Why Doesn’t He Come When I Call?

I’m sure we can all think of a time when our phone started ringing and we decided not to answer it. There are a variety of reasons to not answer a call. You might be in the middle of something requiring all your attention, maybe you are out with friends and having a great time, or possibly you have a long history of hating talking on the phone. No matter the specific reason, it “pays more” in some way to ignore the call and keep doing what you are doing.

If however, you were in the middle of having a great time with your friends, and your phone started ringing and you knew that the person on the other end of it was calling to let you know you had won something like $1,000, a cruise, an extra paid week off of work, a ticket to a concert, or something else you really wanted, you would probably make answering the phone a priority. And if you had a history of these types of calls from this person, the urge to answer might even be stronger. Why? Because it would “pay more” to answer the phone than to do whatever else you might be doing in that moment, and the longer the history of it “paying more” the more you would trust that there would be a great “pay off” for answering the call.

What does this have to do with teaching a dog to come back to you when you call him? When the dogs in our lives are having a great time chasing squirrels in the back yard, are busy protecting the property by running up and down the fence barking at the neighbor dog, or have just gotten out the front door and have a taste of freedom, and we attempt to call them back to us, why would they come? Often, we have an unrealistic expectation that the dogs in our lives should “be good dogs” and come just because they know we want them to come. There are a couple of problems with this. I often hear people say things like “He knows what I want him to do!” Hmmm… but does he really? And even if he does, so what? You knew that person who was calling wanted you to answer the phone and you didn’t answer right? It wasn’t worth it to you to pick up. In that moment, it paid more to keep doing what you were doing, and our dogs are no different. They will “pick up the phone” when they know it is worth it do so.

So how can we make sure our dogs think it is worth it to “pick up the phone”? In short, we need to teach them that the “ringing phone” (our recall cue – this can be any word we want to use, a whistle, or anything that the dog can perceive) always means they have an opportunity to access something they think is amazing, and it’s even better if that signal can often predict that after they get the amazing thing, they can go back to doing the fun thing they were doing when you called. It may not always be possible to let your dog to go back to doing what he was doing before you called him, but when you can, this can be a great way to strengthen your recall. Notice I said the recall cue should always mean the dog has the opportunity to access something he thinks is amazing, for most dogs, this does not mean kibble or typical dog treats, but might mean something like a piece of chicken, a piece of cheese, a slice of hot dog, the opportunity to play tug or chase a ball, etc. You will want to pair that recall cue with something your dog thinks is amazing. Another thing you can try is varying what you pair the recall cue with so that sometimes it means a piece of chicken, sometimes it means a piece of steak, sometimes it means a tossed ball, but it ALWAYS means something fabulous.

*Make sure to always check with your vet before you add any type of new food to your dog’s diet, and with any questions you have about what may or may not be okay for your dog to eat.

We will cover all this information and more in detail in the upcoming Total Recall class. If you want to learn more about building a reliable recall with your dog and work through a systematic process to do just that, check out “Total Recall” under the Group Classes link on the website.

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