Recall Series: Part 1

“Come Fido!” The owner calls in a cheery voice. Fido, who had been sniffing a choice blade of grass, looks up and spots his two-legged companion. With a joyous expression on his face, Fido romps to his owner, tail wagging all the way.  

Does this sound familiar? No? How about this:

“Come Fido! Fido, come! Come HERE! Fido, COME darnit! Come come COME!!!”

If you are nodding your head and rolling your eyes, read on!

What did you picture in your head when you read the second scenario? Probably a dog either running in the opposite direction of his owner, or totally ignoring the owner and sniffing around, doing his own thing.

So, why isn’t the dog coming? Well, there are many reasons a dog might ignore a recall, and we’ll be covering several of them over the following weeks. This week, we’ll be looking at the word itself:

“You keep on using that word – I don’t think it means what you think it means!”
or, Are you naming the wrong behavior?

How do we get a dog to learn what a word (or hand signal, or other cue) means to begin with? We say the word just before or just as they are doing the behavior, until they have learned the association. “Ooooh, that sound ‘sit’ means if I put my rump on the floor, I get a treat. Cool!”

So what do you think is happening in the previous scenario? The owner is saying the word “come” as the dog is doing the behavior of running away. Since the dog isn’t coming, the owner repeats the word over and over. Do you think this makes the dog more likely to come? Probably not! In fact, this could be teaching the dog that come actually means run away, since that’s what he’s always doing when he hears it!!

So, how do you fix it? First off, don’t repeat the word if the dog isn’t responding. Say it once, maybe twice if you’re concerned he didn’t hear you, and then just make a mental note that you need to spend more time training that behavior. If you need the dog to come right that instant, just go get him … or run the opposite direction, which often works for dogs who think you’re playing keep-away.

Also, if you’re concerned that your dog already believes “come” means “run away”, reteach a recall using a different word. Common words are “here”, “front”, and “return”, but you can use anything that sounds good to you.

As always, if you’re having trouble, look for a trainer who uses fun and pain-free techniques to give you a hand – we can help you find one if we’re too far away!

Next time: A Broken Cue, or “Bait and Switch”

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