Award-winning Pet Expert
Teacher, Trainer & Author
Coming When Called
In this episode... Right Now, Thank you is critical to your dog's safety and your sanity. And it is possible - once you know how to think about the process. Follow along with Sarah as she explains the three questions she asks when addressing a problem with Coming When Called then see how those questions are applied to real life dogs and their people. Next week, The Most Unnatural Act - Walking on a Loose Lead. You'll go for a walk with Sarah and Pip, hearing what Sarah does and why along the way. Send your questions and comments to: Sarah@petliferadio.com
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Pet Life Radio presents ‘Teacher’s Pet’ where you’ll learn how to understand and communicate with your pet and train them to be the best pet they can be. It’s time to see the world from your pet’s point of view. So give a tail-wagging welcome to your Teacher’s Pet host Sarah Wilson.
Sarah Wilson: Hi and welcome to Teacher’s Pet on Pet Life Radio with Sarah Wilson. Today we’re going to talk about coming when called, right now, thank you and this is something almost every owner wants and is one of the hardest things to get. So if you want to learn how to get your dog coming when called consistently and immediately, come back right after this break. We’re going to hear from our sponsors.
Sarah Wilson: Welcome back. This is Teacher’s Pet with Sarah Wilson on PetLifeRadio.com and today we’re talking about coming when called right now, thank you. This is one of the things people ask the most about, “How do I get my dog to come when called”, and that’s a really good question how do you get your dog to come when called.
Well the first thing to realize is your dog already comes when called. If somebody rings the doorbell, I bet your dog comes flying each and every time. I bet if you pick up the keys and say you want to go for a ride or you jiggle his box of treats or any number of other things will make your dog come flying from any part of the house.
So your dog can and will come, the question is how do I get my dog to come when I say so and that is a bit more of a trick. It is the most complicated behavior most pet owners will ever teach their dog. Healing on lead, walking on lose lead next to you on your left or right side, is the most unnatural thing you will teach your dog to do. No dog in the wild or on their own lines up on the left side of each other in a rumbled like and walks along, they don’t get it.
So teaching them to do that is really inactive faith on your dog’s part but you can do it. Getting the dog to come when called consistently outside, that’s complicated because all sorts of things could be going on. There are three things I ask myself when I think about this problem with the dog and the first one is, how is the working relationship in general.
The second one is, what part of ‘come’ is broken, and the third one is, how much successful practice has the dog had. So let’s start with number one, how is the working relationship, which means if your dog doesn’t instantly and consistently respond to you in the house on things like ‘sit down’, ‘wait off’, ‘come’ what makes you think they’re going to listen and respond out of the house?
Obedience is cumulative, all right? So we tend to think of task, we’re task oriented and we think I want my dog to come when called. Dogs are classes oriented. Why would they come when called outside when they don’t sit when you say so inside? Really, I mean these things they build on each other.
You’re going to start by developing and ‘I speak, you listen’ relationship with your dog and this doesn’t mean as people often seem to think, like ‘I get forceful and you get submissive’ relationship. No, all right, I want you to be a working team, which means you speak to them in a normal tone of voice, ‘sit down’ ‘come’ ‘stay’ all right?
I use the tone people use when they give directions, “Go down through box, take a right dog sit”, it’s not ‘sit’ which is common especially with women. We’ve been trained that if we want something, we ask, “Honey, would you mind picking up some milk?” Because if we didn’t ask with a question mark, we’d be seen as ordering and that would make us what, well we’re not going to say it on the radio but you know what that would make you and so when women tend to start with commands they tend to ask questions.
Men typically start by being overly forceful. They’re thinking of command in terms of control frequently. So they start with ‘sit’, ‘sit’ sort of like it’s a threat. You can hear it ‘sit’ or else…ok? Neither one of those works for me. I don’t want to go in either direction because if you’re asking questions, the dog reads that. They may not understand the content of your words, but they understand tone very well and if you sound like you doubt yourself, you will look like you doubt yourself, you will look like you’re asking a question and the dog will say, all right, she is not sure what she wants, get back to me when you are.
And with the men, if you come on overly forcefully as if it’s a threat, you can put yourself into combat. The dog can brace and think oh my god, I’ve been attacked or my owner’s really tense about this, my owner has a ‘sit’ aggression problem. Whenever they say ‘sit’ they get aggressive, I don’t know why.
