I have a theory that teaching dogs to come when called isn’t about teaching them anything at all. I know this to be true with Rico and Roxy.
I’ve never taught them the “come” cue, but they never…OK, Roxy has never failed to come when called. Rico might take time to consider whether or not it’s in his best interest to come to me or stick with what he’s doing.
But when it really matters – like when gusting winds blew the gate open one day– they come running when called.
I thought that just resulted from the wonderful relationship I have with them. Now, after volunteering in the two shelters I wrote about last week, I don’t think we’re so special. I think just about any dog will come under the right circumstances.
See, I had taken a few dogs out to the fenced-in areas to stretch their legs. To make sure they got enough movement in, I would walk to opposite sides of the yard, squat down, outstretch my arms and call them with the sweetest voice I could muster.
Each one came running. The first time. And every time.
When they arrived, they got hugged, scratched in whatever spot made them smile, cooed in that silly, sweet voice. And they ate it up.
They could have played with the tennis balls and rope toys, sniffed everywhere, jumped in the water of the kiddie pool, watched the other volunteers walking dogs past the fence …
Yet they never failed to come when I called.
I walked into this having no relationship with any of these dogs. I spent only about 10-15 minutes with each one. By the time we walked back to their kennels, however, I felt a connection to each one.
Once home, I revisited the training manual I received when I enrolled in a dog training program. (I dropped out before graduating because of a difference in philosophy over the use of pinch collars.)
The instructions for teaching dogs to come are 22 pages long. It goes over how to add distance and what to do about distractions, how to make it a game, what to do when your dog does this or that.
They’re pretty in depth and, frankly, a tad bit intimidating.
But I think teaching dogs to come can be boiled down to two words: show love.
I’ve decided to put this idea to the test. A couple days ago, I submitted my application to volunteer at a local animal shelter. I have to attend an orientation in July. After that, I’ll blog about the experience here. And maybe a few homeless dogs will come running into the arms of doting adopters.