Coming When Called
You and your dog have practiced Walking On A Loose Leash.
Your dog is learning that forward progress—going where he wants to go—can happen only if he does not pull on the leash at all. If you feel any pressure on the leash, stop and wait for that pressure to release—for the dog to stop pulling. When he stops pulling, you move forward again.
You are teaching a default behavior—something the dog should always do unless you cue him to do something else. If you think that someday you might have a reason for your dog to pull—maybe he’ll learn to weight pull or power a sled—teach that behavior separately, with a cue (what used to be called a command) that tells him what you want. For now, he should not pull when leashed.
What else can you teach while you are walking your dog?
How about more practice at Coming When Called?
- As you walk along, with no warning, take a step backward—away from the dog—and call the dog to come to you: “Here!”
Encourage the dog with a happy smile, a welcoming body posture, and, if you can manage treats and a leash at the same time, a goodie that he will want to eat.
- Lure the dog to you with the treat.
- Hold his collar.
- Give the treat.
- Praise the dog.
- Repeat the cue (“Here!”) in your praise: “Good Here!”
- Release his collar.
- Walk ahead again.
At first, move back only a step or two, making it as easy as possible for your dog to pivot, turn, and hurry to you. As the dog becomes familiar with what you expect, step back farther. When the dog turns and comes to you without ever putting forward pressure on the leash, you have succeeded. Your goal is an instant response to your “Here!”
Once you’re consistently getting an instant response when you call and back away, make the exercise more challenging to your dog.
- As the dog pivots to come toward you, run away—initially, just a few steps more.
Add more distance as your dog improves. Eventually, you should be able to run quite far with the dog chasing after you.
- Once you stop, take the dog’s collar and reward him. Lots of praise with the treats!
Most humans are not very good at running backward, which is why I suggest that you run “away” from your dog—that is, facing away from him. If you are really good at running backward, you may get an even better Come When Called because the dog will be looking at your face while he runs to you. However, unless you are a great backward runner, don’t take any chances!
What if running isn’t your thing? Not a problem. It’s quite possible to call the dog to Come while walking even if you’re in a walker or a wheelchair, or unsteady on your feet. You just have to work a little harder to be appealing because, of course, it’s the movement that makes this exercise easy to teach. If you can’t move quickly, offer better rewards! More treats, higher-value treats, more praise, more encouragement—the exercise should work just as well for you.
Your practice of Coming When Called during walks comes in handy when you encounter obstacles on your path—possibly another dog that looks very shy or very unfriendly. Avoid anything you don’t want to confront by calling your dog to come to you for treats and praise.
Likewise, if you can call your dog away from attractive nuisances—small children eating ice cream cones, for example—you’ll probably have much more pleasant walks with fewer chances for your dog to get in trouble. I’ve used the Coming When Called when walking many times to call my dog away from something lying on the ground—dead birds, rotten food, cigarette butts, and the like. Look ahead, see it before your dog sees it, and offer your dog a more attractive alternative!
You can also use Coming When Called on leash to call your dog back to you from something you’ve allowed him to do—for example, meeting another dog or a person. Before the dog becomes overly excited or overly friendly, call him and step back, encouraging him in every way to move toward you, rewarding him in every way when he does come to you. The best dog and people greetings are short and sweet. Use Coming When Called to control the situation.
For training when walking, think about investing in a treat pouch to wear, like a fanny pack, around your waist, with the pouch in front. The best treat pouches have “French purse” closures so that they shut firmly and open easily with just one hand.
A treat pouch is a convenience for you, keeping your pockets clean and unchewed (if you happen to forget treats in pockets and leave your pants where your dog can reach them). For your dog, it becomes another sign that good stuff is available in exchange for good behavior.
(Of course, remember to put the treat pouch away safely when you get home. Your dog should never be in a position to steal treats.)
Enjoy your walks together!