A common frustration with dog owners is that their dogs would rather smell dirt, roll in a dead fish, eat vomit and chase chipmunks rather than come over to us. In times of emergency, we need our dogs to respond to us as well. In order to train a dog to come, it is helpful to first understand why they don't.
An obvious reason many people do not consider is that their dog is truly deaf! Deafness is not rare in dogs and sometimes can be linked with albinism. Older dogs can also lose their hearing. So it is good to know your dog can actually hear you before you spend a lot of time trying to train them to respond to verbal or auditory signals.
Some breeds such as northern breeds (e.g., huskies) and sight hounds (e.g., greyhounds) have a highly developed instinct to explore independently or to chase. These attributes allowed these dogs to survive in harsh climates or chase down game at 40 mph. For centuries these traits have been selected by humans to mold the best dogs for a specific job. Unfortunately, as companion dogs in an urban society, these traits are not helpful. Yet, it is crucial for the owners of these breeds to understand and respect their instincts and noble heritage.
Humans also do a great job at actually training dogs not to come to us. We do this by repeating their names over and over again so our dogs become desensitized. We do the same with the word "come."
We say "come" to our dogs when we have not actually trained them to come. We say "come" to our dogs in circumstances where there is not a way for us to make them come over, or in highly distracting environments. We say "come" in a harsh command like we are barking a military order (who wants to come over for that?). When our dogs finally do come over to us, they get punished. Or our dogs are having a great time off leash, and we call them over to us, put the leash on and take them away from fun. Dogs are not stupid. If this happens a few times, they will learn not to come over to us if they are free. Moreover, from a dog's point of view, if they can get us involved in a rewarding game of chase by not coming when called, even better! And if getting caught means getting punished, well then, don't get caught!
So how do we get our dogs to reliably come to us? Stay tuned for the next article in this series "More Interesting than Dirt."
Louisa Morrissey is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and owner of Skijor-n-More. She is also a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a licensed Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer.