call him to come to us, and when he does come, rather than reward his compliant behavior, we scold the dog. So what does the dog learn? When my Human tells me to Come, I will be punished (twice!!), so I must NOT be supposed to Come. And BOOM...you have completely undermined your dog's recall. The takeaway here is that a reliable recall requires tons and tons of training in varied scenarios with lots of distractions. And it requires heavy rewarding each and every time, even when the dog is getting into trouble prior to the recall. You have to make the recall highly rewarding to the dog if you want to reinforce this behavior.
Christine Fasan is the head trainer and canine behaviorist at K9H. She specializes in German Shepherd Dogs and healing reactivity in dogs of all breeds. K9 Holistics offers dog training and behavior modification in St. Petersburg and throughout Pinellas County. We also offer pet care services including dog walking and pet sitting. Please contact Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org.