Dogs Coming When Called

Getting your dog to come when called is high atop most of our lists of must-have dog behaviors. When attempts to teach this behavior fail, some people figure that using a shock collar to punish the dog for ignoring “COME!” will fix that problem. (Keep reading. Details on this week’s prizes below.)

This makes no sense to me. Why on earth would a dog WANT to come to someone who just zapped them with electricity in the neck?

Now, I do know one person who uses a shock collar in emergency situations (dangerous wildlife), and her dogs have NO idea that she controls the shocks. So, the zap freaks them out, and they do indeed coming running to her (for comfort, I assume). Other than this one scenario, which rarely comes up, these dogs are trained using positive reinforcement methods and have had constant recall training since they were pups.

Dog Recall Expectations
In recent months, I’ve fielded three calls from friends wanting help using shock collars to fix their dogs’ recall problems. Despite my best efforts to convince these folks otherwise, I’m pretty sure two of these three dogs were indeed subjected to shock collars.

Can you guess which ones? Let’s consider the scenarios:

1. Recently adopted dog goes wandering from unfenced property numerous times last winter and won’t come back. In one case, it turned into a 5-hour odyssey through deep snow.

2. Recently adopted dog (a young one) won’t come when called after being let out on unfenced property.

3. Adult dog, in home since purchase in puppyhood, likes to chase wildlife/livestock while hiking off-leash. The family lives in an area where it’s VERY likely the dog could be shot for chasing animals.

Granted, I live in a rural, mountain community so this whole unfenced business is a little different. Still, in all three cases, I sincerely doubt that the expectation these dogs would COME! were in line with reality. None of them had much recall training at all. Honestly, my gut reactions were as follows:

  1. Put up a fence. Work on recalls.
  2. Put up a fence. Work on recalls.
  3. Use a leash while hiking.

Dog Recalls Take Lifelong Work
We are not peddling quick-fix ideas here. There is no magic to teaching a dog to come when called. It takes work. And, lots of it.

Our advice includes:

Never use “COME!” (or whatever recall word you use) when you don’t mean it and when you don’t think your dog will actually come. This erodes the word’s usefulness. The trick to this is twofold:

  1. Early on, set up situations where you know your dog will come (either short distances or while on leash).
  2. Use another word when you only kind of want your dog to follow along. Personally, I use “Let’s go” when I simply want to get the dog moving in my general direction.

Practice recalls every day. Yep. Every day. In all sorts of situations. And, always, always, always use praise and food/toy rewards. We do little recall practice in the house at meal times so that the dogs associate COME! with their fav things (food!).  So, ask your dog to SIT-STAY away from the feeding area, then say COME!. As soon as he arrives, put down the bowl. Voila! Happy, happy recall experience.

We also practice long-distance recalls on our property and little ones when Lilly is excited to go for a walk and likes to run out ahead of me.

This long-distance recall is shot in real time. I have not sped up her race toward me. At first, you can hardly see Lilly up by the fence, to the right of the driveway, but she must cross our upper pasture, swing around the pond, jump the creek, race up a hill, cross the middle pasture (what we call “the ball field” because that’s where we play fetch), and up one more hill.

In this second video, we’re working on recalls as we walk toward the gate on our way out for a real, leashed walk. This kind of recall training focuses on an IMMEDIATE turn toward me. They call them “whiplash recalls.”

Even though, Lilly is now 6. We continue to take “advanced pet dog training” classes that take place at various spots around town so that dogs learn that we expect them to behave, no matter where we are.

Every single class … includes recall work. Every. Single. Class. Sometimes, we:

This post is getting long, so if you want to learn more about how a game of FETCH can actually be used in recall training, check out my post over on my main blog, Champion of My Heart.

Dog Recalls: Three Things Actually
We tend to think of dogs coming when called as just one behavior, but the truth is that we’re actually asking for THREE things:

  • Stop what you’re doing.
  • Turn around.
  • Come to me.

Usually, recalls go wrong in the first step because often dogs are super excited by whatever they are doing, smelling, etc.

We’ll talk about fears more next week, but getting some dogs to COME! is hampered by their fears.

