The “come” cue – also known as recall – is one of the most important commands to teach your dog, both for her safety and your peace of mind. Because you understand this better than your pup does, few things are more frustrating than when she won’t come when called.
This basic command isn’t always easy to teach, and there are a variety of reasons your dog won’t comply. They don’t represent “misbehavior,” but rather a lack of successful training. Punishment and getting upset won’t help, as veterinarian and animal behaviorist Ian Dunbar points out in DogTime; the answer lies in consistent teaching, patient repetition and positive reinforcement.
Understanding the reasons dogs don’t come when called helps you reverse disobedience and train your pooch to obey this important cue. Here are five common explanations:
Your Dog Doesn’t Know the Command
An obvious reason your dog doesn’t come when told to is that she doesn’t know what the word means. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, explains that a basic problem in training is the assumption that a pet knows what a word means and then muddling the command by repeating it again and again and mixing in other words in the face of disobedience. While the command you want to teach is “come,” you might be saying, “Come. Come. Come! Spot, come here now! Now! Get over here! Come!”
You Haven’t Practiced Enough
“Come is the command people practice the least,” dog trainer Sarah Wilson says on CNN’s website. The cue should be practiced multiple times every day and in increasingly complex situations. If you haven’t taught your pup to come reliably when there are no distractions, there’s no chance she’ll obey when there’s a ball or a squirrel or an appealing scent pulling at her attention. Teach this cue in stages. Start in your home with no distractions, then go outside without distractions, then add in some minor distractions and then practice at the dog park or another safe, less familiar place. Also, start by calling your dog to the things she wants most, such as meals and playtime, and then work your way up to less enticing reasons for her to come to you.
You Made the Command Irrelevant
If you fail to offer positive reinforcement consistently to your dog when she comes to you on cue during the training process, you’re not providing the necessary incentive for obedience. Praise her, offer physical affection and give treats immediately after she does what you want her to do, when you want her to do it. Also, if you just give up after unsuccessfully calling your dog, she learns that there’s no reason to listen.
You Created Apprehension
You may have set it up so that your dog becomes fearful in response to the “come” command. If you create apprehension about going to you, your dog won’t be eager to come, Dunbar says. This mostly happens as a result of calling your dog when you’re mad because she’s doing something you don’t want her to do. If “come” is associated with anger and followed immediately with a scolding or punishment, you establish the command as a negative.
“Come” Means the Fun Ends
Your dog will be hesitant to come if she knows it’s always the least appealing option. If you get in the habit of mostly beckoning when it’s time to perform grooming tasks she’s not too fond of or to leave the dog park, she won’t like following the command. Call to her for the fun stuff, too, and find ways to make the unpleasant things better. For example, when leashing your pup to leave the park, take a moment to play with her, have her perform a trick to get a treat, let her keep the stick she found and allow her to explore her environment on the way out, rather than becoming strictly business, recommends Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, on QuickAndDirtyTips.com.
Getting Your Dog to Come When Called
While it may be frustrating when your dog doesn’t comply with your recall cue, it’s well worth the time and effort to train her. Teaching your dog to come makes everything easier, and it could save her life one day. For more information, check out the helpful articles and tips in the Petfinder.com dog training section.