Almost no one can get their dog to come! Bold statement I know, but I witness this daily. In our minds, we remember the times the dog did come to us, forgetting all the many times that “come” went unanswered. Dogs eventually come to their family because, first they like us & second, we feed them so eventually they will come. This is not the same as a dog who comes immediately on cue .
Come or recall is a more complex behavior than most of us realize. What we humans really what from the dog is: “stop whatever you are doing (sniffing other dogs, chasing, playing, barking…) and come immediately.” BE QUICK ABOUT IT! “Recall, every time” is one of the hardest skill for a dog to learn. For the dog to learn this skill takes a series of steps with progressively more difficult situations in which the dog stop what he/she is doing, redirects to you and comes. Accepting what is really going on is the first step toward changing it. The article below reveals several steps in training a reliable recall.
A few basics about training a reliable response.
1. Practice, practice, practice.
Reliability is all about practice. Just like sports, flying airplanes, surgery, military operations, excellent musical performance or any high skill endeavor. We humans tend to hold our dogs to a higher, almost magical, standard of performance. We expect our Dogs to stop whatever they are doing and come when we call, without specific training and allot practice, How many of your employees, kids, or spouses immediately come when called!
2. Reward after the desired behavior-Use what the dog wants. This is the Consequence for dogs actions/behaviors.
3. Timing – dogs focus on what happened right before, 1/2 sec, the treat arrives. The closer the treat is to the behavior the more effective the training.
4. The order of things is the magic formula for learning – the ABC’s
a. Antecedent-something that happens before the behavior. We often use a cue: like a hand gesture, or a word “come”, whistle sequences or sound of meal prep in the kitchen. Even lightening is an antecedent to thunder for dogs afraid of storms. But the lightening does not cause the thunder, the storm clouds cause both, but light travels faster than sound so it precedes the noise.
b. Behavior -the dog does something.
C. Consequence– what happens immediately after the behavior. If this something positive the dog will repeat the behavior. If something negative the dog will not repeat the behavior.
The error for many is believing that the the Antecedent or A . causes the B. Behavior to happen again. It is the C=consequence that will motivate the dog to do the same Behavior in the future. The Antecedent alerts the dog to the possibility that treats maybe available to be earned. I often use a pre-antecedent to set my dog in the mindset of training by saying “are you ready”, he then knows that a cue for a behavior is coming. He becomes alert, focuses on me waiting for signal word.
A Positive Consequence is more effective if:
*It immediately rewards the behavior – < 1 second after the behavior (unless a bridge is used-clicker training is using a bridge).
*Is it better than other available options. That is why trainers us favorite food or fun.
*Predictable- a little like a paycheck. If you work but don’t get your paycheck you would not want to continue to work for that employer. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t work harder for the same paycheck if you enjoy your job. Enjoying your work is another reward for a job well done. For dogs after allot of practice they seem to enjoy the task itself.
Make it worth it for the dog. Mostly we use food, toys or play. However as puppies, almost all dogs come to their substitute families. This recall is preprogramed into the young canine brain; stay with the family group, check in often. Don’t mistake this natural tendency for your dog understanding “come”. Instead, use the tendency in early puppyhood to teach English, repeat “come” whenever the pup naturally runs toward you. Make returning to you, a great experience for the dog. Even when you have been chasing the dog for 30 minutes, gave up and turned to go home. Which is when the dog will come to you. You’re irritated and can’t imagine giving the dog a reward for running you around. Fight the urge to punish and reward the arrival of your dog at your side.
Why does the dog get a reward for 30 minutes of run-away time. First, dogs love the chase game, so he/she would have thought you were playing. Second and more important– dogs will repeat behaviors in the future, that get them something good. The more accurately this one fundamental is practiced the stronger your dog will listen to you.
Let me repeat myself. Dogs will repeat a behavior in the future because last time it resulted in something good. Behavior followed by a good consequence.
Break it down. Rex comes to Tom. Tom gives him a dog treat. Rex follows Tom around, coming close enough to be touched and gets a treat each time.
Has Rex learned to come to Tom? No, he is playing the odds that the treats will keep coming, so he stays close by.
Next day, Rex comes to Tom, Tom does not give Rex a treat, Rex waits for his treat and eventually wanders off. Rex tries “come” few more times but, when no treat arrives he ignores Tom for more interesting things. Rex does not come to Tom when called. He comes when he wants to come because he likes Tom.
How do I get my dog to come when I don’t have treats. Practice in many different situations.
After Rex comes 90% of the time when called for 7 days in a row, then it is time to move to fewer treats for more work. ( 1 treat for 2 comes, then 3 comes and so on). Or treat after 2 behaviors. Rex comes, Tom says sit, Rex sits, Tom steps back, Rex “comes a second time”, Tom gives Rex a treat. Now Rex has done a come-sit-wait-come, for 1 treat. Repeat this sequence, rapidly stepping back will entice the dog to follow because this is a mini-version of the chase. So keep the pace fast, as the dog does well, make 2 step backs or mix up how many sit-comes Rex must do to get a treat. But gradually make these changes.
