Coming When Called and Making Sure Your Dog Does

Selective listening is often the reason for dogs not coming when called. A little bit of training, and we mean fun and enjoyable training, can fix that.
Selective listening is often the reason for dogs not coming when called. A little bit of training, and we mean fun and enjoyable training, can fix that.

My dog loves to play off-leash in our neighborhood park. I’m becoming more and more reluctant to let him go leash-less as he’ll ignore my calls and sometimes it takes forever for him to come. Who knows how long I’ll have to spend calling and waiting. I get annoyed. He doesn’t understand. We’re both frustrated.

The main thing is his safety. My happy off-leash dog wanders far and wide, out of my sight most times. I’m afraid he’ll run into the street and get hit by a car. Or someone might dognap him.

Please help.

Owner of a Wandering Woofer

Dear Wandering,

Sounds like your inquisitive canine has a bad case of “selective hearing.” My mom, a certified professional dog trainer, says this is very common among those in the human species, too. She really understands how frustrated you must get. Fortunately, we can help!

By following a few “coming when called” guidelines, performing some pre-event practice session, and supplying a side order of environmental management, you’re sure to make future outings a “walk in the park.”

Set a Course for Action and Adventure

Let’s look at it from your inquisitive canine’s point of view. When you call him, especially in stimulating outdoor environment filled with all sorts of smells and possible new friendships, you’re asking him to stop what he’s doing and leave the amusement park, i.e. fun time is finished. He’s looking at it like a punishment. You need to entice him to you by offering a much more attractive alternative to what he’s doing. Then, he’ll want to come to you no matter what.

The following guidelines provide dog training tips sure to encourage your dog to “take your call”:

  • How you present yourself: You call more dogs with honey than with vinegar. Make your body language and tone of voice joyful and enthusiastic. Be the life of the party. Send the message that he’s the most wonderful puppy in the whole world and that you’re his number one cheerleader! (Even if you want to scream and cry!) I see it all the time – the underlying anger and frustration displayed in the human’s body language, and when, and if, the dog finally comes, he gets in trouble. Stick with the cute little nicknames and happy voice so your dog loves coming to you.
  • Timing of the request: Are you only calling him when it’s time to leave? If so, he’s probably figured out it means playtime is over, so he has decided he’ll come when he’s good and ready. You’ve got a very clever inquisitive canine, by not coming when called, he avoids getting in trouble AND extends his playtime by running in the opposite direction. Practice calling him to you periodically while out and about, as opposed to waiting until you need to leave.
  • Don’t waste your breath: Call him once and only once. Calling him when you know that he’s not going to listen is a waste of breath and a recipe for frustration. Calling repeatedly teaches him that it’s okay to ignore you. If you need to leave, and you know you’ll be ignored when you call for him, then the best thing to do is to go get him. If this results in the ever-popular game of chase, then motivate him to do what you want by following the steps below.
  • Make it into a game: Playing chase is often fun for dogs, and for humans, too. Whether your dog likes to chaser or the “chase-ee,” it can work to your advantage. Similar activities included in our dog training game, these exercises help expend his energy while enhancing the bond you share. With a chase game, you can direct him toward the area you need to go, such as the park exit, or the car.
  • Be the better motivator: Don’t forget, you’re competing against a “Doggy Disneyland.” To make yourself more appealing than the “happiest place on earth” you’ll need to offer rewards that are more enticing than the smells, things to dig up, chew on, and/or eat that your dog is finding on his own. Food rewards, petting, praise, and playing games that he finds entertaining can all help motivate him to stop what he’s doing and return to you. Food is also a powerful motivator. Carry some extra special yummy morsels that he gets only when he’s at the park. And remember that novelty is key, so vary what you offer to help keep him interested.
  • Trial sessions: We can’t emphasize enough the importance of practicing this behavior over and over (and over) to the point where your dog responds without thinking. You want him to hear the cue and respond immediately. This conditioning won’t happen without lots of dress rehearsals. First, practice inside your home, then in your yard, and then when taking him for a leashed walk. While he’s on-leash, back-up while calling him to you, then reward him. When he’s responding to your requests, try a trip to the park, but first try taking him to a smaller enclosed area, if one is available. If not, practice with a long-line leash. However, if you choose that option, take care, as they can tangle, trip people up, and get snagged on shrubs and trees. It’s best to use long-line leashes in open spaces where there are no other people or dogs.
  • Lay of the land: Explore the area initially, to determine places your dog’s allowed to play in. You can even take him with you, while he’s on leash. This will help you discover places he really loves, and those that don’t appeal to him. You can then check the area for holes in fences or other hazards you want him to avoid. Being of the canine species, he most likely doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t run into the  street. It’ll be your responsibility to keep him safe by preventing him from getting to those areas. Set him up for success, not failure–or danger.

