Why Won’t My Dog Come when I Call
“My dog only comes when he wants to.”
That’s what most owners say about their dog’s recall.
It seems like magic to get a dog that always comes when called. But it’s one of my favorite ways to demonstrate the effectiveness of force free dog training.
Behavior is Expensive
You’re right in the middle of doing something. It might be something you enjoy or it might be a chore like cooking dinner or doing the laundry.
Your spouse calls from upstairs.
Do you drop everything and run upstairs to see what’s going on?
Ignore it, figuring if it’s important, they will come looking for you.
Yell back without interrupting what you’re doing to seek clarity?
(Bonus: Do you ever get annoyed?)
Behavior is expensive. Stopping what you’re doing is expensive. Even if you’re just lazing on the couch, it takes a lot to get up.
They Should Do It for Love, Not for Money!
No matter how much you love your spouse, I bet not a one of you will consistently run upstairs when called. But what if, every time, you did, your spouse deposited $1000 into your bank accoount? I bet you’d be more likely to run upstairs!
But what if, every time you came, your spouse took $100 out of your account?
Taking Money Out of Your Dog's Bank Account
$ When your dog comes to you at the dog park, he gets the leash clipped on and has to go home.
You just took money out of his bank account!
$ Your dog comes to you and gets a swat on the butt for not coming to you sooner.
You just took a LOT of money out of his bank account!
$ Your dog is chasing a squirrel but comes to you. You tell him he’s a good boy.
He was having fun and now he’s not. That’s another drain to the bank account.
What would happen if your spouse called you up and ruffled your hair and said, “thanks”? You’d probably come if you didn’t have anything better going on and felt like climbing the stairs.
This is like us using praise to tell the dog that we’re happy they came when we called them. It might work! But it’s going to depend on their mood and what else they have going on.
Dogs Do What Works
Unfortunately, a lot of times, what works best from their point of view, is ignoring you.
Instead of coming when called:
They get to chase the squirrel.
They get to continue having fun at the park.
They get to continue snoozing.
Getting Your Dog to Come When Called
You call your dog. When he shows up, chicken rains from the sky. That’s worth getting up for. That’s worth leaving the dog park. That’s like a $1000 in the bank account. But if he’s chasing a squirrel and he doesn’t know chicken will rain from the sky, he’s still not going to come to you.
Always prepare your treats well before any of these steps. You don’t want the preparation to be the tip off that treats are coming. You want your recall word to be the tip off.
Step 1 – teach your dog to associate high value treats with your recall word
When you’re at home, not too far from your dog, and your dog isn’t doing anything special, call out your word and act really excited. You can clap, crouch down, whatever you need to do to get them to come investigate. When they show up, soft smelly, amazing people food rains down from the heavens! Chicken, hot dog pieces, cheese, whatever it is, it needs to be beyond regular dog treats and like thousand dollar bills falling from the sky. Do this once. You can try it again later in the day. But don’t drill it.
Step 2 – more distance
Do the same as in Step 1 but start from another room. Use the recall word. What a beat. Then use happy talk, clapping or whatever you need to get the dog to come.
Step 3 – recall word only
Do the same, but don’t use the happy talk. The recall word is the thing they should be noticing by now. If you have trouble, go back to step 2.
Step 4 – recall when on a walk (adding in distractions)
With your dog on a longer leash (6′), use your word and get the dog to come to you. Have a chicken falling from the sky party! This is much harder due to distractions.
If this is too hard, you can start on a leash in your backyard and then move to this step.
Step 4 – dog comes to you in an off leash area (after play and nearby)
After your dog has had time to play and is getting a bit tired, when you’re not too far from your dog, ask him to come to you using your recall word. Treats fall from the sky! (Don’t put your dog’s leash on and ask him to go home right now! Let him go play some more. At the end, catch him as you usually do.)
Step 5 – dog comes to you in an off leash area (after play but further from you)
Same as Step 4 but when your dog is further from you.
Step 6 – dog comes to you in an off leash area (before play but close to you)
Near your dog but when you get to the dog park, before fun and play.
Step 7 – dog comes to you in an off leash area (before play and far from you)
Across the park before play. If your dog this, congratulations! You have a dog that will come to you under most distractions!
Step 8 – maintenance!
Now that your dog comes when called, you might think you can go back to a pat on the head and telling him, “good boy!”
But you’re draining that bank account again. It might work for awhile until he realizes that coming when called is no fun. In fact, the fun ends when they show up.
Don’t call your dog unless you can pay handsomely!
I teach my dogs to come when called in two ways. One is the high reward way above. The other is a different word with less reinforcement history because I don’t always have amazing food on me. But when they hear the word with all of that rich reinforcement history, we have a contract. They come and they will be amazed at the delightful things they get from me.
In an Emergency
If you must get your dog to come to you RIGHT NOW and you don’t have food on you, but you can get to high value treats, use your happy talk to bridge the gap. “What a good boy!!! what a good boy!! oh my goodness, let’s walk to the kitchen and get you some of that good boy chicken!!!”
If you can’t get to food at all because you’re not home, just remember to make some extra deposits into the bank account!
If your dog won’t come when you call, let’s talk! I love putting a great recall on a dog. It’s so much fun to train. If you need help getting your dog to come when called and you live in the greater Sacramento area, contact me. Let’s do this thing!
I think this is a great analogy. This will be helpful for many to understand this more clearly. Thanks for the article .
Like the simplicity. TREATS !
Also, highlighting Maintenance – some tend to think that once the dog has learned the recall, s/he will respond the same way forever without random high value treats.
Yes! You are bringing up such a great point!
“Sit” is such easy behavior for a dog to offer and many dogs will continue to provide a good sit just working on praise alone. But recalls are such “expensive” behavior, especially when you’re asking a dog that’s interested in something else to come back to you. People often don’t realize that they need to continue to heavily reinforce a good recall!
The human equivalent of “sit” might be asking the person next to you to pass the salt! 😉
Glad you enjoyed the article!
Yes! Thanks for your comments, Kee!
Nicely written! Of course, I almost feel like I wrote this! I say over and over again: Of course they only do it when they want to. Our job is to make them want to do it!
And I use the analogy of “do you always stop what you’re doing and jump up and go running whenever your spouse calls you? Or do you sometimes say ‘just a minute’ or wait for them to come to you?”
Ha! That is so excellent that you use the same analogy. Your analogy of “just a minute” is a perfect example that everyone will relate to. I’d love to add it to the article and attribute to you. I’d be happy to link back to your website. (If that sounds good, email me your full name and if there’s anywhere deeper on your website that you’d like to link to. Kayla @ understanding dog training dot com)
We expect dogs to drop everything and come running because they love us, when we don’t even do that for our spouses.
Thanks for sharing another fabulous analogy!
Thanks so much for your kind words! 🙂
I’ve never used treats when training but found that praise has just as positive of an affect. Of course it takes repetition (lots and lots of repetition), but it works. Dogs love to know they’re pleasing their humans. If you get excited and love on them when they come (or sit, stay, etc) it works wonders. My dog also knows the “emergency” come, but that again comes from spending so much time with her she just knows when I mean “business”.
If it’s working for you, that’s what matters! But many or most people won’t get a good recall that way. You may have inspired another blog post. 🙂