One of the biggest complaints I hear from dog owners is that they have trouble getting their dogs to come to them consistently. I’ll agree that when we provide great homes for our dogs: high quality foods, toys, fresh water in a clean bowl, plush beds, adventures, treats….shall I go on? When we provide those things for our dogs, we sure want and expect them to come when they are called!
The problem often is that owners don’t think about their dogs when they call them to come. When an owner wants their dog front and center, they say, “Sparky COME!” Puppy Sparky comes running, anxious to please. However, once he arrives, he learns early on that it might not always be a good thing! Sometimes, he comes and has to go into a crate. Other times, he brings the shoe he was chewing because he knows his people like fetch, and they take his shoe and scold him. Those are just two examples in a very, very long list, but it gives you an idea of why dogs think twice about coming when they’re called. If you have a rescue dog, you can well assume that his previous owners didn’t do a good job of transmitting a proper come, and it will likely take longer for him to be reliable with this.
Today, I’m going to focus on a great game that you can play with your dogs to enhance their likelihood for coming to you when you call them. I’ve always found that anytime I can turn training into a game, dogs are all over that idea with all four paws in! Now, to be honest, unless you use really great skills in teaching a proper recall to start with, you’ll still likely struggle with this command when it counts. This game won’t overcome improper use of the word “come” in a dog’s world. But just for today, let’s focus on fun, and I promise you that this game will certainly help!
Start with at least two people. You can play it with alone with just you and your dog, but it’s much less challenging, because once your dog figures out what you’re doing, he’s going to stick to you like glue! So find a friend or family member and get ready to play! This is a wonderful way to get your kids involved in training and in having really fun, positive interactions with your dog. If they’re too young to play alone, pair them up with someone older, and let the older person “coach” them when it’s their turn to play.
Start with each person holding several bites of food in their hand. I recommend using dog food inside your house, and a stinky, tastier treat outside in the yard. You’ll want to make the paycheck better outside, because you’re competing with squirrels, neighbors mowing, birdies, etc. Inside the house, most dogs will come when they’re called because there’s not much else going on, so they’ll come check out what looks and sounds like fun! You can get by using dog food as a reward, provided that your dog thinks his dog food is really tasty!
Start the game in the house so that you can minimize distractions initially, and so that your dog can learn the game. After your dog is really good with this game, you can take play out to the yard or park. Stand apart from one another, but in different ends of the same room. When I call a dog to come, I always start with his name first: “Rugby Come!” I always, always, always, use a happy, excited voice. What dog wants to come to anyone who sounds grumpy? I don’t want to come to a grump either!
As you call your dog to come, hold a bite of food in your open palm and drop your hand down to your knees….your dog’s eye level. Start to praise him just as soon as he looks at you and starts to come to you. When he comes to you, let him have the little nibble of food, give him a good loving, and then put both hands behind your back, signalling that he’s not getting anything more from you. Then, it’s the next person’s turn to call….repeating the same calling pattern. As the second person calls, the first person can move to another place in the room. As the second person finishes their loving, the first person can call the dog again, and the second person can move to a new spot.
As your dog starts to understand how the game is played, you can begin to move into new rooms when the other person is calling your dog, so that he will have no idea where you’re hiding. As you praise him, he will be able to find you to get his little nibble and loving. Before long, your dog will be racing all over the house to find his people, getting nibbles and loving, and having a great time! The good news is that you’re providing some fun exercise at the same time!
So with the long weekend ahead of us….make some time for play with your dog and teach him a life skill all at the same time!! Barrooo!