Dogs heading over to you when called is one of the most crucial training lessons a dog needs. It’s also one of the hardest ones to do effectively and requires a lot of patience. Worry not, we're here to help.
It’s not an uncommon situation.
You're at the park and in a rush. You call out to your dog, and it refuses to come over, and now you're left having to chase it around until you catch it.
Dogs heading over to you when called is one of the most crucial training lessons a dog needs. It’s also one of the hardest ones to do effectively and requires a lot of patience.
Now before we teach you how to fix this situation, let’s understand why your dog is ignoring you in the first place.
Why is your dog ignoring you
The first thing to realize is your dog is never ignoring you out of spite. It simply doesn’t know.
Your dog may show signs of recognizing its name when you call it, but it still can't understand what this means to them. Especially when its name may be used in a variety of different circumstances.
Secondly, your dog may be suspicious of why you’re calling. This is because often when owners use their dog names - it usually means they’ve done something bad. Dogs can sense this in the one of how you say their name and by associating what it did before when you called out its name. Why head over to a sound it knows could mean bad news?
Finally, dog’s haven’t learned the utility of rushing towards you when called. This can come across as passive ignorance and usually means it can’t be bothered listening to you but would rather chase the butterflies around. The dog simply sees no point in rushing over… unless there’s a food bowl in your hand.
Okay got it. So now you know why your dog ignores you but before you teach your dog to come when called, how do you handle one who hasn’t been trained yet?
This means you’ll first need to know how to secure dog as you train it.
Securing your dog
It's important to secure your dog as a free-roaming dog that doesn't know when to come when called is a way of self positive reinforcement. It makes sense, because a dog that's ignoring you and doesn't know what it's doing wrong will ultimately think that everything is normal when it comes to the behavior it's exhibiting.
So, start by hitting the kill-switch on off-leash time. Until your dog is trained, your dog can never be off-leash in public places. If this isn't feasible or worries you, try investing in a long training lead and a harness for your dog so that when it's off running about it feels like freedom, but you've always got the ability to get your dog back when needed. If you call your dog ignores you, reel them in so it starts to teach them when your beckoning means.
Once this has been mastered, now you can start to train them in the following ways:
Don’t punish them
Punishment is always the worst way to teach what’s known as recall training to dogs. This is because dogs only learn this if the punishment is done immediately after the action and not seconds or minutes after it once you’ve chased them down.
This can spell trouble as the dog may start to associate being near you as punishment, instead of ignoring you. So using punishment to teach them not to ignore your calls is a bad idea.
Alternatively, shower them with pets and cuddles when you finally get them in your hands. This associates you approaching them positively and encourages your dog to jump into your arms rather than be afraid of punishment.
Lots of positive reinforcement
Whenever your dog hears your call and clearly shows it was attentive - reward them immediately. Give them treats, praise, and pets. Be sure to reward them with treats they really like as you're going to want them to associate this behavior very positively.
As your dog learns and gets better at paying attention to your calls, you can start to wean away the treats as positive reinforcement training starts to stick.
Never repeat yourself
The girl that cried wolf is a good analogy to use here. The more you repeat yourself to grab your dogs attention, the more it dilutes the actual 'call' being used.
Shouting “Rufus, come here bud” multiple times if your dog ignores the first few will just result in your dog starting to interpret it as noise. As a result, only call your dog once. Dogs have acute hearing and have definitely registered what you just said, repeating it won’t help as they aren’t responding because they don’t know what it means.
Call them once, and if there’s no response reel them in and employ the tactics above.
Release = Reward
Finally, start training your dog to associate a release with a reward as well. Whenever you release your dog, give them a treat and lots of pets. When you call them back and they respond positively, release them again, and reward them.
This is important because eventually, your dog needs to understand that coming to you doesn't mean it's going to get leashed and taken away but rewarded to roam free yet again.
If you leash your dog too soon before teaching them that releases are rewarding, it’ll start associating your calls in a negative way. The dog will start to think each call means getting leashed, and taken back home - away from the fun free leash life in the park or backyard.
Once this training is set in stone, when you do call your dog that odd time when you do need to leash it and take it home, this won't dent the numerous positive reinforcement training you've done before.