Paws and Reflect
Exploring and scavenging are normal behaviors for dogs; some more than others. Since it sounds as though yours is the adventuresome type, it’s of the utmost importance that he learns the special skills you want him to have in order to make the outings more fun for both of you. With time and patience you can both get what you want: him, a chance to answer the call of the wild, and you, the ability to stay on schedule.


Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. Their column is known for its simple, user-friendly approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. 

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Why Has My Older Dog’s Behavior Changed?

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I’ve had my dog for about 11 years. We’ve been best friends ever since I can remember, but for the last year she’s been acting very strange. She used to love when I pet her and snuggled up to her, but now she growls and snaps at me. I use to play a little rough with her all the time and she used to nibble at me lightly like puppies do, but as of recent she will bite me very hard and that scares me.

She also doesn’t listen to me when I call to her, she acts as if she can’t even hear me. I feel as though she respects everyone except me, and that really hurts me because I feel like I’ve been the closest to her because she’s my dog. What can I do? I just want to be close to my precious dog again. -Lulu

Dear Lulu,

Thank you for contacting us with your question. Poncho and I appreciate inquisitive people too.
My immediate thought to your query would be to have your dog evaluated by your veterinarian. From what you’ve described it sounds as if she might be experiencing some sort physical discomfort? Age, sudden change in behavior, not wanting to play like she used to? If you haven’t done so already, we highly recommend you contact your vet for a complete physical to rule out anything medically related – from orthopedic to internal issues. Your veterinarian will be able to assess properly and possibly provide answers to your concerns. If it turns out she’s in perfect health, we can then address the behavioral aspect.
In the meantime, keep in mind that if she is uncomfortable, or what she once found motivating has changed, you’ll want to interact at her level. You seem to be very keen in your observational skills – we commend you for that – so continue to watch her body language, allowing her to communicate her preferences. Maybe changing up your play style to more gentler type of activities? Teaching her tricks such as a “wave” (paw raise) or hand-targeting (having her touch her nose to the palm of your hand) might be fun for you both. She learns new stuff, as do you, while engaging in both physical and mental activities.
Thank you again for writing in – please keep us posted – we love updates! And, if you have any other questions, feel free to respond here or contact us directly.

Managing Leashed Dog While Off-Leash Dogs Want to Visit

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

How do I handle the situation when I am walking my boxer on her leash and we are confronted by an off leash dog or two? It happens a lot in my neighborhood and my former street dog (she was rescued from a neglectful life of living on the streets of East Dallas) goes crazy and barks and lunges at the dogs. I have worked with her so she no longer lunges at dogs behind fences but she continues to go crazy at the off leash roamers.

Ellen G.

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for writing in! We appreciate questions such as these, since there are many in your walking shoes experiencing the same situation. The following are a few quick tips you can use to help with enjoying your leash-walks.

Poncho and Ferris Out for Walkies

Interrupt and redirect! It sounds as if you’re already initiating this dog training maneuver when encountering dogs behind fences – now you can take it a step further. An easy and fun game you can play is “Find it! All you have to do is say “find it” when she alerts to another dog, then toss a small treat on the ground in the direction you want your dog do walk. The intention of the game is to redirect her attention elsewhere while making it fun and rewarding – more than barking and lunging at the other dogs. (Using a treat she’d do backflips over would make an even bigger impact!) With proper timing and consistency she should begin to create an association of “other dogs” = “fun”! You’ll know she’s understanding the game when she sees another dog and then looks at you almost as if asking “Are we going to play now?”

If your inquisitive canine is more of an obedience expert, you can play the same game, but in leu of playing “find it”, you can run through her gamut of “tricks”. The principle is the same in that every time another dog appears life gets better for her!

Keep it loosey-goosey! Leashes can be restrictive when dogs are trying to communicate with others – dogs and people. However, they’re important when in areas he or she can run off and get hurt or harm something else. Plus, in many areas it’s the law. To allow your dog freedom of speech in her innate language with the other pooch’s, avoid tightening up on the leash. IF (and this is a big IF) it’s safe for her, for the other dog, okay with the other owner (if they’re around), the general public, an

Allow your dog to speak! Our domestic dogs have a language all their own. Allowing your dog the opportunity to speak her mind will help her convey her message to the other dog, and vice-versa. She might be using both her vocal and body language skills. Similar to when any two people are talking, especially in a language we’re not fluent in, it’s best to avoid interrupting. d you’re comfortable with it, drop the leash. Again, this allows her more control over her behavior – which we all want, right?

