Calling a Dog Back

Working with high-energy dogs who don’t see a point in coming when called…

What do we do?? Once a dog has decided to run after a bird, a cat, or another dog, it’s usually too late to get them back the first time we call. The first step that I have found vital for a situation like this (working with a young, high-energy, untrained, “obsessive” dog) is to start out on a long line (leash). I actual prefer using those Flexi leashes because it doesn’t tie up the dogs when they play – sometimes causing an injury.

While it seems obvious, here is a point many dog owners miss: If you can’t call your dog back when he’s on a (long)leash, then you will not be able to call him back when he or she is off leash. So I keep the dog I am training on a long lead until I can reliable call him or her back from any situation – other dogs, people, birds, cats… anything.

Every step of the way, remember to really, really, really reward them when they do come back to you! Even if you had to yell their name five times at the top of your lungs. When your dog makes the choice to come back to you – JACK POT. Don’t get frustrated with them – especially don’t physically harm them in any way. They have to feel that you are genuinely stoked that they decided to come back. Once they are good on the lead, you can start off-leash. If you notice that’s not going very well – go right back on the leash! You don’t want a small problem to turn in to an actual problem…

I give my dogs chances to come back in phases: If I see they’re getting distracted by something they might want to chase (dog, cat, bird, whatever…) I give them a warning sound: a “Tst!” or a “Hey!” If they make the mistake of beginning to run off, I call their name once in a normal voice. If they don’t immediately respond by coming back, I scream their name as if my life depended on it. I don’t care how it sounds – it’s loud, obnoxious, and everything else. But it has the surprise factor. Because a dog that is chasing something that he wants is in a zone or a trance. All they are thinking about is that goal and they might not even hear you. So it’s your job to get “snap them out of it.” Letting out a loud sound (their name) is your only way of getting through to them if they are off leash. They learn to block repetitive name-calling out and, hey, if they don’t respond to you calling like a mad person – chances are they won’t come back if you call again. That’s when I just follow them or do something else to get them back. Then it’s back to the leash.

For a dog there is NO bigger reward or treat than the thing they are chasing or the dog they want to meet. Which is one reason why solely working with treats doesn’t work as reliably in this case. What do you think your dog wants: the rabbit or the little treat he gets all the time? Exactly.

Good luck!


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