Most other common obedience commands (i.e. sit, down, stay) are stationary commands directed at a dog who is already giving you his attention. The “come” command involves your dog making the decision to pull away from whatever he currently is interested in and moving towards you. In order to build a strong recall (that is, coming when called), you first must understand the reasons your dog may decide not to come to you. Here are the five most common reasons:
• Your dog does not understand the “come” command. Many dog owners think their dog understands the word “come,” but unless a dog has been formally trained to understand it, there is a good chance he does not. Instead, the dog may be responding to the owner's body posture and inviting tone. A good test is to catch your dog looking at you (so that you do not have to call his name) and say “come” in a neutral tone. If you dog moves towards you, he probably understands the command. Otherwise, he may need some re-training.
• Your dog believes “come” is optional. Assuming your dog understands the “come” command, he may have concluded it is optional. If you say “come” and he does not obey, and you say “come” and he ignores you, and you say “come” . . . it must be optional.
• Your dog does not see you as his leader. Sometimes the only pry bar we have between what our dog wants and what we want is our leadership. This roughly can be defined as the level of respect your dog has for you. If your dog is pushy, poorly behaved, or does not listen to you in general, there probably is a leadership problem.
• The distraction level is too high. Dogs must learn to obey under distraction. The proper way to train a dog is to start with no distraction and gradually move him to higher levels of distraction. Calling your dog away from small animals, other dogs, and even people can require dedicated training in environments containing those distractions.
• Your dog may have negative associations with the word “come.” There are many things that can weaken your dog's interest in obeying the “come” command. If you call him to you and then scold him, toss him in a kennel, or bring him inside when he would rather be outside, he probably will not have an eager recall. Ultimately, you want your dog to come to you no matter what. But when training, it is important to build positive, exciting associations with the command.
In the next article, we will discuss three training techniques to ensure your dog understands the “come” command, finds it exciting and rewarding, and wants to get to you.
About the writer: Thomas Aaron is a certified dog training instructor and the owner of FetchMasters, LLC in Denver, Colorado. He is a strong advocate of positive reinforcement training, believing it provides the most humane path to a well-trained dog and nurtures an appropriate and strong bond between people and their dogs. He has trained hunting hounds since childhood and currently specializes in off-leash obedience training, behavior modification and positive gun dog training. FetchMasters.com