All right? I want you to be a good coach and leader. Dog sit, they don’t sit, you help them to sit, that’s why I pre-train my dogs how to be placed into ‘sit’ and ‘down’ so they understand that, so I can gently guide them and help them. I find that really helpful for most pet owners and that’s in ‘My smart puppy’ the book DVD combo.
So we won’t spend time on that but the idea is if your dog is not listening consistently in the house, you are not going to be successful out of the house. This happens even with very advanced agility teams obedience, people get focused, this is the game I want to play with the dog so when I play this game I am really consistent, but outside of the ring I am not consistent. So you’ll see dogs with advance degrees who are completely out of their minds outside the ring.
I remember once I was tracking and somebody drove up who is a judge and they opened the door and their dog leaped out of the van and attacked on the dog and this is a dog with advanced degrees and all sorts of things, and I said, “Blah, what are you doing?” And they said, “I don’t know what to do”.
I said, “Well, your dog has an advanced degree, how about ‘sit’?” Use it, if this stuff can’t be used in day-to-day life, what point does it have? What point does it have? I train my dogs so they’re easier to live with. If I compete, it’s because I compete for the fun of it and when I have time to do it not because that is a goal in and of itself, it’s supposed to reflect the relationship you have with your dog all the time.
So you want to get in the habit of ‘you say something, your dog listens’, if you don’t have that yet, you need to get that in order to have a hope of getting and off lead recall outside and if you’re having trouble with it, go back and listen to the Teacher’s Pet on motivation, that maybe really helpful as well as ‘building kisses in response’.
All right, so the second question is, what part of ‘come’ is broken. What part of ‘come’ is broken? There are three parts to ‘come’. Doesn’t matter how far the way the dog is, whatever else is going on. Part number one, the dog turned back to you, all right and that involves leaving whatever they’re doing. So the dog turned back to you, the dog comes in your direction and the dog stops when it gets there.
If you’ve got those three pieces, your dog is coming to you when you call it. If you don’t, you have some annoying variation. If a dog doesn’t turn back to you, you’re at the ‘come, come, come Come’, he won’t listen, all right? That’s a dog whose head turned back to you is busted. He won’t come in your direction. This is a dog who has a decent head turned back to you but saunters, gets distracted, starts to come your way, wanders off sniffing, all right?
Or worse yet, a dog that when they hear ‘come’ shoots off in the opposite direction. That can happen, classic example, a dog who runs around the backyard in the morning and you call him in and stick him in the crape and then you leave. You call him in, stick him in the crape and you leave every morning and pretty soon you say ‘come’, your dog looks up and takes off to the other part of the yard because he understands if he comes, you’re going to be stuffed in the crape, you’re going to leave. So doggy solution, don’t get stuffed in the crate, don’t come, all right?
So if your dog runs to the other direction we have to fix that, and the last piece is they got to stop, right? They got to stop. Some of you are dealing with what I call dry-fi recalls. The dog starts what they’re doing and turned back to you, the dog comes in your direction, it’s looking good, good boy, yeah, oh god, then you got to go come again, the dog shoots back and the dog is you know, pass you on to other things.
So those are three pieces you got to fix and each piece has their own cure. If the dog isn’t turning back to you then put him on lead and start doing call backs from biscuits, call backs from toys where you back up, flutter that lead and the minute the dog starts to turn that head back to you praise, feed, that’s it. Focus on the head turn.
It’s very easy for pet owners to get lost in the behavior so when you’re thinking about behavior think very specifically what do I need my dog to do in this situation and when the dog isn’t coming, the first thing you need the dog to do is you need him to turn in your direction, so that’s what’s your reward and that’s what you practice, that’s easy.
So you practice on lead and when you can walk toward a biscuit they’re sitting or doughnut or a bagel they’re sitting in your dry, we are on the sidewalk and then you can just back up and say his name, say ‘come’ and the dog turns and that leash never ever tightens, then you’re getting some place but if you’re using your lead to control the dog, that’s like driving on your emergency break.
