If your dog won't come, it can be incredibly frustrating. This is a great skill for dogs to learn—but if you're having trouble, don't worry! We've got some tips to help teach you how to communicate with your dog in a way that is a win-win for you both.
A is for Antecedent
An antecedent is the condition or factor that leads to a behavior. When you're trying to figure out what a possible antecedent is, you can ask yourself, "what occurred right before the behavior happened?"
Examples of antecedents include:
B is for Behavior
The most fundamental law of behavior is that consequences drive behavior. This may be self-explanatory, but behavior refers to what your dog does in response to the antecedent. When looking at the behavior, try to describe what your dog is doing instead of trying to guess how they are feeling (“My dog wagged his tail and nudged me, asking to be petted” vs “My dog was happy.”)
Examples of behaviors include:
C is Consequence
Consequences are the outcomes of a behavior. They can be either positive or negative, but they must occur immediately after the behavior and be consistent among different people. This is key in dog recall training.
Positive consequences include rewards like treats, playtime, attention from you (the responsible human for the dog), and so on. These things are given when the dog does something good--like sitting calmly before being fed his dinner or walking politely at heel without pulling against his leash--and serve as an incentive for him to repeat that behavior in the future.
Negative consequences include punishments such as scolding ("No! Bad boy!"), time outs in confinement areas such as crates or pens, withholding food/water until later in the day/evening (if necessary), etc., depending on what works best for each individual dog personality type.*
Examples of consequences include:
When you call 'COME', it always ends play, and many times it is a punishment, you are cross and unhappy, so they associate coming to you as a negative consequence, instead of the best thing ever.
When we are trying to deal with a problem behavior, it’s easy to focus on the "what" of that behavior the B—the specific action. But it’s important for us to pay attention to the A & C first when learning how to train recall.
The why behind our animals' actions and emotions so that we can understand what drives them:
“Fifi won't come when I call her, she turns the other way and avoids me, why is she so disobedient??”
The answer lies in the A and C! First, ask yourself what happens immediately before (antecedent) the behavior of not coming when called. In this case, the antecedent may seem simple to deduce, what's the payoff for Fifi to come to you? Pay close attention to what is happening, and most imporant is the Human Factor in this equation. What are YOU doing?
Let's look closer:
The A - Is Fifi off leash or has freedom? Is Fifi happy doing something else that she is enjoying? When you call her, what is your energy like? Are you frustrated and using a harsh tone? Are you planning to put Fifi in the crate and leave? or Do you consistently make every 'Come' the best thing ever with high, positive pitch and tone, using high value treats to reward her come? (even if it took a while to get there) Or are you repeating "Fifi, Come", over and over, and when she does, have you ever punished or scolded her by telling her she was a bad girl for running away?
Ask yourself, if you were a dog would you trust this human who makes you end your fun time to be scolded, or possibly put in a crate aka losing the freedom you were enjoying?
Next, ask yourself what happens after the behavior- (the C) of 'Coming' when called? Do you praise her effusively and give her high value treats, do you let her go back to her fun occasionally so its a balanced experience of more release than only negative? Do you spend quality time with Fifi when you call her to you, or on the other hand has Recall been deduced to a negative reward, that simply means an end to freedom or fun? Are you only calling your dog to do something negative to them (perhaps medicine, ear cleaning etc) or enforce a boundary ( time to go in the crate or pen). Have you been impatient snatching her up when putting her in her crate or carrier, or are you allowing them to enter willingly by making it a positive association? Your puppy is quickly learning your body language and adapting to their home life. The consequence will affect whether or not Fifi is likely to perform the behavior again in the future, which is why this is a very important factor to keep in mind amidst your dog recall training.
Let’s go back to our ABCs:
Antecedent - Fifi is playing and enjoying herself, aka experiencing freedom
Behavior - Fifi's response to Come, her recall, is to ignore you, run away, or reluctantly come, its not immediate.
Consequence - Fifi doesn't trust that when you call 'Come', that it is in her best interest to do so. She's learned that the consequence is less rewarding that what she is already doing.