When the dog stops paying attention you have pushed for more difficult to learn behaviors too fast or he is at the end of his attention span. Give him a break and repeat after a 10-15 minutes. Ideal time for each mini training session is 2-5 minutes.
I have attached one of the best videos on how to train a dog to come every time.
More indepth info on training
How a change in thinking that will greatly increase your dog training success.
A common way of thinking about how dog’s interact with us is based on a human viewpoint. We wish that dog’s behave because we tell them what to do and motivated by love & desire to please us they do what they are told. A good dog behaves well and bad dog’s don’t. Hence the name obedience training, which has been used interchangeably for dog training for generations.
But, science into how learning happens shows us otherwise. So how do dog’s learn “to come” when called?
I will break down into parts how learning works.
First, the word, “come’. Dogs and most animals respond to words as just sounds. Human speech is hard for dogs to distinguish and sounds like noise to dogs, much as barking does to us. A specific word only becomes a sound signal after the dog figures out the importance and usage of the sound. We decide that certain words are important for training as cues for dogs. The dog does not know about that. Not until the dog learns the use of a word in a training sequence does the word becomes a sound signal. We must also teach the dog, which behaviors go with the signal, the order to act out the behavior and which behaviors do not go with signal. Next, the dog must also learn which sounds are not the one that pairs with “come when called”.
A. Make the signal easier:
1. Use short crisp, distinct sounds. Repeat the word pairing lesson 20 times in each training as one set. Only add difficultly once dog has mastered “come” in the quiet indoors and many rooms. Then practice in different locations, start 6 inches away and increase distance slowly, different peoples voices, with background noises, distractions (fun and scary).
2. Start with an easier signal than sound. Hand or arm signals are easier for dogs because so much of their communication is made up of complex body language. Dogs watch you closely every movement you make in an attempt to pick up on a signal. Make it easier by using hand/arm signals. Keep the rest of your body still. Use one hand/arm. Add sound after the dog is beginning to do it how you want it.
B. The sequence of learning is backwards from the order of doing the final behavior.
Let me explain further….
Dogs learn to use a set of behaviors by trial and error. So if a behavior is followed by something the dog likes, they attempt the behavior again. That is why treats work so quickly with training, especially in puppies. Timing of the reward is very important because dogs are doing behavior all the time. The closer the timing of the dog’s behavior are to the arrival of the treat the easier it is for the dog to understand what they did that resulted in treat delivery. The dog will experiment with body movements to figure out which sequence or posture or behavior gets the reward.
The first part of the video above suggests pairing the sound “come” prior to something the dog likes. He is taking advantage of a dogs natural tendency to approach when we make any sound. It seems simple but the thinking is a 3 step process. The trainer is ready for the dog who will approach, he will give something the dog likes, plus he adds the word “come” before the dog gets to him. This is a great way to introduce the idea of “come” when you first get a new puppy. Something the dog likes can be: praise, ear rubs, and treats whenever the puppy comes to you for any reason. Change up the rewards, so eventually food will not be needed. Make “come” part of everyday life.
C. Make the signal a signal.
The first time you hear a siren it has no meaning. It is just an annoying noise.We watch our parents pull to the side of the road as the noisy vehicle goes by. Later on we learn as someone explains. The signal does not make us drive to the shoulder of the road it is the order that we have learned to do when we hear the sound signal. So it is with dogs. A signal is a good one if it clearly helps the dog predict what to do next to get the final outcome. The sequence is how mammals learn by trial and error. Called the ABC”s of learning. Take advantage of this way of thinking to speed up your training and solve the stumbles that happen along the way to well trained dog.
The sequence is how a behavior happens in real time.
A stands for antecedent. Which simply means whatever comes before the behavior.
B stands for the observed or goal behavior. These are not always the same.
C stands for consequence. Here in is the biggest secret to good trainers. They all know it is “C”, the consequence that determines future behavior. If the consequence is a good one, the dog will try out the behavior again to see if the same consequence will follow. The behavior is a guess at how to get the consequence again.
The A is not always a signal as we wish it to be. It can be any set of circumstances, the dog recognizes, that happened before a they behavior worked to get the big C.
But training happens backwards from execution of a already trained behavior. The sequence of thought is: planning the big C and delivering it close to the behavior. The dog will try out behaviors, until they suceed at getting the big C. The dog also observes what precedes the sequence, B->C trying to figure out when doing a certain behavior gets the big C. The dog will bet on your signal, do the behavior, in the hope of getting the big C.