Learn to “speak dog”! In addition to allowing the dogs to communicate, you’ll want to take a foreign language course in “dog-talk”. This is helpful for watching your own pooch, as well as others you encounter – especially those who are unfamiliar. A dog whose body and face is relaxed and loose, tail wiggly-waggy in movement, mouth open with tongue possibly hanging out while walking towards you using a bouncy gait is more likely to be friendly. The complete opposite – body stiff, mouth closed with tense face, stiff gate, head downward but gazing towards you/your dog – is a dog you’d want to question – it doesn’t mean he or she would want to start a fight, but this type of language might be conveying more of a reserved greeting. When in doubt you can use the little trick of taking a handful of treats and tossing them at the other dog while you head off in another direction.

Paws and reflect: Make the experience fun and rewarding, versus stressful, and be prepared for what your plan of action is for those times you see another dog while on walks. Also, remember to allow your dog to speak her mind when other dogs are around.With time, practice and consistency, you can make the experience a walk in the park – or wherever your dogs leash takes you.

Building Trust with Your New Bashful Bow-wow

Dear Inquisitive Canine, 

Shy Puppy in Class

Our new Shih Tzu puppy hides from us, only coming out when no one is around. She also lowers her head when we pet her. I know it takes time, but I’ve heard some dogs will start interacting with their new environment after 1-3 days, and tomorrow will be her third day here. I just want her to be

a happy puppy. What should I do and how should I do it?

Renee T.

Dear Renee,

Poncho here! My certified dog trainer mom thought it best if I take this one. First off, allow me to say “atta girl!” for being inquisitive, aware of your situation and taking the time to ask questions about your new puppy. I’d also like to commend you for being such a keen observer of her body language and your ability to listen to what she’s “saying.”

Once a young pup myself, I can speak firsthand as to how learning to trust new people, places and situations takes time and practice. I’m happy to pass along a few simple dog training tips you can use to help your wallflower fido become the more confident canine you’d like her to be.

Treats, Love and Understanding

Let’s start with a few knowledge nuggets regarding the topic of fear. I’m talking about fear as it relates to her feelings, her emotional state and her ability to make her own decisions.

The primary stage of your dog’s life when she’s most open to new people and situations is 0-3 months — a very narrow window in which sociability wins out over being afraid. If your pup wasn’t introduced to a variety of people and situations during this time, then chances are it’ll be tougher for her to adapt, since the fear response starts to win the race as she ages. However, not all hope is lost. You can certainly teach her anything she is physically and mentally capable of doing, including trusting and enjoying her new life with you and all that’s in it!

Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Keep It Simple. During this crucial teaching time, you’ll want to keep things simple and fun. All you have to do is pair something your bashful bow-wow might be uncertain about with something she already loves! For instance, since we animals must eat, you and others can provide extra-yummy goodies for her, such as pieces of grilled chicken or steak (I love when my mom does that!), allowing her to approach you. If she’s still hesitant, try tossing pieces toward her, building the trail of trust till she is confident enough to approach.
  • Adjust Expectations, Little by Little. Believe me, you’ll want to take baby-steps when working with her. As long as she continues to advance toward you, accepting your kindness and that of strangers, you can keep forging ahead at a slow-and-steady pace. If and when she decides to back off, respect her wishes and allow her to make that choice.
  • The Triple-P of Giving Treats. Once she begins to show signs of confidence, coming toward you and being close to you, begin hand-feeding her. Others in your home can do this as well. As she gets more comfortable, you can begin the Triple-P Treat Training Plan: Pet, praise, then present the treat. Petting should begin with light touches under her chin, working your way around as she gets more comfortable. And — this is really important — all petting should be followed with a yummy nibble of treat goodness. I recommend making the top of her head the last location, since hands reaching over will cause her to pull back.

As for additional situations and locations, repeat the same steps in places you want her to enjoy hanging out. Over time, she should learn to believe that her new world is a fantastic place and her confidence should build, making it easier for her to accept and believe that novelty is the spice of life!