How do we fix this? In order to change behavior, we must find clever ways to alter the conditions - or change the antecedent and consequence.
Changing the antecedent:
Set Fifi up for success by being preemptive.
Throughout the day, make it a goal to call Fifi often, using an upbeat happy voice & high value treats, (literally love-bomb her) with no expectations of 'doing anything'. Then release her. "Fifi, when I call you, you are getting a party, and the celebration is YOU".
Check your energy, be grounded and heart-centered when you are calling your puppy. Take a deep breath, and smile. Remember your puppy is your barometer and she feels your mood. if they don't want to be around you, there's a good chance your vibe is low, meaning your frustration is palpable and your puppy can see through you. We can't fake it with our dogs! That's what makes this relationship so transformative, they are our mirrors of our inner world.
Don't use come unless you are going to follow through. Say it once, pat your leg, clap and smile and laugh....be happy and have those rewards ready. Seriously, you have got to do better here so your dog is reliable and Come's every time! This is our responsibility as the Leader to really work on this trust piece. Come can save your dogs life. Always remember that when you are frustrated and about to punish your dog. Is it worth it in the short term to allow ourselves to be reactive in the moment? The long term pay off means loss of trust.
Changing the antecedent ensures that Fifi doesn’t have the opportunity to reward herself for an undesired behavior. It sets her up for success.
Changing the consequence:
In dog recall training, don't expect perfection, our dogs are not performing monkeys. They are sentient beings with feelings. Whatever you do, no matter how long it takes for puppy to COME, you praise the heck out of them. NEVER punish them by telling them they were bad, scolding etc.
When learning how to train recall, let puppy see that when you call 'Come', good things happen. They get what they love most, your undivided attention. Scatter 'Come' with 'Catch & Release' throughout the day, being mindful that you have an 80/20 rule: 80% Catch & Release & 20% for confinement/ crate, etc.
For example: You call "Come" and Fifi is in the yard. She ignores you and runs off. Do not chase her. Wait. Make kissy sounds, be happy and clap your hands, make it a party that Fifi is about to join! (Remember the goal is to regain her trust that Coming to you is always the best thing ever). If you are going to immediately end that party by going to the crate, getting her ears cleaned or other such experiences.... Fifi is smart and will more than likely decide she would prefer to play. Smart dog!
another little 'trick' if your dog runs off and you are afraid they won't return: Run the opposite direction and pretend you are playing a game! They will come after you.
And another great 'trick' to pull-out of your tool belt when pup got out the door and is charging down the driveway; pretend you are hurt and fall to the ground... they always want to see if you are ok. Have a treat handy and praise them profusely!! Whatever you do... no matter how scared you feel- don't chase your dog, they think its a game and will run from you more.
Changing the consequence ensures that Fifi is only being reinforced for desired behaviors. These desired behaviors will become more likely to occur the more he practices them. If you are seeing an undesired behavior continue to occur consistently, it means something in the environment is reinforcing it whether or not we realize it. For example, grabbing Fifi impatiently when she finally comes on the third call, saying "bad girl, you didn't come", and putting her in the crate, may be perceived by Fifi as coming means you are unhappy, so she doesn't want to cause that. In this case, you may believe you are reinforcing that she should come when called, but actually you are punishing the come, and reinforcing her avoiding you.
Carefully altering the antecedent and consequence of a behavior will ensure that your dog is only being rewarded for the behaviors we like.
In the case of poor recall, always, always, always reward every single come. Even if they ran off down the road, were gone for an hour and your heart is in your throat and you have been crying in fear......praise that dog like there is no tomorrow! (And then go take a hot bath and decompress, but don't ever take your frustration out on the puppy. )
When learning how to train recall, realize that if your dog won't come, it may be because they are afraid of something, or worse, they have lost their trust in you. If this is the case, then you need to work on re-building their confidence and establishing that you are a trustworthy human, through positive reinforcement and techniques like counterconditioning.
Your puppy will love you for it and your relationship will be even better after dog recall training!
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Until next time, we are always cheering you on!