For some dogs ‘come’ means run as far away as you possibly can and if possible, migrate to the next country – well, the next dog park. These dogs have learned coming back means we are going home and the end of the fun.
Of all the basic cues to teach your dog, coming back is probably the most important and sometimes the most difficult one. Coming back under all circumstances and always has many benefits and can avoid real problems, such as being run over by a car, a confrontation with another dog, meeting a snake or just a kid who is scared of dogs.
Dogs do not come back because the world out there is very rewarding and the off-leash time is often the best part of the day! But it is possible and very rewarding to teach your dog to come back if you stick to some basic rules:
- Teach your dog what ‘come’ means
- Make it worthwhile for your dog
- Manage the environment and prevent self-reinforcing
- If you are in the dog park, let him go again
- Never ever punish or rouse on a dog that came back (even after 2 hours)
Teach your dog what ‘come’ means
Take a piece of food or a toy, show it to your dog and move backwards saying ‘come’. As soon as your dog catches up to you, give him the treat/toy. You are associating the word ‘come’ with moving towards you and be in a position close to you for the reward. At the same time hold your dog gently on the collar. This is a safety measure to get your hands on your dog in an emergency. You also don’t want a ‘drive by dog’; a dog that comes, takes the treat and takes off again. Once your dog understands this, call your dog between family members in the house or the backyard and make it a really great game. You then take this game to a slightly more distracting environment, like a fenced dog park at low traffic times.
Make it worthwhile for your dog
You have to figure out what is most rewarding for your dog; a specific squeaky toy, some really nice treat, a play with you or a cuddle. Once you have figured this out, reserve this special reward for coming back and your dog only gets it when he comes back. Do not phase out the reward and don’t be stingy – a pat on the head will not cut it. A jackpot improves motivation!
Manage the environment and prevent self-reinforcing
In the early stages you will have to manage the environment very carefully. Work with long leashes or in fenced off areas. Then gradually make it more difficult.
If you are in the dog park let her go again
If you are in the dog park, call your dog every 4 or 7 minutes with a happy voice, give him a really nice treat or have a quick play but then let him go again. Coming back does not mean the end of the fun. Also reward when your dog is checking in with you.
Never ever punish or rouse on a dog who came back
Even if it took you 2 hours to get your dog to come back to you, you have to reward him for coming back. If you punish your dog, it will only set back your training. Your dog just showed you that you have to improve your training.
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