Learning to Come When Called

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.

Rico in water deciding whetheror  not to come when called.

Rico loves wading in water, but, eventually, he did come to me.

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.

Domino

Domino is just a puppy, but instantly ran into my arms without hesitation.

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.

Daisy

Will run for back scratches

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.

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About Christie Green

A student of martial arts since 1995, a writer since 1999, and an animal-lover for all of time
This entry was posted in Mindful Dog Training Tips, Odds and Ends and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Learning to Come When Called

  1. I love your “training” approach! You are exactly right ~ it is all about putting forth positive energy. One of our neighbors across the street from us is just not getting it: he YELLS at his poor dog Charlie to come inside furiously, because Charlie of course never “obeys”. I wouldn’t either, quite frankly! If I had the choice between romping around in the yard and approaching frustrated, negative energy, I’d keep on romping!!

    • Hi Barbara and thank you! It must be totally frustrating and heartbreaking to listen to your neighbor yelling at poor Charlie everyday. Some people have such a lack of self-awareness, they are clueless how they express themselves even when glaringly obvious to others. Here’s hoping the practice of mindfulness catches on with mainstream.

  2. You are very lucky! My previous dogs behaved as you said – they came when they were called and I never did any real “training” with them. I have had a couple of scary moments with Ruby escaping and she has no recall whatsoever. We have a great relationship and she knows over 25 tricks, but she loves running, chasing moving things (and being chased) more than anything. We are going to start delving into those 22 pages of instructions, I’m afraid.

    • Ah, the thrill of the chase. Our neighborhood seems to have almost as many wild bunnies as people. If I can stop the chase before it starts, we’re OK. But if R&R see it first, and I don’t signal for them to stop, that’s the same to them as me saying “Go for it!” I wonder if Ruby would improve her recall, at least a little, if you routinely made yourself a fun thing for her to chase and, of course, be caught during playtime? It might translate into real world situations once she sees how fun you are to catch.

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