APDT (the Association of Professional Dog Trainers) in 2010 started a campaign to dedicate a month of training awareness. They chose January since the holidays were a popular time that people would bring home dogs from breeders or shelters. Their mission is to bring awareness during January about the importance of socialization and training your new family member, or even an old companion – you can teach old dogs new tricks! APDT hopes to bring this awareness to the public and most importantly get the message across that training your dog can be easy, is definitely beneficial and is FUN!
To celebrate the month we wanted to provide a guest post from one of the Pro Pet Hero Pet Safe Businesses, Bright Star Pet Services.
Jessica Frost is the owner of Bright Star Pet Services, a pet sitting, dog walking, and dog training company located in Lake in the Hills, Illinois. She has trained her Giant schnauzers in competition obedience, rally-obedience, pulling a dog cart, canine freestyle (“doggy dancing”), and agility. She has taught and assisted group obedience classes for over five years at Northwest Obedience Club in Cary, Illinois.
As pet professionals, all the employees of Bright Star Pet Services are trained in pet first aid and CPR using the Pro Pet Hero system.
A Lifesaving Command: Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called
As a dog trainer, I like to start by teaching my clients’ dogs the most important and potentially life-saving command, “Come.” Sit, Down, and Stay are terrific, useful commands, but the recall ranks at the top for importance. I start by explaining the three essential aspects of training, which are true regardless of the command you are teaching. They are the keys to dog training success.
First, you need to have consistency. In a dog’s mind, “Fido, come!” is not the same as “Here, Fido!” What word or phrase do you want to use? Write it down on an index card on the refrigerator so everyone in the family can practice using the same cue.
Video of Cara Armour’s Boxers demonstrating recall with the command, “come”
Treats and Praise
The second key to success in recalls is making it fun for your dog to come to you. For most dogs, this can be easily achieved using tasty treats. You can also make yourself silly, play with your dog, and get excited, happy, and playful when he comes running to you.
Treats are best given in very small morsels like a jackpot machine, one after the other. I typically will give from 3 to 6 morsels for each reward when the dog comes running, while praising excitedly the whole time. Dogs actually enjoy this experience more than a single, large reward.
Note that some dogs want to play chase after coming to their owners. They will come almost in arm’s reach, and then dart off for more “chase-me!” fun. This is incredibly dangerous behavior if your dog gets loose. I once saw a Boxer on the run; he came to the owner, danced away excitedly and ran right into oncoming traffic. To prevent this tragedy, offer a tasty treat in one hand, but only give it to the dog when you have successfully taken hold of his collar with the other hand. Once the dog has the treat, you can let go of the collar and let him play again. If you have a “chase-me” dog, you will want to practice the collar-grab/treat routine until the dog is totally comfortable with it, and regularly thereafter. It is also helpful to ask the dog to ‘sit’ before providing the treat, and then reward him with the treat(s) and a burst of raucous play.
Repetition is the third key to success. Practice while walking your dog on leash, letting him get ahead of you, then suddenly backing up and calling him to you. Try calling him from the front door of your house, using a long leash to make sure he can’t run for the hills. If needed, you can reel him in after calling him. Practice anywhere your dog could potentially get loose or wherever you need to call him, for example, from the back door. Put the long leash on him so you can guarantee that he will return, but make it worth his while with tasty treats and praise.
Here we single out one of the 3 dogs for recall, the other 2 followed and were praised for good decision making
There are also three important, common pitfalls to avoid while teaching your dog the recall. These fundamental mistakes sometimes defy common sense, but I will explain why it is absolutely crucial that you avoid the following:
Never punish your dog for coming to you. To a dog, he associates what happened in the past 2-3 seconds with your actions. For instance, imagine if your dog digs through the trash and goes romping around the neighborhood, and you are desperately calling him and he isn’t coming to you. Your naughty pup has made you scared and angry, and your instinct is to punish him when he finally comes to you. If you do, the dog will associate your anger and punishment with the act of him coming to you. If he runs off again, he will be afraid to return for fear of punishment. In this situation I tell my clients they are allowed to swear at the dog, as long as they do it in a very sweet voice that sounds like praise. Sometimes it can be difficult and embarrassing to praise and reward a dog when all your neighbors know you’ve been chasing him around the neighborhood for a half-hour. It is still far better to praise your “naughty” dog, than to end up with a dog that refuses to come back at all.
The second rule: Except in life-threatening emergencies, don’t call your dog if you know he won’t come. If your dog is having a fantastic time at the dog park, and you call hi to come without prior training in that environment, you are setting him up to fail. In this case, you can encourage your dog but avoid using your trained recall command. If your recall command is, “Eddie, come!” it would be better to say something like, “OK Eddie, time to go!” Only use your trained command either when you know your dog will come, or you can get him to comply by reeling him in from a long line. Even if you have to reel him in, you should reward him for coming so next time will be easier.
The third rule: never chase a dog you want to catch. Tempting as it is, dogs will always be faster than humans, and their fight-or-flight response will kick in while you are chasing. The best way to catch a loose dog is to let him chase you: call him and start running backwards or perpendicular to him. An alternative is to drop to the ground and make puppy noises or pretend like you are eating something. You might or might not get the dog curious enough to explore, but I can tell you from experience that you don’t stand a chance chasing a healthy, young dog.
Just like with all health-related advice, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, teach your dog to come and accept having his collar grabbed, make it fun, and practice it regularly!