Friday, November 4, 2011

Why your dog must learn the "come here" command

Liam the pug looking worried in a pile of leaves

One of the first lessons you learn in any basic puppy class is the "Come" command. Many dog owners wonder why trainers don't start with something useful like "Sit" or "Stay." Yesterday, I got a good reminder of why recall is so important.

At the end of a long walk, Liam and I ran into our neighbor's very small puppy. This little guy ran right across the street for a little play session. Apparently, he'd slipped out the door between the owner's feet, and he wasn't quite ready to come back inside again. Treats weren't working, and the dog just didn't respond to any commands.

Dogs who won't respond to commands can get in big trouble. They can run in traffic, get in fights or simply disappear. That's why it's so important to teach your dog to come to you, each and every time you call.

How can you do it? Most trainers recommend that you use very good treats to encourage the dog to come, and keep a leash on the dog 100 percent of the time until they always respond to your command.

But what can you do when your dog is loose and won't return?

Knowing your dog is key. Finding something the dog finds irresistible and keeping it nearby could help you prevent a tragedy. For some dogs, food will do the trick. For other dogs, a favorite toy can be an effective lure. And for other dogs like this little pup, playmates are the ultimate enticement. To reunite the pup with his owner, I kept Liam on his leash and we walked closer to the house. 

This story had a fairly happy ending. Liam was a little traumatized by the tension in the air, and he got nipped in the face a few times by a puppy who doesn't know his own strength, but he emerged in good spirits after the encounter.

The pup missed a crucial training moment, however. The owners simply caught the dog and forced him back into the house. This is the ideal way to keep him safe, of course, but it might have been slightly better to lure him into the house with the promise of play and then simply shut the door. I remain slightly worried that he'll break out again, and next time he might be harder to catch.

Let's hope the owners are working on the "Come here" command right now.