The leash is not there to control your dog. The leash is there to back you up if your verbal control doesn’t work and that’s a big difference. So when I am working dogs, you will see me have my leash lose most of the time because I want my dog to be following my movement, listening to my voice and if they don’t, I use that leash to help the dog, help them get to the behavior I am looking for, usually in this situation it’s a turn back. So the dog gets distracted and starts to pull a head, I start to back up, say their name, flutter the leash, good boy, good boy, yes good, all right, right there.
Remember big green light, small red light so you’re wakened, you’re wakened for that head to start to turn and you’re right there, yes, good dog. So pretty soon the minute you start to back up or the minute you say their name and you say ‘come’, they are whipping their head back to you, good, good. You really want to set this in stone, hand feed your dog a couple of times a week and what you do for hand feeding? You walk around the house, the minute the dog gets distracted, back up Bosco, come come boy, here’s a little bit of your food. Do it again, do it again, do it again.
If your dog doesn’t come back to you at good speed or runs in the other direction, one of the things you can do super simple, really effective and it makes you as interesting as a biscuit box which is a bare minimum, ok, bare minimum, is you’re going to take their food and you’re going to hand feed them. Just have the dog, the dog is looking up, you go yeah yeah, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner and you go Bosco, come and you give him a cookie, give him a little bit of their food.
Bosco come, feed, Bosco come feed, I don’t care if they’re not moving an inch, what they’re doing is associating ‘Bosco come’ with getting fed, right at your feet so one of the great things you could do with puppies, come feed, come feed, come feed, come feed. So pretty soon the dog thinks, oh if I here come I better hustle because I am going to get a cookie.
So that’s a good place to start, it’s a wonderful bottomline behavior to do and everyone should be doing that with ‘come’ because one of the problems with ‘come’ is you don’t get a chance to practice it unless you created a chance to practice it but that, we’re going to discuss in a moment. The last piece is does the dog stop, and a lot of dogs will run right past either because they don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing or they get stressed and this is another one that you can practice inside, you can have handful of treats in one hand. I usually have it in my right hand and you have the dog sit and you say, ‘come’, they’re right there right, but the dog’s not coming. Bare with me, bare with me, it’s ok, and what you’re going to do is reach down with your left hand and hold on to that collar, praise them what a good dog, you are so good, give him a couple of pieces of cable, step back a few steps, Bosco come, come, boy, he comes, sit, reach down the left hand, hold their collar while you give them a couple of pieces of kip or couple of pieces of treat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
What will happen is your dog will associate you reaching for his collar with good things and that will get you a dog that you can catch and that be nice. A dog in the dog park that you could catch and didn’t dance just out of reach, that would be a good thing and then the last thing I think about is how much successful practice has been done with the dog. This is a good question.
Practice in general doesn’t count. If by practice you mean you walk in the back yard and say Bosco come, and Bosco doesn’t come, that’s not successful practice. Successful practice creates habit and I think of habit as a rut in your dog’s brain that you’re digging out between the word and the action, the word and the action, and every time the dog successfully does it, the rut gets a little deeper and it gets more likely your dog is going to do it next time, so how much successful practice.
Most dogs are pretty good at sit and give a paw and things like that because they do them several times a day, they’re in the house, you say sit, you pat them, you say sit you give a treat and then how many times do you practice ‘come’? Imagine if you were trying to learn a new, complicated sport and someone just, you know, threw you a baseball once away, they played catch through your baseball then they win it and they want you to go and play at family park.
No, if you want to get to an advance behavior like a beautiful off lead recall, you need to do repetitions and that’s why the little games I gave you earlier of just say come, give your dog some of his food, say ‘come’, give him his dinner. Another way you can do this is before you do anything you know your dog will love, have someone hold him in another part of the house if you got someone who can help you so you’re going to feed him dinner, you put the puppy or the dog in another part of the house, preferably some place carpeted so he is not going to slip around too much and then you go, prepare his dinner and you say, Bosco come, and he comes, ‘sit’ he sits, you give him his dinner.
You’re going to let him out or go for a walk, same thing, Bosco come, he runs, come boy, sit, we go out for a walk. If you’re out in the yard, take some of his favorite toys with you, hide them on your person and let him walk around the backyard as he gets distracted, Bosco come, squeak his toy, toss it and pretty soon, he is going to whip his head around because boy, something interesting is about to happen.