Paws and Reflect

Fearfulness is a normal reaction across many different species. Your pup is responding in a way that is innate — avoiding in order to survive. It can be difficult to not take it personally, but keep in mind that developing a relationship with strangers, especially those of a different species, is more about building trust and not about liking. With a caring dog-mom like you being patient, allowing her to set the pace, giving her control over her environment and being able to make her own decisions, your bashful bow-wow will begin to enjoy her life with you in time and blossom into that self-assured pup you want!


Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, commonsense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.

Puppy Thinks Sibling Cat is a Squeaky Toy

Dear Poncho,

My name is Greta. I’m a 7-month-old German Shepherd who is absolutely fascinated by my kitty siblings. I can’t seem to leave them alone.

Puppy and kitty playingI’ve been told they are beloved family members, but part of me thinks they would make really interesting windup squeaky toys. I keep attempting to figure out how to get them to squeak, which totally freaks out my humans. Since I’d like to remain part of the family, do you have any suggestions on how I can control this behavior?

Greta

Dear Miss. Greta,

Congratulations! Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward gaining control. I commend you for being able to get this far, especially when the behavior you speak of is one that is deeply ingrained and very difficult for most animals to control. Allow me to provide my pooch’s perspective.

Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model: Continue Reading “Puppy Thinks Sibling Cat is a Squeaky Toy”

Training Tips for Teaching Your Dog Not to Speak

Dear Poncho,

My dog barks enthusiastically, very loudly, over and over. He does it at many different times, including the morning when I’m taking him outside, when I come home from being away, or when we arrive home together from a car ride. He barks in the car, out of the car, and everywhere between!

I don’t know how to stop him. I tell him “No,” but then he usually barks at least two to four more times!

Do you have any suggestions?
Tj’s owner

Dear inquisitive canine parent of TJ,

Your dog barks, you give him attention by saying “no”, he barks again. Hmm, sounds to me you’ve done a great job at teaching him to “speak” – nice work! I have a feeling that wasn’t your intention though.

TJ sounds like one happy enthusiastic pal. But I totally understand about it being annoying when another living being can’t seem to appreciate the sound of silence. Believe it or not, you’re barking up the right tree. I myself am one inquisitive canine who enjoys his own voice now and again, and I’d be happy to share some of the training tips my own mom uses with me.

Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model:

Know Your Animal!
Guess what? TJ is a dog! And guess what else? Dogs bark. Yep, that’s what we do. Well, at least most of us. Some more than others of course. And similar to humans talking for a variety of reasons, dogs will bark for a variety of reasons. For instance I’ll bark when:

  • Someones knocks at the front door
  • I’m excited
  • Patrolling the yard
  • I’m wanting attention
  • Annoying diesel trucks drive by (I’m a hybrid fan myself)

And the list goes on….Please remember that barking is a main form of communication for us canines. If you didn’t want to live with an animal that barks…well, then you might want to find a roommate of another species. But you’d probably end up with having to deal with other irritating habits and noises. Plus, I’m sure the love you have for TJ outweighs the annoying barking so we won’t discuss that option.

Whaddya Want?
It’s time to hunker down and figure out exactly what it is you want from TJ. Do you want him to bark only at certain times, such as when someone is at your front door? Do you want TJ to be quiet when he’s in the car, when you come home, and when you take him outside?

Once you have your list compiled, you’ll need to take the time to teach him when and where you want him to be silent. Start small and work your way up. Having realistic expectations will make the process easier on you both.

Reward. Reward. Reward.
Now it’s time to begin acknowledging TJ when he makes the choices you want him to make. For you this means any time he is quiet – especially during the more exciting times. Suppressing enthusiasm can be very difficult for us pooches, so using a reward that is more motivating than the reasons he wants to bark is key.

A few ideas that might work for you specifically are:

  • Practice coming and going in and out of the house and car, with TJ in tow, as well as on your own, rewarding with chin scratches, yummy treats and a “good boy” at those moments when he is quiet. Even if it’s just a brief second while he’s coming up for air is better than nothing. Take what you can get when you can get it.
  • Hang out with TJ in your car while it’s parked at your home. Read a book – or the latest Edhat edition. Then while TJ is just chillaxing, reward him for being quiet. This way he learns that being quiet in the car gets him the attention he wants. If he barks, send him inside and take off in the car on your own.
  • If and when TJ barks for attention – that doesn’t involve having to go outside to potty or a stranger is on the property – ignore it! Walk away if you have to.

