Morrissey: Make yourself more interesting than dirt to your dog
April 30, 2012
How do we get our dogs to come to us? In training language, we call this “recall”.
We need to train dogs what “come” or “here” means and establish this behavior first in a very controlled environment. We say the word “come” or “here” only one time, and make sure we have set up for success. This means being 99 percent sure that your dog will actually come to you at the time. Playing hide-n-seek with your dog in your house is a great way to teach it that coming and finding you is a fun and rewarding game!
Once we have a reliable recall with zero distractions in the house, we gradually add in more temptations. The key word here is gradually. At each step, the dog is conditioned to respond to “come” or “here” to the point that it becomes a reflex or habit. Each time you increase the distraction level from house to yard to six-foot leash, to 30-foot-long leash and finally to off leash, you must be sure that you have a 99 percent chance that your dog will come to you. If you only have a 10 percent chance and your dog repeatedly blows you off, you just trained your dog not to come. Take your time and move in gradual increments.
As we ask our dogs to leave harder temptations, we need to become “more interesting than dirt,” and from a dog’s perspective, smelling dirt is as addictive as Facebook! We can do this by playing engaging games such as fetch, ball, stick, hide-n-seek or Frisbee. We can offer high- value treats that make it worthwhile for your dog to come such as small pieces of cooked chicken or beef.
One of the most challenging moments is when your dog has spent the last five minutes blowing you off and then finally saunters over to you. While frustration on your part is understandable, punishment at this moment will only teach them not to come to you. Give a reward for coming, and then train your dog in less stimulating environments for a while.
Another great exercise is “leash on/leash off.” While your dog is playing, call them over, reward them, put their leash on then take it off and release them back to play. In time, you dog will no longer associate the leash in your hand, or your request to come over with game over and fun over.
It is also important to be realistic and make wise decisions. If a dog has a very strong prey drive that is highly instinctual, it’s probably a good idea to have them on a leash in an environment where it is likely for them to find something to chase (as in wildlife or livestock). When we notice our dogs showing an alert head, body and ears, that’s the golden time to call them, not when they are in full-chase mode.
So train your dog to come to you so that it becomes a reflex. Reward them with high-value treats, praise, games and life rewards, and make your self more interesting than dirt.