There are few things more frustrating than a dog that won’t listen. If your dog doesn’t come when you call him, or if she runs around you and plays keep away, you know what I am talking about. And the madder you get, the more the frustration grows, the harder it is to get your dog to come. Dogs seem to have a sixth sense and know when you are mad but trying to act not-mad.
As professional dog trainers, we see this all the time. And we can sympathize with your frustration. We have been there. But we also know why it is happening and how to fix it.
Why does my dog not come when called?
Let’s first discuss WHY your dog is doing this. There could one reason or a combination of the following.
Your dog has not learned the COME or HERE command
Sometimes it is a matter of lack of understanding. If you have not taught your dog the HERE or COME command, your dog is not to blame. He/she does not know what they are supposed to do when you say the command.
Some people think that they have taught their dog the command but have not formally taught the dog the command. Yes, your dog may start to understand the HERE or COME command through repetition. If you say the command over and over each time your dog is running toward you, your dog will start to associate the command and the action he/she is doing. This works well with 8-10-week-old puppies. But this is not formal training.
To teach the HERE or COME command, you need to work with your dog on a long lead, leash, or rope. You need to be able to control your dog’s response to the command. More on this later.
Your dog has learned he/she does not have to obey
This is a more common reason many dogs run away when called. Many people do teach their dog the HERE or COME command, but they are inconsistent in enforcing the command.
Let’s face it. It is hard work to enforce the COME or HERE command, especially if your dog is not on a leash or long check cord when the problem is occurring. You must first, catch the dog, put him/her on a leash, place him/her as close as possible to the spot where he/she initially refused your command, walk backwards making a correction all the way back to where you were standing when you initially called your dog.
I have done this correction countless times and it is exhausting and never fun.
But it only takes one time of your dog ignoring your command for him/her to start a pattern of disobedience that is very difficult to fix.
Nothing good happens from coming to you (the owner)
If every time your dog comes to you, he/she is put away in away in a crate, yelled at, or his/her toy is taken away, then it is only a matter of time before your dog will not want to come to you. You have to make coming to you a good experience, not a negative one.
You talk too much
Some owners have a complete conversation with their dog (or themselves) when a simple one-word command would work. Too much talking often leads to a dog just tuning you out. It becomes an ongoing jumble of words that the dog learns to ignore.
Commands should be short and concise. One word preferably and no longer than 3 words together. And don’t add in other conversation while you are commanding. For instance, say COME or COME FIDO. Don’t say, “COME HERE FIDO, YOU CAN DO IT, GOOD GIRL, COME ON YOUR DOING GREAT, RIGHT HERE, THAT A GIRL…”
If you talk too much, your dog just hears mumbling. Sort of like the Charlie Brown teacher, “Wonk wonk wonk wonk wonk.” For those of you too young to understand this reference, I suggest YouTube it.
Your dog has been rewarded for poor behavior
If you consistently reward your dog for poor behavior, you will likely see even worse behavior from your dog. It is a slippery slope.
Let’s say you command your dog to SIT, and he/she does not SIT so you repeat the command several times (SIT, SIT, SIT) and then your dog finally SITS. If you then praise your dog for sitting, either by giving him/her a treat or a pet or saying GOOD DOG, your dog has just learned that he/she does not have to obey on the first SIT command. And next time you will likely have to say the command 4-5 times or more.
The same can happen for the COME or HERE command. You say HERE, HERE, HERE, and then finally your dog comes; this is not a time to praise him/her. Rather, you need to say the command one time and if your dog does not immediately comply, you need to enforce the command. This will teach your dog to obey instantly on command instead of playing the “How many times will you call me?” game.
What to do if dog runs away and ignores your calls?
Now you know why your dog runs away and ignores your call, but that doesn’t really help you much. It doesn’t solve the problem. So, what can you do to get your dog to come to you when you call him/her? Depending on the problem, here are some steps to get you there.
Make sure your dog knows the commands
The first step to getting your dog to come when commanded is to make sure that your dog knows the command. It doesn’t matter if you use COME or HERE, or some other word. What does matter is that you use the same word every time and teach your dog what the command means.
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The best way to teach your dog the HERE or COME command is to use a long check cord or a rope. Work on this training outside in your yard or somewhere similar.
- Attach the long check cord or leash to your dog’s collar or a chain collar is even better.
- Let your dog run around and occasionally call him/her to you using a COME or HERE command.
- If your dog does not turn and start coming to you immediately, say the command again but this time give the check cord a sharp jerk while saying the command and start pulling your dog toward you with the long leash.
- During the training phase, it is important for you to say the command each time you pull your dog closer. Remember, you are teaching your dog the command. So, saying the command multiple times at this point is fine.
- Once you get your dog close to you, pet him/her and say GOOD DOG.
- Then, let your dog run off again, still on the check cord and repeat.
If your dog turns and starts to come to you immediately when you say the COME or HERE command, say GOOD DOG, HERE (or COME). You want to affirm the decision the dog is making. But If at any point your dog turns away from you while coming toward you say NO, HERE and start pulling the lead. Do this as soon as you see your dog “thinking” about doing something other than coming to you. The faster you can make this correction the faster your dog will learn.
Don’t be in a hurry to take the leash off. Even when your dog is coming to you consistently when you call him/her, leave the check cord on. Let your dog drag the leash for a while. (Make sure the check cord or leash your dog is dragging does not have a loop or hand hold on it. That could get caught on something and injure your dog. A straight rope is best.) Most problems occur because owners take the leash off too soon. It takes time to cement the training and make sure that the dog is consistent.
