Calling Your Dog
by David Schmucker

You’ve seen it.  Some owners call their dogs and they come a-running.  On the other hand, some owners call and it is as if the dog is uninterested or deaf.  If you want your dog to come when called, read on.

Eliminate the Confusion

Calling a dog by name for multiple purposes is confusing.  For instance using his name when he misbehaves and using it when it is time to go home is a problem.  The dog’s name is representing two things – “Whoa, I’m in trouble” and “Everything’s OK, let’s go.”  So your dog has to distinguish the two meanings by the tone of your voice.  Eliminate the confusion. Begin using the dog’s name ONLY when a good thing is in store like a treat or ride in the car, etc.  Stop using the dog’s name when he needs correction.  Substitute a loud “Hey” or other sharp sound.  This distinction will help your dog know whether he is misbehaving or being called.

Are You Listening?

“Dogs detect sounds as low as the 16 to 20 Hz frequency range (compared to 20 to 70 Hz for humans) and as high as 70,000 to 100,000 Hz (compared to 20,000 Hz for humans), and have a degree of ear mobility that helps them to quickly pinpoint the exact location of a sound. Eighteen or more muscles can tilt, rotate and raise or lower a dog's ear. Additionally, a dog can hear sounds up to four times the distance that humans are able to,” according to Chuck Ayoub at DogFacts.com. 

Assuming the dog’s health is normal, he heard you calling the first time!  So raising your voice and repeating his name doesn’t help in the long run.  Since his name is currently a negative or at best confusing you’ll have to be more intense and louder the next time to get the same attention.  This can turn into a frustrating arms race.

Jump Start the Process

Build on the idea that his name means good things.  Attach a long line to his collar – a 25’ clothes line will do.  Let the dog go and play. Have his favorite treat ready then call his name.  If he fails to come, use the line to reel him in and reward with the treat and praise.  Do this until the line isn’t needed and the habit is established.

Treats Aren’t Necessary

Slowly eliminate the treats but continue to reward your dog with affection when he arrives.  Remember, something good should always be there when he arrives. If the dog “softens” when called – not coming immediately and enthusiastically – it simply means that your rewards are not significant enough to overcome his interest in his current activity. In this case increase the treats to make coming to you more fun and rewarding.

The Next Step

Once you have achieved the goal of the dog coming to his name try this inside the house.  Reduce the number of times you use his name to call him.  If he responds to his name being called three times, reduce it to two, all the while having a good thing ready when he arrives.  Then reduce it down again to once and keep it there.  Be patient. Most dogs require a second or two to think about what you just said. Then have some fun seeing how quietly you can call his name and still have a response. This has three benefits.  First, your dog will be on more of an alert for his name.  Second, he is able to process the command without further confusing verbal stimulation from you.  Third, your voice will be more calm and assertive.  No doubt you’ll get a quicker, more enthusiastic response.

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