Prize Drawing #3
This week, we’ll be collecting entries for the third of FIVE prizes we’ll be giving away during the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. All you have to do is post a comment to this blog entry before midnight (MDT), Sunday, Oct 3, 2010, to be entered into the random prize drawing.

Because we hope to reach out to first-time dog owners and new dog adopters, people who self identify as such in their comment below will get a couple of bonus entries. (We’re working on the honor system here, folks.)

You can read all the official rules to learn more, but for logistical reasons, we must limit entries to those in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll notify the winner next week via email, so be sure you enter your email address correctly. Once we know via private email conversations, where the winner lives and what size is needed, we can arrange for prize delivery and for the dog training contact.

This week’s prize package includes:

Since in our chosen WordPress Theme, it’s hard to find the comment link … we’ve made a big one here.


How Your Donations Help!
Do you want to help spread the word about pain-free dog training? Then, we need your donations today! Even $5, $10, $25 will make a HUGE difference in helping us reach our fund-raising goal.

As our service project, we’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge. (More details on how our efforts dovetail on our About Page and on the No-Choke Challenge page.)

Just click the donation button on this handy-dandy donation widget to get started!

If for some reason you cannot see or use the donation widget below, please visit the Never Shock a Puppy Donation Site instead.

Read More!
Never Shock a Puppy coalition members (and others, we hope) are blogging from their own sites on this and related topics. Each of us explain our opposition to shock collars (and other punitive methods in our own ways), so we hope you find at least one blogger who “speaks your language” so that you can follow our campaign in a way that feels most comfortable to you. Check out this blog hop to learn more.

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11 Responses to Dogs Coming When Called

  1. Pingback: Champion of My Heart » Blog Archive » Day 5: Never Shock a Puppy

  2. Becky says:

    I love your way of teaching fetch (from “Champion of My Heart”). We have been trying with our adopted schnauzer mix (8 years old and black!) who we’ve had since February and nothing has worked. Glad it’s my day off so I can practice a lot. Thanks for everything you do Roxanne!! Becky

  3. Great post and great videos. Your line, “Dog Recalls Take Lifetime Work” cannot be stressed enough. Why wouldn’t we want to constantly reassure them and help them make safe choices?

  4. Donna Sek says:

    I really enjoy reading your articles and trying them out with my dog. They really seem to work. I don’t think I could ever think of shocking her.

  5. Tommy says:

    I am waiting on my new pup, and am reading all I can get my hands on about the best way to train a dog… No more than I would want to be shocked or choked into submission, I certainly wont do it to my dog… This is a member of my family, and with good training my new partner…

    Do no harm, to man nor beast…

    • Congrats on the soon-to-be new addition to your family. So many of my friends have new pups right now. I’m so jealous. There is nothing more hopeful than the untapped potential and future we have with our newest canine pals.

  6. Becky says:

    I am also finding your information and tips very helpful. Though, with the cooler weather rolling in, I seem to be having less success in getting the dog to focus and respond appropriately. There’s been a lot of “I’m not going to do that” barking. What should I do in that case? Stop and try again later? Is that rewarding her for being stubborn?

    • Well, it depends, Becky. If your pup is barking during actual training sessions, then it may be because she is frustrated and doesn’t understand what you want. Try breaking down the task into a smaller piece so that she gets rewarded sooner and more often for doing what you ask.

      If she is just barking to be a pistol, then try getting up and walking out of the room and ignoring her for 20-30 seconds. If you do this consistently, you can break the cycle of attention seeking. We had to do that with Lilly as part of our serious behavior modification work.

      And, yes, some dogs are harder/easier to train, depending upon the season. At our house, we have a harder time during warm weather for some reason.

      • Becky says:

        Thanks. There are definetly times I feel we are in a one step forward two steps back cycle, and this weekend was one of those times. The barking is of the “pistol” variety as I usually haven’t been able to get enough focus to even begin the training yet. I will give the ignoring a try and see if we can work on getting back on track a bit better.

  7. Pingback: Is Snake Aversion Training the Exception or Not? | Never Shock A Puppy

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