So you want to think about how can I get successful practice in here, put him on a long line, walk around the yard. He starts to get distracted, back up, Bosco come and watch for that head turn, right? Watch for that head to start to turn and then praise him. Now, let me say the mistake people make with that is they don’t back up. They say Bosco come and they stand there. No, you got to back up because what do dogs chase? What are dogs attracted to? Movement, movement.
So you want to be a thing moving because your moving will attract him at first. Later we can fade it if you need to but for pet dogs, it’s ok, a little movement helps to bring them in. I got no problem with that. If you’re going to do competition obedience, you need to fix that but for the rest of life, it’s fine.
Another game I love to play if you’ve got a yard or a fan stair you can use is runaways. Let your dog get a little distracted first let him out, let him to sniff and pee and poop, do his thing so he gets little bit bored and you walk close to him, maybe 3 or 4 feet and then Bosco come, and you run and you clap your hand, come boy, yeah, you run away from him. Most dogs will hate to miss the party. He’s going to run after, what are we doing, you go come boy, you’re so good, good job, then ignore. Walk away, don’t look at him, nothing, just walk away. Not that fast, you’re just sort of milling around, la la la la la, Bosco come, come boy, yeah clap your hands, good, boy and he comes in, you pat him in, you praise him up, what a good boy, you’re so smart, what a great dog. Turn it up and pretty soon when you say Bosco come, he is going to whip around, go mao whao, mom is so much fun when she says come, get, what a blast.
Not only is that a great way to build a wonderful response, all right, but that also gives you a way of catching your dog should he ever get out of the house or out of his collar and he is running away and be in a goof ball and he won’t come back. If you’ve played this game and made this fun, you’re running away clapping will cause him to come to you and if he does come to you, no matter how frightened you are or how really annoyed you are, you are going to what? Praise him, praise him because if you catch a hold of your dog and scold him, which I’ve seen so many times, all you’re teaching the dog is do not get caught.
Running away is fun but if you let your owner get their hands on you that’s when the fun ends. So don’t get caught. Now, here’s a little thing you can do. You can say anything you want your dog in a happy tone of voice. So you’re welcome to catch your puppy if it’s 7:45, you’re running late for work, they’ve had you running around and you can’t believe how annoyed you are, you catch your puppy go, you little stinker, you’re really around and I am so totally annoyed right now, I can hardly stand it, that’s fine.
You got to get that and remind yourself tomorrow, I am going to keep you on lead and I am going to practice some game for you so we don’t have to do this again. If you got to call your dog and then stick him in the crade and go to work, call him, take 20 seconds to praise him, give him a couple of treat, play game, whatever he loves and then put him in his crape but make sure you reward the recall before you do something he doesn’t want.
Now you know the three questions you have to ask yourself and some games that you need to play in order to move forward with this. Now let’s do some questions and answers and see where people went wrong and how they can apply these ideas to fixing their problem. We’re going to hear from our sponsors, we’re going to be right back and we’re going to get to your questions and answers so hang on.
Sarah Wilson: Welcome back to Teacher’s Pet on Pet Life Radio, I am Sarah Wilson. Today, we’re talking about ‘coming when called’ and if you hear the noise in the background that’s Pip playing with the jolly ball because she’s getting bored. So we may do one question then take her for a run, practice over recalls and come back and finish up. In any case, our first question is about a 7-month-old Terrier mixed Cricket and the complaint is the Cricket won’t come back into the house when I call her. She runs right up to the door and then runs away.
Ooh, frustrating. There are lots of ways to deal with this. Then you know that what I am saying comes from horse training and it is, make your idea their idea and then let them do it. So what’s my idea? My idea would be, I would love Cricket to come inside, easily and readily and enthusiastically, whenever I call her. How can I make that her idea?
Well one of the things I could do is whenever I was making up her dinner, I could put her outside ideally on lead so the lead is inside, at least partially, so she can’t run off in case she has that idea, and I make up her food and I go to the door and I start to open it. I tell her to wait, sit, wait, make her wait. She can’t come in yet, she has to wait and then you say, ok, and you back in to the kitchen. You have her leads, you’ve got her in and you feed her. You do that.