Be consistent in command enforcement
It is vital that you enforce every command you give your dog. This is how your dog learns to be consistent in obeying the commands. Every time you give your dog a command, be ready for your dog to not obey. If you are ready for your dog to not obey, then you will be ready to enforce the command right away. This will help your dog learn and develop consistency. But it all starts with you being ready and consistent in your discipline and enforcement.
If your dog does not obey, there must be a consequence. Your dog is not a human, and you cannot reason with him/her. No matter how much you want to. The way a dog learns is through praise and enforcement. If your dog does not obey, you must enforce the command manually. If you are not willing to do this, you are going to have a breakdown of respect and once respect is gone, your dog will not listen to you at all.
No repeat commands without punishment
Once your dog understands the command, you should only say the command once and expect the dog to comply immediately. Repeating commands over and over again will create problems. Your dog will just learn to ignore the multiple commands. Say the command once and then enforce. If you do this your dog will learn quicker and will understand that he/she needs to obey or there are consequences.
What if my dog backs away when I reach for him?
This usually happens when a dog starts coming to you, but only bad things happen when he/she does. If you always put your dog away when he/she comes to you, your dog is not going to want to come to you. This is a problem we see all the time, and it is so easy to fix.
Start working with your dog on a drill I call Come, Pet, Release. When your dog is out running around, call your dog to you. When your dog comes to you, pet him/her, and give some loving, and then say OKAY or whatever release command you use to tell your dog to go run around and be a dog. Then after a couple minutes, call your dog to you again. Pet him/her and then release.
This will teach your dog that coming to you does not mean his/her fun ends. It will enforce a positive experience to coming to you.
This can be used along with the leash work discussed previously. With the leash you can pull your dog to you even if he/she refuses to COME. Then pet him/her and give some loving and then release the dog to go run around again. Do this several times each session. When teaching this, it helps to do several sessions a day, even if the sessions are only for a few minutes at a time.
Practice patience and not anger
Getting angry will not help you if your dog often runs away from you when you call him/her. Dog’s can sense anger a mile away and this will only compound the problem of your dog not coming to you. Dog training requires patience.
It also helps to not put yourself in a position where your dog can get away with running away from you. If your dog is inconsistent with the HERE command, then make sure your dog is always wearing a leash or long check cord. Even if they are dragging the leash (see previous note on what kind of leash for dragging), this will help if you need to run them down and catch them.
No reward for poor behavior
Be very careful that you do not reward your dog for poor behavior. Remember, if you have to say HERE ten times, and then your dog finally comes, do not reward that behavior with a treat or praise. If you do, you are teaching your dog that he/she doesn’t have to listen until you give the command ten times. One command and then enforcement. That is your new motto.
Ways to make your training more effective
Here are some ways that you can make your training efforts more effective.
Training in different locations
Often dogs learn obedience in one location and then when they are taken somewhere else, like to the park, they don’t think they have to obey in the new location. The best way to correct this problem is to add new training locations. Once your dog is consistent in your own home or back yard, start taking your dog to new locations and do a short obedience session there. With each new location your dog will learn that obedience must be obeyed everywhere, not just at home.
Training with distractions
Another way to make your training more effective is to start adding distractions during your training session. This can be as simple as having one of your family members walk around the yard while you are training. Or bring another dog outside (on a leash) during training. These methods will teach your dog to focus on you even when other things are going on around them. It will give you a chance to get in more corrections, and these corrections will teach the dog so much more with the distraction.
The use of treats to train HERE and COME
Some trainers are big advocates for treat training. And with some breeds it can be very effective. But it is only effective if you have a treat with you. It will not take a dog very long to start ignoring you once the treats dry up.
Therefore, I am a bigger proponent of praise than treats. Most dogs love praise – pets and loving. And you can never run out of these things.
The use of electronic collars
Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we train retrievers. And our training is specifically for hunting and Hunt Tests. We place a large focus on obedience because obedience ties to everything else. We start all our dogs off with a long lead, just as I have described above. But we also use electronic collars.
After a dog has learned the commands with manual enforcement, we move to enforcement with the electronic collar. The electronic collar allows us to get a correction in quickly and allows the dog to learn much faster. But we employ a lot of conditioning techniques prior to using the collar so that the dog does not become collar wise. For more information, check out this post.
Electronic collars are not bad or evil. They are just a training tool. And like any training tool they can be used correctly or incorrectly. Used correctly, e-collars are wonderful training tools that help a dog learn much faster and allow for a correction to quickly be tied to the offending behavior.
Not all dogs are candidates for e-collars and if you are going to use one, be sure to learn how to condition your dog prior to training with the e-collar.
Final thoughts on Why does my dog run away from me when I call him?
Teaching your dog the HERE or COME command is a vital obedience. It can become a matter of life and death should your dog run out into a road or run after a deer or other animal and get lost. These are very real consequences of your dog not listening to the HERE or COME command. And they can be avoided if you take the steps necessary to teach your dog to respect you and the commands you give.
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting or competition this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I’m here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.
THANK YOU so much for this article! Once again, I see I am a big part of the problem. Thank you for helping to train me.
Steve and Jody
Glad we could help!
Can you elaborate – what exactly is manual enforcement?
Steve and Jody
Manual enforcement is any way you enforce a command that does not involve an e-collar. For instance, if you want your dog to learn SIT, you start by pushing down on his/her bottom and saying SIT. You pushing down on the bottom is manual enforcement. For the HERE command, manual enforcement would be having your dog sit while on a leash and chain collar, walking away a few steps, and then saying the HERE command and pulling your dog towards you. You need to teach each command using these manual enforcement BEFORE you move to using an E-collar.
Hope this helps.