We’ve all been there — our dog slips the leash and dashes off, leaving us frantically calling in her wake.
For us humans, the concern is real. Off-leash dogs can get attacked by other animals, picked up by animal control, hit by a car and more. But many of them don’t come back — at least, not right away — even dogs who we swear are well-trained and have a clear understanding of the “come” command.
1. Inadequate Training
When you’re at home in a calm, familiar environment, your dog may indeed come every time you call them. However, if you haven’t taken your dog out into various other environments to work on their training, they may not be as likely to return to you.
Think about it from their perspective. There are just so many interesting things out there that they haven’t gotten to see and sniff. The temptation may be overwhelming. Your training has to be strong enough to overcome that temptation.
If your dog struggles with the “come” command in any environment, go back to the basics and continually reinforce their training.
2. Not Enough Stimulation
Let out the leash a little.
“Sometimes a dog won’t come when called because you have not allowed his basic needs to be met,” says the American Kennel Club (AKC) in Citizen Canine. “The dog may need to run, sniff around to gather information, or search a little longer for a good place for a bathroom break.”
Try these tips:
- Unless the weather is inclement, try to stay out on walks as long as your dog is comfortable.
- Give them time to check out the neighborhood news, so to speak, by thoroughly sniffing that bush that everyone marks.
- Allow them to interact with neighbors if they are both comfortable with it.
- Let them work off some energy by walking briskly for a bit.
Dogs need to investigate the world around them, and an added bonus is that higher-energy breeds will become less prone to destructiveness via boredom when they’re properly exercised.
3. You’re No Fun
If your dog consistently comes to you and something negative happens with no positive to balance it out, they’ll start associating the command with negativity.
An example: “You call the dog. He comes to you. You don’t say anything to him, you put on his leash, and you put him in the car to leave the park and go home. It’s no surprise that the dog is not too excited about coming to you the next time you call him,” says the AKC.
The best way to combat this is with simple, positive reinforcement. Praise and/or treats work wonders. You may have to leave the dog park, you may have to take that trip to the vet, you may have to put the leash back on — but at least your dog knows they’ll soon be getting something yummy.
4. The Hunter Instinct Takes Over
Some dog breeds are born to hunt — literally.
Terriers, hounds, retrievers – when these dogs and other breeds like them see the animal that they were bred to chase, the temptation to do so can be overwhelming. “[I]f you have a sporting dog in a field where there are birds, or a sighthound in the woods where there are rabbits you may have lost the competition for your dog’s attention,” warns the AKC.
In this case, it may be best to keep your dog on the leash in unfenced areas.
Try these helpful training tips in this video with your dog:
If your dog isn’t coming to you when you call, the answer is simple: Go back to the basics.
Train at home with the “come” command, and gradually expand the training environment to include dog parks, stores and other places there may be activity.
In addition, never assume that training is completed. Training needs to be reinforced for your dog’s entire life.
Prepare for the Worst
Lastly, think about what you will do if your dog does not come back when you call.
Have a spare leash on hand, have some treats in your pocket and keep your cell phone on so you can call for aid if you need it. Have your local shelter’s phone number handy, as well as that of your local police department — they can be invaluable when it comes to helping track down pets.
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