Pretty soon, you’re not going to need the lead, she’s going to come flying into the kitchen. At the same time you can make this a threshold game and you can get treat she really really likes and you can again put her on lead and body block her out over that threshold so she is outside, you’re inside and you put that really good treat on the ground. You tell her to wait, wait, you can’t come in yet and she’s like I want to come in, I want to come in, you’re like no, you can’t come in yet, and after a couple of seconds, when she controls herself, ok Cricket, get it, and she can rush in and grab it.
Ooh what am I doing? I am building her drive, I am building her desire to come in the house because for most dogs with this sort of problem, it’s a threshold issue. They get freak out the threshold for whatever reasons. So I am going to play lots of games, in out and around that threshold to make sure she loves to come over it.
Now the other thing I do for this sort of dog and especially with a Terrier mix, you can be pretty sure that a squeaky toy is going to light their fire. Anything that sounds like a small rodent is going to work, right, and I take up all the squeakies and I keep one by the back door out of her reach and I put her outside and whenever I want her, I open the door, Cricket come, squeak, squeak, squeak and then I toss it into the kitchen. She goes into the kitchen, she grabs it, we play, good girl, good girl, I take it from her, I put her back outside.
Cricket come, squeak, squeak, squeak, boom, in she goes and we play that and I only play that one or two times, each time and then I put that squeaky away. The only time I am going to play squeaky games with her is for her coming over that threshold. You do those sorts of games call her in for meals, play a blocking game, make her way and then allow her to come in and get a really good treat, really good treat that’s on the kitchen for and squeaky games and pretty soon Cricket’s going to be flying through the door anytime it opens. So easy fix, all right.
On to the next one. All right, this is a question about a Spares Daniel pup named Danny and the owner’s complaint is Danny gets so silly when I call him, he runs around, he won’t sit and he won’t let me catch him. Again, come in problem and it’s the same enthusiasm so we hardly think this is a crises, we just need to fix it and in most situations like this, I try to fix this behavior away from the recall because if Danny is leaving what he is supposed to lead and racing back to you, the last thing I want to do is get it all frustrated with him at the very end of that because then you can start losing those first two pieces.
So, if I have a problem with the end piece, I work that separately though I am going to get some treats or when I am feeding him I am going to hold them down so they’re pretty close to his nose level and when I get his nose interested, I do this inside first about a million times before I take it outside. I simply back up, Danny come, and as he comes, I lift the treat up to my belly button and most dogs are going to sit when that happens, their head comes up, they sit.
If he jumps, you want to work your off, the off signal and step forward as is described in ‘My smart puppy’ because all these games are…so you fix the off but you want to start getting him to come sit, come sit, come sit, one step, just one step until he automatically sits whenever he comes to you and anytime you have something that he wants, you have a treat, you walk over to him, you hold it. If he jumps up, you give him the signal step forward, you remove the treat, you wait for him to sit, you want him to choose to sit on his own. You want him to believe that he can force you to do good things for him by sitting because I love a dog who has an automatic sit. No dog can be that bad if they’re sitting.
So anytime they want anything, you’re going to open the door for them, just pause, wait for a second, most dogs will look, be unsure, then choose to sit if they don’t, you can cue them but pretty soon as you want situations, I want this dog to be thinking, oh I should probably sit, sitting is good, sitting gets me what I want. So you’re going to practice, come sit, come sit and then you will start little recalls, little recalls and come situations around the room, you might want to have a friend hold him. Danny come, just six feet away, he comes, come boy, you are so good, praise him all the way and [xx] says praise him like a football player with a football headed for the goal post. Yeah, oh good dog, don’t’ stay silent because then the dog, half the time where I see is a dog who would almost come, dog come and the dog looks and goes what, and the owner goes, what are you going to do? The dog goes, I know what are you going to do and then pretty soon, the dog walks off and you also see.
I said well, the dog looked, you had that moment if you praised the look, you might now have the dog, you start working that, come sit, come sit and you do the sit automatically and pretty soon, Danny boy is going to run up to you and park it, good boy. Now because he is a springer and young springers tend to spring, you don’t want to praise him too enthusiastically. So for him, like good boy Danny, you are so good, what a good boy you are. Warm, genuine, focused on him but not so excited that he loses his mind. Whoops, going to have to do next one in a minute. Ok, sorry about that, phone has interrupted.
