Q: My dog listens well and is responsive in the house, but not so much when I take her outside off leash. How can I get her to come when called?
A: My first response to this will always be, “Don’t take her off leash yet…she’s not ready.” Many people assume their dogs will listen under distractions and then grow frustrated when the opposite holds true. Remember, being outside is ONE BIG DISTRACTION.
The right training will get her ready, but without it you will have a dog that just assumes when she is off leash she can do what she wants to do when she wants to do it and there is no real reason to pay attention to you. You have to create that desire to pay attention. She has to earn that freedom to be off leash.
Purchase a 20-25 ft line and attach it to a flat collar or martingale (no prongs, or choke chains for this exercise). Find a spot outside that will allow you to move around freely without getting caught up on a tree or a bush. Make sure there aren’t too many distractions around like other dogs, or a flock of geese or cats on the property.
Hold on to the end of the leash TIGHTLY. Since she thinks she is off leash, she may try to bolt off in one direction and you will have to be prepared for that. Set a pace for yourself and each time the dog gets away from you turn and go the opposite direction. If she turns to follow you, tell her GOOD GIRL. If she chooses not to follow she will eventually get to the end of the leash and realize there is no possible way she can continue going in that direction. Don’t stop when this happens. A body in motion stays in motion.
A few repetitions of this you will find that she is starting to pay attention to you a little more. She will start to read your body a little better and move with you. She is watching you more closely and anticipating your next move. Walk with a purpose, standing straight and confidently. Don’t turn your body towards her to see where she is. Keep moving. This exercise will teach her to mind you, not because you have something yummy in your pocket, but because it’s important to be moving with you. You are building a relationship of togetherness. There is no need to use the word “COME” here, it’s just an exercise to pay attention to you and be near you. Tell her she’s good when she makes these decisions to follow you. When she comes in close to you, reward her with some affection.
Next, work on calling her to you when she is in motion going away from you. Call her name, then “COME”. As you do this, start backing up a bit so she sees and feels your motion and makes the decision to come your way. You are defining what the word “COME” means to her by showing her what you need her to do when the word is called out. If she does move toward you then PRAISE her with the word GOOD. If she barrels past you then you may need to use some food to lure her in to you (or a toy..see previous article on motivators) and then reward her when she gets to you.
However, if she refuses to move toward you, then your movements backwardwill eventually get her to the end of the leash and you can then guide her in to you. If you’ve done the exercise above first, then she will be more in tune with what you need her to do. Try not to repeat the command over and over. It’s so hard not to, but everybody including trainers can be guilty of this.
Instead, say the word NO, then repeat COME as her body begins the motion towards you. Try to only apply pressure on the leash when she needs the help. Don’t pull on the leash to get her to you. Remember, motion creates motion so don’t just stand in one spot and yell come. Show her your movement and she will come towards you. The object is to get her to make the right decision before the leash makes it for her. That’s when you know she truly understands.
As always, if you need one-on-one assistance to demonstrate in person, call me to set-up appointment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find a qualified trainer in your area.