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Norwich Bulletin - 3/12/2006

Dog 101

What is the most important command you can ever teach your canine companion? You know, the one command that could literally save your dog’s life? The answer is simple. Knowing that you can count on your dog to come when he is called is the key to feeling safe and secure when you are out in public and your dog gets loose, or bolts out of the kitchen door when you are trying to get inside with a bag of groceries.

If you are worried that your dog is too old to learn basic commands, then stop worrying and read on. While young puppies tend to follow people around, making it easier to teach them the command to come, older pups and adult dogs can learn the same command. Use tangible rewards, like food and toys, because attention and praise is not usually enough for the adults – they expect more from you than the puppies.

Start by choosing a word other than the word “Come” which is very commonplace and used too frequently by a variety of people. The word should be something short and easy to remember that will be between you and your dog. I know people who use the word “TREAT” or “HUGS” or other one syllable, easy to say words that their dog will respond to. Once you have the word, make a list of your dogs favorite things – be really specific.

For example, don’t say food – but list the specific foods that make your dog go crazy – hot dogs, cheese, liverwurst, etc. Also list favorite toys like squeaky bone or Frisbee. And list his favorite special types of pets – i.e. behind the ear scratching, etc. Then get all of these things together to start the training so you have the rewards ready and waiting.

The first step belongs indoors where you have more control over your dog. Since your dog knows your house, you become the focus of attention. Say your word when the dog is looking at you or already moving towards you. Praise him as he is coming to you and when he arrives, reward him with several of the treats or toys.

Practice this calling and rewarding at least ten times a day at random times, always having rewards ready and waiting. And after the reward, make sure you give your pet permission to return to whatever it was he was doing before you called him. Make sure your voice is always joyous so your dog knows how good he is.

Once you have the indoor recall down pat, you can then move your lessons outdoors. Again, make sure your dog is looking at you at first when you start calling him. The distance should be short in the beginning and you need to keep your dog leashed so he can’t run off.

As the dog gets better and better at his command, lengthen the lead and continue to get further and further away before you call your dog. Eventually you can drop the lead and let it drag on the ground, knowing that you can step on a long lead if you call your dog and he ignores you. If you start having a lot of failures when you get to this point, stop – regroup and start again with the shorter leash.

Once your dog comes reliably on the long line, you are ready for the final phase of training – the fenced in area where you can turn your dog loose. Say your special word and if he comes, reward him generously – if he does not come, he isn’t ready yet and you need to go a step backward. Go back to the long line for another two weeks and then try again. Remember, every dog is different (just like people) and they learn at different speeds.

While you are working at getting your dog to learn to come on command, remember to only call your dog when you are at least 95% sure that he will respond to you favorably. Do not set your dog up to fail by making it too hard on him. Also, make sure you always reward your dog generously when you get the reaction you are looking for. Let him know that you appreciate what a good dog he is!

Make sure you do not equate anything negative with your recall command. For instance, do not call him to you so you can scold him for chewing your couch pillows. If that happens too often, your dog will never be sure if he is coming to you for punishment or reward and the lessons will go along the wayside.

Remember, having a dog that will come when you call him will not only give you peace of mind, but will make it easier for you to share time with him off leash and share some fun and freedom.

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