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Teaching Your Chow To Come When Called

Q: How can I get my dog to come when he's called? He won't listen to me at all! When I let him out he runs off and acts like he doesn't even hear me. I'm at the end of my rope - what can I do?

A: I understand your frustration! Many people have the same problem with their dogs. "Come" is probably the most basic command every dog needs to learn. A dog that won't come when he's called is a danger to himself as well as a headache to his owner.

First, until your dog has been properly trained, do not let him run off leash even for a minute! Dogs aren't smart enough to look both ways before crossing the street. They have no idea that cars can kill them. Accidents happen in the briefest of moments and it only takes one mistake to lose your dog forever. If you love him, put his safety first and keep him on his leash!

Most puppies have a strong instinct to follow and stay close to their masters. They readily come when they're called. As they grow up, they start to think for themselves and become more independent. Busy exploring or playing, the dog ignores his owner's call. Why, he has better things to do!

Do you remember the first time this happened? What did you do about it? If you're like most people, you probably called to your dog over and over until the dog finally decided, in his own sweet time, to obey you. Did you know that you taught your dog a very important lesson that day? Without realizing it, you taught him that it was okay -not- to come when he was called! Don't worry, you can fix things by starting over from the beginning.

Well known author and trainer Mordecai Siegal says "No dog will run to a human if he has experienced something unpleasant for his trouble."  To get your dog to come to you, this time and -every- time, you have to make it worth his while. "Come" needs to be the sweetest word your dog ever hears; it should always mean love, hugs and rewards. Never, ever call your dog to you to punish him, to give him a bath or for anything he might think is unpleasant. "Come" must -always- mean that something good will happen to him, something far better than whatever he's doing at the time.

For the first lessons, invite a friend or family member the dog loves. These lessons should take place in the house or within a fenced area.  Both of you should crouch down on opposite sides of the room. Using a happy, loving, cheerful tone of voice, take turns calling the dog to you. If he doesn't want to pay attention, encourage him with whistles, funny noises, toys or extra special treats. When he reaches you, act like he's done the greatest thing in the whole world! Hug him, praise him, pet him, love him and reward him with treats. Bits of hot dog work very well!

Throughout the day, stop what you're doing for a minute and call your dog. Reward him handsomely when he comes. It doesn't matter if he's three feet away, in another room or a different part of the house. Call him and love him to death when he comes! Practice often and make coming when called the most enjoyable thing in your dog's life. When your dog is coming happily to you the first time he hears you call, it's time to move your training outside where there are more distractions.

This is very important: for now, keep your dog on a leash! You must be able to enforce the come command if your dog doesn't obey. Without a leash, you have no control over the dog and he knows it. Always use a leash until your dog is more reliable.

With a pocketful of treats, go for a walk with your dog on a loose leash. Using a cheerful voice, stop and call him to you. Praise him to the skies, give him a treat and hug him when he obeys.

What if he doesn't come or pretends he doesn't hear you? Tug sharply on the leash and walk backwards, calling him merrily the whole time. Reward him generously when he reaches you even though you had to make him do it. Return to your walk, stopping periodically to call your dog.

As your dog improves, practice with a longer leash. You can buy "long lines" at a pet store or make your own using materials from the hardware store. Nylon roping and even clothesline works well. Let him explore, chase a stick or play with a ball, then stop and call him to you. If he doesn't come, tug on the line and run the other direction, calling "Come, Come, Come!" Let him chase you and when he reaches you, reward him with praise and hugs. Make the training a game and make him think that coming to you is a much better game than he could think up on his own!
When your dog will come each and every time, you can start working off leash - but within a fenced area, the smaller the better at first. Do not trust him off leash in an unconfined area!

Let him play, sniff, explore, then call him. He didn't come? Don't try to catch him, instead resort to trickery. My favorite method is to sit down right there on the ground and pretend to cry. If he doesn't hear you, cry louder, sob your heart out! He'll come running back to see what's the matter. Don't scold him for not obeying, just snap the leash back on and keep practicing. He's shown you he's not ready for freedom and needs to go back to the basics. Start his training over from the beginning and don't remove the leash again for at least a week.

Q: I've been doing what you said and my dog is much better now. But when I let him out in the yard, sometimes he still won't come when it's time for him to go back into the house. What can I do about that?

A: If you only call your dog when it's time to come in, he may think that "come" always means "the party's over". Under those circumstances, you might not come either!

I like my dogs to learn that "come" means something really good will happen to them or that another new adventure may be about to begin. Throughout your training, use "come" to call him often just for loving and playing as well as when playtime's done and it's time to come in.

If you know your dog understands the command to come but doesn't respond when you call, don't waste time calling his name over and over. He'll just keep on ignoring you. In the process, he'll learn that it's okay to ignore you. Instead, go get your leash. Call him again using a happy, encouraging voice but only give the command twice, no more. He heard you the first time. If he doesn't respond, go and get him. When you catch up with him, don't scold or punish him. Just snap his leash on and matter of factly, go straight to the house. No punishment but no rewards either. Then start his training over again.

Q: I caught my dog chewing up my shoes so I called her to me and spanked her. Now whenever I call her, she cowers and sometimes she even runs away. If she comes at all, she kind of slinks up to me. Why is she acting this way? I only punish her if she's done something wrong.

A: If someone called you and when you came they yelled at you, what would you think? You'd probably wish you'd run the other way instead, wouldn't you? The next time they called, you probably -would- run the other way!

That's exactly what your dog is doing. When she hears you call, she doesn't know what she's going to find when she gets there - "will I get a treat or will I get a spanking?" She certainly doesn't want a spanking so she's going to go the other direction just to be on the safe side.

No dog will come if it thinks there'll be something unpleasant when it gets there. That's why trainers always recommend that we should never, ever call a dog in order to punish it or make it do something it doesn't like. When you need to correct your dog, go to -her-, don't make her come to you. When it's time for a bath or a trip to the vet, don't call her to you - go and get her instead. "Come" should always be a word that means joy, love, hugs and treats, never punishment or unpleasantness.


This article was written and copyrighted by Vicki DeGruy. It originally appeared in the award winning newspaper, Dog Owners Guide. Reproduction other than for personal home use is prohibited. Contact Vicki for reprint permission.