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This is my dog Flint, and I have a confession: sometimes he doesn’t listen when I call him!

Furbaby Pet Care Nea DeMuri and her dog Flint

What went wrong here? Why did Flint ignore me in the first clip but not the second? I had the same treats, he was loose both times. What changed?

Does your dog ignore your call?

There are a few reasons for this. If your dog ignores your cue you might have;

  1. Not practiced enough;
  2. Used rewards that are too low value or boring;
  3. Raised the difficulty too much too soon;
  4. Been inconsistent with your cues;
  5. Accidentally taught your dog that the recall cue means “the fun is over.”

OK. What SHOULD you do?

Pick a clear recall cue.

Choose a unique word or phrase like the pup’s name or nickname. Try not to pick something you’ll be saying too much in regular conversation, and think about how well you’d be able to shout it from a distance. You can also use a whistle pattern if you are one of those people who can whistle. Along with this pick a large arm movement. I use a sort of single arm flap, clapping against my thigh and saying “Flint come!”. Many people use a hand touch as part of their recall which is a great way to train.

Don’t worry, as your dog becomes more proficient at recall you will be able to minimize these signals.  The reason you want to have both a visual cue and a vocal cue is that using both will make it very clear to the dog what you want, even at a distance. 

Do you need to replace your existing recall cue?

Not necessarily. If your dog already comes most of the time to your cue then no need to throw out the cue, but you can always adapt it slightly or add a visual cue if you haven’t already. If, however, your dog has had a history of not responding to your recall though you might want to consider starting fresh. 

How do you make your dog come every time?

The biggest factor in getting your dog to come when called  is practice and a solid trust that coming when called means good things. Also try not to use your recall cue if you don’t think your dog will listen. Doing so can build a habit of ignoring your cue. Instead, use a long line leash when your dog is still working on their recall but you want to offer some freedom.

Try these recall tips!

  1. While showing your dog a reward, give both your voice and arm cue at a short distance, in the house or on leash.
  2. When your dog looks at you, praise and encourage them to keep coming using noises or moving backward.
  3. Once they arrive give them a few treats and if possible some quick fun games like tug or fetch
    • Mix up the rewards so that you’re like a slot machine. Your pup will be pumped to see what they win! 
    • If you call your dog away from something fun like playing with other dogs, release them back to the fun thing as much as possible so that your dog learns if they get called away from their friends that doesn’t necessarily mean playtime is over.
  4. Increase difficulty in small achievable increments and be to toss a number of easy wins in every training session so that no one gets burnt out. Keep in mind the Three D’s of Difficulty and try to only raise one at a time:
    • Distance
    • Duration
    • Distraction
  5. Be more exciting than the environment! Dance around, run away, play some fetch! Act like your dog is the best dog in the world (because they are!) Really celebrate the wins, even the small ones.

Choose your motivators.

  • You could use pain and punishment to motivate your pup, but I’m guessing you love your dog and would rather motivate them in kinder ways. 
  • You might think you’ve got the best treats in the world, but has your dog had those same treats every day? Are they dry and is your dog thirsty? Some dogs would rather play tug or fetch than eat treats. Some would rather smell something interesting. Use your dog’s desires to your advantage!
  • Sometimes dogs would just rather stay lying down- especially independent dogs like guardian breeds. For these instances I would focus on other methods of getting control of your dog such as approaching them and rewarding them for letting you grab their collar to put on their leash. 
  • Pick your battles! Remember that dogs are sentient beings who have their own interests and ideas about what they want to do.

So, let’s come back to the Flint videos

Can you think of any reasons why I failed in one scenario and succeeded in another? I’ll give you a bit of context.

The failed recall was done within the first 5 minutes at the off leash dog park where we go once or twice a week. Flint was raring to go, checking out the smells of hundreds of local dogs and likely some coyotes.

I also started with some cues that are much more lax like “hey bud” and kiss noises which I usually use in situations where I’m just letting him know I’m going another direction and don’t want him to get lost. By using these other sounds first I probably set Flint up to thinking it didn’t really matter if he came. I know I didn’t care much in this video because of my tone and the cues I used and dogs will pick up on that! (Honestly I think I was just wanting him to look at the camera).

The clip where Flint jumped up and came to me was taken in our yard, after I had been ignoring Flint while watering the garden. Yawn! Flint was happy to be invited over for treats and attention. Plus, I was very intentional with my call. I knew that I wanted a shot of Flint coming when called so I was clear from the start. 

I hope it’s clear that Flint wasn’t being stubborn, defiant or bad. Rather, it was my own sloppiness and poor planning that led to the ignored cue.

Dogs rarely, if ever, act out of stubbornness. They just have different priorities than we do, and we can work with that!

Self-professed animal geek Nea DeMuri is Furbaby Pet Care‘s exclusive trainer. She offers group classes, one-on-one sessions as well as home visits. Her business, Dogs in Balance, is based in Saskatoon and uses positive reinforcement and proven methods to build good dog behaviour for the long term.

Nea starts with management and prevention, to make sure everyone is safe and to reduce the dog’s ability to practice the unwanted behaviours, then adds enrichment

Nea always tries to discover what can be changed about the dog’s environment and routine so that they can choose appropriate ways to get their needs met. She will help you identify those needs and come up with personalized solutions for your situation.

You can reach her at Furbaby Pet Care, (306) 912-7783. Or better yet, book a session with Nea at Furbaby Pet Care. You can access the online booking platform here.