"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

Puppy and Obedience Training Without Food or Fear

Come When Called

– Posted in: All Positive Dog Training, Columns

Come When CalledHi there,

I have a 1.5 year old Golden Retriever/Rottweiler cross, and he is generally very good but he does have a problem which I don’t seem to be able to fix. While outside he doesn’t always come when called. He knows his name! but he just tunes me out whenever he feels like it. I’ve tried a ‘clicker’ that was supplied by a trainer and I’ve tried rewards in the form of treat and they seemed to work, but only for a short time.

Monica and “Chandler”


Dear Monica,

Come” doesn’t mean come to most dogs. The dogs of an awful lot of dog owners seem to think it means, “Have you’ve got a minute? If not check your PDA and get back to me when it’s more convenient.” Here’s the reason. An important teacher/student rule in nature is, “If you can’t be caught. You can’t be taught.” and unless you even the playing field Chandler will not likely ever believe that “Come!” means point B to point A. When a dog is faster and more agile and add to that that in their mind the reward they’re headed for has more value then what you’ve got to offer then even Timmy the trainer wouldn’t be able to get Lassie to come home. Eliminate Chandler’s ability to blow you off by letting him drag a long rope and get hold of it before you tell him to “Come!” That pretty much takes the mystery out of it for him. Leave him on a long line when ever you’re out with him until he doesn’t question the inevitability of it. Add distractions in increments and he’ll learn to come.

The clicker training suggested to you has its merits but it has come to be a little controversial in dog training circles. The overall idea and original appeal is that it provides an all positive way to shape a dog’s behaviour. Simply put, the trainer clicks a device of some sort to notify the dog it is on the right track and then rewards the dog with normally food. The dog doesn’t need to demonstrate the hoped for end result right away but a little piece of it which is added on as the dog purposefully or accidentally moves toward the desired end result. Critics suggest that for any creature this is an unnatural way to both teach and to learn and that the idea of all positive learning is non-existent in humans or animals. They do not believe that a dog will have its self-esteem irreparably compromised should an appropriate method and measure of discouragement be added to the mix. There is also the concern that the time line and level of expertise required with clicker training with regard to timing and recognition of a dog’s behaviour nuances makes it impractical for the average dog owner with an end result that the dog will be excluded from far too many outings with their owners.

I’m not opposed to letting a dog know when it’s off track and balancing that with a “Well done!” I’ve found that because the method is such a standard teaching/learning theme for both animals and humans that it is more easily embraced by the average dog owner. Sensibly applied I’ve never seen an end result other then an obedient and confident dog that gets to go places and do things that many other dogs are excluded from due to poor attentions spans and ability to exert self control. That said, I’m very careful about associating anything negative with the command “Come!” I just don’t want the dog to prioritize the positives available, as in chase and potential capture of the neighbour’s cat vs a pat on the head upon arrival to me, hence the long line to shave down the options. It will allow a reasonable degree of freedom but not the freedom to ignore you and once he understands the true definition of the word “Come!” both you and the neighbour’s cat can enjoy your outings more.

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