My Dog Won’t Come When Called

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Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
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Why won’t dogs Come when called? What is going on and what can you do about it?

I get a lot of questions about obedience. My dog doesn’t like to Down, is that normal? Sit means sit, right? When my dog is bad, I tell him Sit. My trainer says that my dog doesn’t need to learn how to Heel, what do you feel about that? What words should I use to train my dog? Is it better to say Good Dog, or Good? Should I say No to my dog? What do I do if I’m walking my dog and we run across another dog?

Dog training can be difficult to understand and apply without expert assistance. Things aren’t as simple as they appear. We look at a dog, tell it to do something, and figure that they should just get it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Dogs don’t perceive their world the way we do. They process information differently than humans, they have different needs, are interested in different things, and have “super powers” in the form of smell and hearing, and enhanced perceptions of some aspects of nature, that far exceed our abilities.

I think the first thing to consider when trying to get a dog to do a behavior, such as Come when called, is to know what the command really means. A good guide is to look at what the command means in competition. All those “silly” competition rules have a basis in reality, defining precise, peak performance. Thus, a dog that can do the command as describe in a competition has a better ability to do that command in the real world. A competition dog needs to know exactly what you are commanding, and do it properly and with a good attitude. And the handler must give the command with a certain attitude in order to be doing it correctly.

For example, here are the command rules for AKC competition…

Commands and Signals. When these regulations mention a command or signal, only a single command or signal may be given. Any extra commands or signals must be penalized. When these regulations specify command and/or signal, the handler may give either one or the other or both command and signal simultaneously. When a signal is permitted, it must be a single gesture with one arm and hand only, and the arm and hand must immediately be returned to a natural position.”

These are the same expectations I have for students when giving commands to their fully trained dogs in the real world. We work to make a dog respond to a single command. Nothing is more evident of an untrained dog or owner than someone that keeps repeating the command over and over again. When I see that, I know this person doesn’t have a trained dog, and the person is making things worse by letting this go on. I also teach hand signals, and those must be given the same way as if the dog was in competition. The formality of the obedience competition has a practical purpose. It isn’t all just for show and getting ribbons.

Using The Dog’s Name: “The dog’s name may be used once immediately before any verbal command or before a verbal command and signal when these regulations permit command and/or signal. The name will not be used with any signal not given simultaneously with a verbal command. The dog’s name, when given immediately before a verbal command, will not be considered as an additional command, but a dog that responds to its name without waiting for the verbal command will be scored as having anticipated the command.”

People that don’t understand dog training don’t understand the purpose for using a dog’s name. The name has a specific function in obedience, and so I teach “why” to my students, and I also teach “when” the name should or should not be used. The proper use of the dog’s name is very important to having a dog obey off leash.

When Should The Dog Obey The Command? “The dog should never anticipate the handler’s directions but will wait for the appropriate commands and/or signals. Moving forward at the heel without any command or signal other than the natural forward movement of the handler’s body will not be considered anticipation.”

Dogs should obey commands. But, an improperly trained or managed dog has to look for other clues from the owner because the owner doesn’t know what the heck they are doing. This kind of confusion can cause a dog to break a command, and be injured in an accident in the real world. Commands have to be taught clearly so that the dog knows exactly when to obey. And a dog owner must not only be able to give commands properly, but also convey the right leadership and dominant attitude such that the dog obeys the command. All this needs to be taught because it won’t just come naturally.

Loud commands by handlers to their dogs create a poor impression of obedience and should be avoided. Shouting is not necessary, even in a noisy place, if the dog is properly trained to respond to a normal tone of voice. Commands the judge feels are excessively loud will be penalized substantially.”

How many times do we see people yelling at their dogs? If you are yelling, then you aren’t properly trained, and the dog sure isn’t properly trained. The training is NOT complete. The dog also suffers in attitude when yelled at, and the performance gets worse. That’s why there is such a severe penalty for loud commands in competition. You are supposed to demonstrate mastery of the skills, and the same is true with your dog. If you’re yelling, then the training isn’t complete. And if you are yelling, you are an embarrassment to everyone around you, and you are actually making the dog’s performance get worse over time.

Praise. Praise and petting are allowed between and after exercises, but points will be deducted from the total score for a dog that is not under reasonable control while being praised. There will be a substantial penalty for any dog that is picked up or carried at any time in the obedience ring.”

Most people never learn how to properly praise or pet a dog for obedience. I spend a considerable amount of time demonstrating the correct technique. You will never get top performance out of any dog if you don’t know how to praise and pet your dog.

Misbehavior. Any display of fear or nervousness by the dog or any uncontrolled behavior such as snapping, barking or running away from its handler must be penalized according to the seriousness of the misbehavior, whether it occurs during or between an exercise or before or after judging. The judge may excuse the dog from further competition in the class.”

As a dog trainer and behaviorist, many times it is impossible to get top performance out of a dog until you solve other behavioral issues the dog has, such as aggression, fear or anxiety. Today, as I’m writing this article, I started with a dog that was abandoned on the streets of Durango, CO. It is a long story, and I’ll probably write an article about that dog in a few months once we work through this dog’s issues. One major problem is that since this dog had to survive alone, it gets very worried when on walks after about 15 minutes. Then, the dog starts panicking, won’t eat treats, doesn’t respond to petting or praise, and then it becomes harder and harder to get the dog to work around strangers. So, we already are beginning a process to work through this issue with the dog. Without that, then this dog will never be as obedient as he could be otherwise.

Abuse of Dogs. The Event Committee will investigate any report of abuse or severe disciplining of dogs on the grounds or premises of a show, trial or match. Any person whose conduct is in any manner prejudicial to the best interests of the sport will be dealt with promptly.”

Some people envision dog training as somehow being abusive to dogs. As you can see, abuse is NOT TOLERATED. Dog abuse, including rough treatment of dogs by dog owners, doesn’t make for a better dog. That dog of yours isn’t going to come if you are abusive.

Standard of Perfection. The judge must carry a mental picture of the theoretically perfect performance for each exercise and score each dog and handler against this standard. This “perfect picture” must comply with these regulations and shall combine the utmost in willingness, enjoyment and precision on the part of the dog with naturalness, gentleness and smoothness on the part of the handler. Speed alone does not necessarily indicate willingness and enjoyment. Lack of willingness and enjoyment on the part of the dog must be penalized, as must lack of precision in the dog’s performance. Roughness in handling, military precision or harsh commands by the handler must also be penalized. There shall be no penalty of less than one-half point.”

Finally, take a look at what excellent obedience is supposed to look like. I always train towards that standard of perfection. I try to get the most out of every dog and dog owner. Because this is a standard of PERFECTION, it isn’t possible to get all of this from every dog. But, that is what you should be shooting for.

So, the title of this article is, ” My Dog Won’t Come When Called”. Now, you know just a small bit about why your dog isn’t coming. And I haven’t even covered all of the specific exercises I use to teach this one command, why I teach them, the steps a dog needs to go through in the learning process, or what each exercise does. I haven’t discussed what methods I use. I haven’t discussed different breeds. I haven’t discussed different temperaments. I haven’t discussed Advanced Obedience, Agility, Swim Lessons, or a whole lot of other skills. And I haven’t discussed how best to work with different types of people with different types of dogs.

There is a LOT involved in order to have a very obedient dog. A lot more than you can get through some pet store program; electric collar program; or by trying to train your dog on your own. That’s why professionals like me have a reason to exist. There is a lot to learn in order to do it right.

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.