So training involves manipulating these three things. We add clarity and reliability to the Antecedent which helps the dog recognize it as a signal. We are clear about which behaviors get the rewards and when. We add good quality rewards for the behaviors that we want the dog to do. The dog becomes reliable the more reliably the consequence happens when the dog gives us the asked for behavior.
A trusting relationship is an essential element of teaching and learning. This playful video compares learner trust to a bank account.
A few thoughts on the role of Trust and domestic animals.
For pets, at least one bond of trust is essential to have a relaxed, happy-go-lucky, animal living with humans. In fact this is one of the differences between wild and domestic animals. Wild animals do not trust humans, nor do they trust that the environment is safe, secure and will give them what they need to survive. They learn to be much more alert to survive and be ready for daily challenges. Through 2000-10,000 years of husbandry, domestic animals have changed there genetic code toward domesticity. Animal science defines domestic as tolerant to the presence of humans. Of course it means more in real life because they rely on us to supply food, water, shelter and daily activity.
We expect more of our Pets than simple domesticity. We want them to live with us seamlessly, anticipate & fulfill our needs, understand the human language, entertain us, love us and leave our stuff alone. -If only they could do housework — better than a wife.
But there is a huge gap between what animals tolerate at birth & our expectations that they understand the complex world of human society. We don’t even understand how to get along with others until in our middle twenties or much later.
Today we react to words like – “Dog Obedience”, and have misconceptions from family beliefs, movie & TV images which together confuse the subject of dog training more. “Dog Obedience”it is an unfortunate, old label and complete obedience is hard to create. Instead, think about training as teaching methods for our pets to successfully navigate life with humans. We are entrusted to teach our pets to be good civilized members of our human society. The AKC has new program of training called Good Canine Citizen instead of the old obedience name to promote this idea. The Good News is that when Dogs understand us and succeed in getting along they form a bond of trust to their training partner.
These two capacities; 1. knowledge of how to succeed and 2. bond of trust, enable pets to handle frustration and recover quickly from bad-events. This capacity is called Resiliency.
It is through helping pets to develop resiliency, that we prevent or treat the anxiety problems seen in dogs, cats, birds even horse and cattle. Good trainers preserve and increase the bond of trust with their dog(s) through consistent training that rewards the dog for learning.
Check out my article on “Kennel training: Why do dogs or puppies bark and cry when left alone” for more on resiliency.
Describes – how & why behavior happens.
Discusses our misconceptions about behavior
How to effectively change behavior
Make learning more rewarding for learner & teacher
Backed up by years of science of learning
Excellent, up beat video on how to get off the treat train.
Read my post for info on the Role of Rewards in training:
In the language of behavior training this is called “fading”.
Sudden stopping of a training reward can backfire and even result in anger.
Here’s an example most can relate to. Imagine you have worked the usual 40 hour week. You like your job well enough, but it is getting routine. It’s 4:30 PM on Friday & your Boss announces that no-one will be paid for the last day (or week) of work. You’d be mad. You’ve already worked for your pay and expect the promised rewards. This is how it works for dogs, especially, once they master a behavior and can do it well. They expect the reward to stay motivated. Suddenly, cutting off treats can reduce motivation by the dog for past learned behaviors and even future interest in learning. Why…, because the trainer just broke an “implied promise which reduces trust”. The promise “I do what you ask & I receive a food reward”.
Good trainers plan their training schedule from point of view of the dog. Knowing that dogs don’t do what we ask “because they love us”, just like our Kids. This is one of the universal “laws of learning” on the planet. All creatures are “designed to use behavior” to get what we need and want from their environment. People are particularly good at this skill. Even bacteria will move or grow in different directions based on what they find in the environment. Dogs need to benefit in some way to stay motivated. We use food because it is a powerful motivator for dogs, especially under 8 months of age. Like humans getting paid for a job, dogs will work for stuff other than food. Watch the video to see the first step to fading the food. Other rewards for dogs include: play, tug on toy, going for a walk, getting access to a favorite thing or place, attention, ear scratches, and often over-used phrase “Good Dog”. People love to be told “you have done a good job” so it works well for us. Not so much for dogs. Social rewards like being allowed to sniff other dogs butts is more inline with dogs value system.
Another way to replace the food treat as a reward is to immediately follow the food with something else, like an ear scratch, these are called secondary re-inforcers. Creating a secondary re-inforcers is a trick of metabolism. An event, person or object, that is paired with “something we really like”, gets the overflow of positive emotions which increases it pleasure in our subconscious. Think of movies and popcorn or hanging out with Grandma and cookies. This how the words “Good Dog” really work. But the timing must be fast and consistent for this to work well.
