Common Mistakes Dog Owners Make: Coming When Called

In this series we will discuss some of the most common errors made by dog owners, and how to address them.

Training the dog to run away when called.

This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many pet owners accidentally train their dog to run away from them!

Coming when called should always be a happy occasion.

Once your dog is off-leash, the only control you have over him is your past history of rewarding him for returning to you. If you have not built this history strongly enough, then reclaiming your dog may be quite a challenge.

Unfortunately, many owners make the mistake of calling their dog for unpleasant reasons – to take away a delicious dead bird, to bring the dog inside, or to painfully pull a burr out of the dog’s fur. Some owners will even scold a dog when he arrives, because he didn’t come more quickly!

All of these punishments, whether or not they were intended as punishments, actually teach the dog NOT to come when he is called. In fact, after too many experiences like this, a dog may learn that the wisest course of action is to run in the opposite direction when he hears his owner calling him!

The secret to a strong recall is a powerful history of reward

The word you use to call your dog should be sacrosanct. When you are building the power of your recall, you should only use it when you know that you can a) reward the dog and b) enforce it.

Call him before meals. Call him before you take him outside. Call him when you have a delicious treat in your pocket. Teach your dog that “Come!” means All Good Things. It will quickly become your dog’s favourite word.

Every time your dog comes to you, throw him a party. Be Las Vegas. Be the most exciting thing he has seen all day. Coming to you should be the best thing your dog could do.

You should throw this party no matter how long it took your dog to come to you. Even if he stopped to roll in a dead bird, you should always, always praise your dog for coming to you. Because the only thing worse than your dog rolling in a dead bird and then coming to you, is your dog rolling in a dead bird and then grabbing it and running off with it.

Of course, if your dog comes directly to you and ignores tempting carrion on the way, make the party extra-special. Give a big jackpot treat to tell him “yes! It IS worth ignoring that garbage/skunk/other dog!”

Save the punishments (like taking him inside) for when your dog does something that you don’t like. Wait until he starts digging in the garden, or barking at the neighbour’s cat, and THEN bring him inside.

But don’t call him. Go and get him.

Don’t forget to give him a treat when you get inside for letting you catch him, too! 

Carol Millman is a Registered AHT with a science degree in Psychology.  She has worked both in veterinary clinics and as a trainer of assistance dogs. 

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