Won’t Come Back When Called

Labrador Marley doesn't come back when calledWhen they opened the door for me to go, Marley simply walked out and down the road, coming back home about fifteen minutes later. We may have done some loose-lead walking but he didn’t consider that to be his morning walk, so he went by himself.

The previous dog I went to, a mixed breed called Milly (see previous story), looked like a Labrador but wasn’t – Marley is the real thing.

Needless to say, one of the two problems I was called to help with is the fact he just won’t come back when called. I had seen it for myself. As we all called him, he looked round at us, grinned, and ran around a corner leading to the field.

The other issue is pulling on lead. They want walks to be enjoyable and have tried ‘traditional’ training which involves correction and holding the lead tight, with no success at all.  With a different mental approach and different equipment, we walked Marley about the front of the property on a loose lead.

Just like Milly, Marley is two and a half. They have had him for six months before which he lived on a farm and one can guess he had a fair amount of freedom. Another thing he has in common with Milly is that his only problems occur outside.

Marley has come a long way in the past six months. They have resolved many issues including begging for food and jumping up on people. Like many Labradors he is simply full of life and enthusiasm. He needs a good run and chase which he can’t do anymore due to his running off and ignoring them.

Working on the recall will be a lot longer process because things have happened the wrong way around. My feelings are that puppies should have very restricted physical boundaries and freedom should be introduced gradually (with a bit of reining in again when the dog becomes adolescent) so that ‘not coming back when called’ simply never becomes an option. In Marley’s past life, due to the freedom he very likely had, he expects to freelance. The only way to deal with this is for him to lose freedom for as long as it takes while they work on it, using a very long line, so he has no option of escaping.  At present he’s on a retractable lead which by definition is never slack. We can’t do proper work on recall if the dog doesn’t feel free.

At the moment calling Marley in the usual way is a waste of energy. To him whether he comes or not is optional.  They will now use a whistle – first charging it like battery so running to them immediately for something especially tasty becomes an automatic response when he hears it.  For the forseeable future they will not use it unless they are sure he will come or unless he’s on the long line and has no choice.

The loose lead walking is more of a technique to teach a dog to do something that doesn’t come naturally – to walk at a human pace when he is eager to get somewhere or play with another dog, and to walk near his humans because he wants to and not because he is forced to.

I predict that it will be months before they dare let him off, even briefly. If meanwhile he gets the opportunity to run off again they will set things right back.

This isn’t merely a matter of training though. Marley already has ‘learnt’ what coming when called means. He simply doesn’t do it.

Why would that be? Because what he wants to do is far more relevant and exciting to him than coming back to his humans. In general he gets their attention whenever he asks for it, rather than the other way around – his humans getting HIS attention when they ask for it.  In order of relevance to Marley when he is out, his humans come way down the list.  With people to greet, smells to explore and dogs to play with, it’s a no-brainer to Marley!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Marley, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

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