Here’s an example from my dog’s training. The dog is blind in one eye, so he hated the car because he experienced severe car sickness (vomited, diarrhea and peeing at the same time) as a puppy. After training him to sit in the car for food, with help of my husband, he was trained to ride in the car for food treats. I drove, my husband fave him bits of cheese. I didn’t want to have to give treats all the time while riding in the car, so I watched him to see what his favorite activity was, after leaving the car. He loved to great new people and gets lots of attention. So for one month, we went on one, short, car ride to the grocery store and asked people if willing, to pet the dog. Food treats during the car ride was replaced with food on arrival at a store. Then, slowly, I increased the time between arrival & treat to after he was out of the car, until he was out of the car and being petted by a new person. He loved it and now he leaps into the car, when I say “lets go for an adventure”. I replaced, food treats for riding in the car, with ,access to people/attention immediately after car rides. The dog added his own rewards to car rides when he noticed dogs or people on the side of the street. He barks, a favorite activity (which I ignore in this context), so that looking and barking became a natural reward. He stops barking when the dogs/people are out of site. The car ride is now self re-inforcing; because looking out the window became a secondary re-inforcer for barking. Barking was a natural reward for greeting people after the car ride, which replaced the beginning reward: the food treat. Rides are now rewarding for him whether he sees someone or not. I would have been happy to stop the training at the greeting people stage, but this is a good example of observing naturally occurring rewards and using them.
Next post I’ll talk about when naturally occurring rewards get in the way of training.
Great talk about why we struggle to allow into our world, new information when, “we know what we know”.
Takes about 15 minutes to watch this video about how we and creatures map reality.
Applies to pet owners because many problem behaviors that happen in the average home are based on the principles revealed in this TED talk. Basically, our prior learning results in ideas and remembered brain images, about a subject within our world. These image-ideas can interfere with seeing what is really happening. Our brains are constantly editing out information that is in the environment, so that we only pay attention to what is judged important. This is a brain based shortcut for daily living. Obviously, we don’t take as long to do activities of daily life compared to when we first learned them. This is the result of editing out any information that is not important to the task. How does this interfere with learning as life goes on? We create a very detailed map of the world as we acquire experiences. This map is brought out of our memory as we go through our day. Visual maps, hearing maps, feeling and movement maps and even thinking and emotional maps. There is even an area of the brain dedicated to making us feel certain about our maps. Even though we know that maps are only a guide, as we gain repeated experiences we begin to feel certain that our personal map is the same as reality. This is how phobias are formed and knowing that repeating experiences creates a new map is also how phobias are treated effectively.
Hopefully by now, someone has taken a photo or video of you that demonstrates that what you remember can be very wrong. Yet we are stuck with feelings of certainty about how we see the reality around us. Luckily neuroscience is pointing out that each persons and each species only perceives a small portion of the world.
Let me explain how this applies to animal training. First, the experience of eye sight, hearing, feeling sensations, smells and second how this information is identified by the brain is very different between us and our animal companions. Many of the difficulties, that happen within human-animal households, can be traced to these facts. We do not see, feel, smell, hear, experience the same World. Modern pet training differs from, the older, so called “Leader of the Pack” beliefs, by applying what has been learned through 200 years scientific study of how animals really experience their world. More importantly, modern science applies the two principles: one – what can be measured can be improved and two – what we know today is just a map of reality so learning never ends.
It is essential to document training ideas, methods and results in ways that can be objectively measured. Renowned Innovators and Entrepreneurs know that accepted thinking gets in the way of discovery. They also know the importance of measuring results. So as you train your animals I suggest that we all; test ideas, document objectively, retest, retest and have someone else look over your methods and results.
Once one realizes that accepted ideas can get in the way of seeing reality this is the best we can do, for now…..
This is a nice article about the effect of pets on children. There is a great deal of interest about the benefit of animals in therapy for Human health. I would like to also see studies about the effects on the pet when paired with a human who life is experiencing difficulty. It is allot to expect of animals to become substitute human therapists i.e. replace the effect of good human to human attention. Are we replacing the effects of “good human social input and bonding” with “animal-human bonding” because we do not provide the input from a human. I would like to see studies that compare the effect of; a human v.s. an animal as the giver of attention/time/activity to subjects of these studies. Then we can have a better idea of whether there is an animal specific effect or are we observing the effect of receiving allot of undivided focused attention.
In case you are looking for books, DVD’s and other educational material on dogs ad behavior, this is Patricia McConnell’s website.
Make Note: Patrica McConnell is now a full time writer, speaker and educator. She no longer sees any individual appointments. She has sold her dog training business to Aimee Moore, an experienced dog trainer and behaviorist in her own right.
The training company called “Dog’s Best Friend” is under her steerage. Classes and individual appointments are available. Their website is
Well, DR Ian Dunbar recently discusses this whole issue. His approach to dog training has been to study popular methods and based on scientific testing find out what actually works better, faster and results in a more reliable dog. In the end as he tells us that neither method is the best way. Well, listen to the video for what what I like to think of as the third way of dog training.