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25 July 2001 Issue
Why Dogs Don’t Come

by Sherri Regalbuto - GIDDAY36@aol.com 

We have just returned from the park, my 11 mos. old standard poodle and I. We were working on his obedience around distractions. With mild distractions, he’s pretty good. We have quite a way to go before he is performing in a high distraction area. While at the park, I witnessed a scene that compelled me to write this article. On one side of the park we were working on our obedience, and on the other side was a man and his rottweiler. We were using them as our distraction, unknown to them. I’ve seen this dog before and felt for her. She has made several attempts to come and visit my dogs, only to have her neck choked very hard. Today he was doing some sort of training. I’m not sure if the owner was trying to get the dog to retrieve or just to come to him. I was very involved with my guy when I heard the scream.

A scream of pain, there was no mistaking it. After being stopped in my tracks, I proceeded to watch what was going on. The scream had come from the rottweiler, while they were training. The man was letting his dog wander to the end of an extendable leash and choke collar. He would then call her to him. When she didn’t come, he would inflict an almighty correction. This correction is where the scream came from. It was repeated, the dog didn’t come, the correction did and so did the scream. Each time, the dog sensed his owners aggression, she hit the ground, cringing and rolling over. This was supposed to entice the dog to come? I wouldn’t come, I would try very hard to escape this situation.

I find it very difficult not to step in and educate people, but, I have learned when it is best not to. This man was very angry. After attempting the come several times, he looked over at me and then dragged his dog home with him. With every come command, his dog had gotten worse and worse. By the time the man was leaving, the dog was straining at the end of the leash, trying to maintain a good distance from her owner. This is an all too familiar scene. A longtime ago I trained my dogs the same way, before I knew. I never achieved a reliable recall with this method and had very unhappy dogs.

Why do we expect a dog to drop what it is doing and rush to us? Because we say so? And if they don’t come fast enough, we choke them. Think about this. If a friend of yours kept calling you over while you were in the middle of something very important, just to say ‘good.’ Would keep going over? Or would you finally stop going, would you not get aggravated at this friend? Now, if the same friend called you time and time again. Every time you came you received a chocolate truffle, you would keep coming happily wouldn’t you?

To get and keep a reliable recall from your dog, you must reward it for coming. You must train and train and train. You start out in a quiet area until your dog gets the idea. You then move to more and more distractions as your dog succeeds. You must never, EVER associate anything that your dog would consider negative to the word ‘come.’ A negative association to ‘come’ slows down the dogs response. Do use the command ‘Come’ when feeding, walking, playing or petting your dog. When you don’t follow the command ‘Come’ with a positive activity, you should ALWAYS reward your dog with a food treat or favorite toy. ‘Come’ could someday save your dogs life, but not if they don’t come.

Some dogs, like my Jack Russell need to be rewarded for a longer period of time. Even now at the age of 5 years, she is still rewarded for coming when highly distracted. She will stop, mid rabbit chase and come when called. But, this is only because it is well worth her while to do so. This goes against what her instinct tells her to do. But it has been ingrained so well by training, training, training, that it overrides her instinct. Pretty impressive in my books. This does not happen overnight, this took a lot of training and rewarding good behavior.

You cannot make a dog come when off leash, they must want to come. This is done by patient training. Having a close bond with your dog is definitely a key factor. If you are an unreliable, unpredictable leader, you will have an unreliable recall. Be a patient, kind and fair leader and you will have a dog that wants to come to you. Consistent, positive ‘come’ training will give you a reliable recall.

Go on to Stop the Practice of Starving Birds for Egg Production
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