Anyway, this last one is really a case study and this is a situation where a woman came to me with her agility dog, doing very well in agility, when he would stay connected with her but when she entered the ring, the dog would often take off and do what they call zoomies, run around the ring and would not come back much to her embarrassment and this did not happen in practice, it happened in the ring which is pretty classic actually.
And she comes to our training center in New York and we’re looking down there and opens the door and who comes in first? The dog, and is at the end of the lead, the only thing stopping the dog from proceeding forward was the leash and that is always a signal to me of a pair that needs some more work because if the only thing holding your dog to you is your leash, when the leash comes off, guess what, you’ve lost your main means of control.
So I said it before, I will say it again, you will hear it many times that your leash backs you up. It is not your main way of controlling your dog. If you use your lead to pull your dog into position, hold the dog back, drag the dog to you then the dog is not mentally participating, the dog is physically allowing but they could be mentally anywhere else and off and or, so you need to be sure that you use the leash to encourage mental participation which you then recognize and reward and praise and enjoy so the dog becomes more and more and more mentally connected to you.
Once your dog is mentally connected to you it doesn’t matter what equipment you have on them or not. You want to check how that’s working? Train your dog naked and I don’t mean you naked, that’s your own choice, as long as you’re inside. I mean your dog naked. No leash, no collar and do your work, that’s one way of checking how things are and if you have to sit there and try to beg for your dog’s attention, Bosco, Bosco, Bosco, Bosco…. You’ve got big trouble in mental and you can fix it.
So anyway, she comes in, the dog’s in front of her, sniffing, pulling, doing whatever and she is staying there closing in the door and bringing like you beg and clearly so used to this behavior in the dog, this does not surprise her in anyway. So I am not seeing her make any effort to manage the dog which tells me she is used to this. This is how this pair functions which is pretty typical and gives us lots to work on. We then sit down and she sits down, her dog continues to pull and sniff and wander around, no connection.
I like to see that when the owner parks, the dog parks. You sit, the dog lies down. You walk, the dog walks, you turn, the dog turns. That’s a nice connection between the two of you and it doesn’t have to be instantaneous. I am not looking forward to be you know, you sit and the dog instantly lies down but you sit, the dog glances at you, maybe sniffs around for another second, then comes over and lies down and waits for you, perfect, that’s what I am looking for.
So she said, my dog’s doing great in agility but have these zoomies and I just think he is really difficult, he only does this in the ring which means he is ring savvy and he is really you know, just, I don’t know what to do about him and my thought of course is, oh we’re not starting with him, right? Your dog can change but you have to change first. You already know by listening to this session that while she identifies the problem as zoomies in the ring, you and I identify the problem as no connection in the first place except for the leash and if you only have a connection through the leash then you’re sunk when the leash comes off.
All kinds of games will help this. I started her on turn backs, I started her on catch my drift, I started her on door chairs, we got all kinds of things going so that the dog would learn to keep her in his awareness at all times and she would learn to notice and reward that and also to realize that what you do all the time with your dog affects what they do when you need them to do something. 99% of the time they live their life with you impacts the one percent of the time in the ring. You can’t tell your dog in every way possible that you are someone not to listen to, which is what those sort of habits do. You’re telling the dog, dismiss me, I am not important, I’ll follow you, you’re telling them all that stuff what you mean to or not, that’s the message to the dog.
And then get in the ring unclipped in a situation where you’re nervous and anxious and the dog’s excited and expect them to have any connection. They don’t have connection usually really in the first place. So but we can fix that and when she got on board with us and realize it, oh, you know her eyes lit up, she was ooh, that makes so much sense. Yes it does, and when those things got addressed, they started to having a better time competing.
So you can have the same sort of success once you started thinking about things in these terms. How is the working relationship, what part of ‘come’ is broken and how much successful practice has the dog had? You look at those three and I guarantee you, you will find things that you can change and work on which will improve your dog’s response to come when called. You will have a better time, your dog will be safer and you will… all right, being a little distracted by the fact that my two P girls are playing. I know it’s morning. We need to go outside and play.
All right, in a minute, yeah that’s Pip playing game because she wants to go outside again, what a surprise, all right just a second. So you do this, you’ll be successful, you’ll have more fun and that wraps up this show. Pip you are a rip. So go home, have a good time, play, train, stay aware, think about what you’re doing and remember that any dog can be a Teacher’s Pet.