Know Yourself:
If you’re having one of those days where you don’t feel like dealing with TJ and his being a chatty-Kathy in the car, then leave him at home. If you’re at your wits end and you don’t feel like training him, then redirect his energy to a different outlet. A scavenger hunt in the yard, play-date with another doggy friend, an outing at the local doggy daycare or date with a dog walker can help give him the attention he wants while expending energy, leaving him relaxed and wanting to rest.

Paws and Reflect
Keep in mind that any type of attention is still attention – even if it’s negative attention. So if you’ve been interacting with TJ whenever he barks, even saying something like “no” will increase the risk of his barking more often.

So instead of focusing in on the negative, concentrate on the behaviors that you want, teach TJ in a way he understands, and reward him heavily for making the better choice.

*****

Poncho Mayer is a 10-pound inquisitive canine who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. He and his mom work together running the family business that services other inquisitive canines. For additional dog training and behavior tips, subscribe to their blog. You can also follow Poncho on Twitter and head over to his Inquisitive Canine Facebook page, “like us” and upload pics of your own inquisitive canine. You can also ask us about dog behavior, just email us directly.

How to Get Your Dog to Answer Your Call

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I like to take my dog to the park to let him play off-leash. However, I’m finding it more difficult because when it’s time to go back home, it takes me too long to get him to come back to me. I never know how long the whole ordeal will take.

In addition, he sometimes runs off so far that I can’t see him. Or, he ends up shimmying under a fence and is off exploring somewhere. I’m afraid he will run onto the street and get hit by a car. Can you help?

Owner of a wandering woofer

Dear Wandering,

Sounds like your dog is a proficient explorer of the great outdoors. Although we’re sure that you appreciate that trait, we can understand that his “selective hearing” can be frustrating, especially when you need to leave. Fortunately, we can help! Just by following a few “coming when called” guidelines, performing some pre-event practice sessions, and  supplying a side-order of environmental management, you’re sure to make everyone happy while staying on schedule.

Set a Course for Action and Adventure

When it comes to calling your dog to you, especially in a stimulating outdoor environment, keep in mind that you’re asking him to stop what he’s doing and leave the amusement park. For him, this means that the fun is ending. Talk about punishment! To entice him away, you’ll need to promise a much more attractive alternative to what he’s doing at the moment so he’ll want to come to you no matter what. The following guidelines provide dog training tips sure to encourage your dog to “take your call”: Continue Reading “How to Get Your Dog to Answer Your Call”

House Training Tips for Dog Who is One Potty Girl

Dear Poncho,

Could you tell me why my 13-year-old lab, who has never had an accident in my house, will sometimes discreetly pee in my parents’ house when she’s there? Help!

Cheers!
Deena

Dear Miss Deena,

Been there myself. And I must say, when you aren’t given a heads-up on the rules, then you just go with the flow. Unfortunately, in this case the flow is on your parents’ living room floor. Bummer. Allow me to give you the help you’re asking for.

Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model:

Know Your Animal!

Unless we’ve been taught otherwise, we dogs eliminate when we feel the need, no matter where or when. And, similar to you humans, we have preferences as to where we prefer to do the deed. Two main triggers that get us going are surface texture and scent. The feel of dirt or grass can be appealing to one dog but not another. This goes for tile and/or cement. And wet grass? Hah! Fahgettaboudit! Do you like a wet toilet seat?

As for scent, again each dog has his or her own favorites. You may have your “31 flavors”, but for us the entire world is one giant perfume counter. Observing one of our buddy’s go potty, wanting to update our status by “marking” territory, and previous learning are a few other reasons we’d get the urge. So be mindful of any smells and surfaces that might be sending a mixed message. Continue Reading “House Training Tips for Dog Who is One Potty Girl”

Dog Training Basics to Prevent Fido From Being Left Out of the Group

Dear Poncho,

Help! We’ve had family staying with us all weekend, and our dog, Wiley, has had a hard time behaving. At the family’s request, when we go outside, we have to put him inside, in his crate. That’s because if we let him out when we go out to play, he jumps on and nips at us, the extended family, neighbors, the gardener and anyone else stopping by for a visit. When we are inside, Wiley must be sent outside in the yard.

Wiley is part of our family, and I want him to blend in and be able to play with us. When we try to ignore him by turning away, he jumps on our backs and also continues to nip. We just can’t have him doing that, especially to my 85-year-old dad or our 2-year-old granddaughter. We’ve tried lots of praise when he sits and we pet him, but then he jumps and nips. I hope you have some suggestions for us — we’re so frustrated, we’re happy to try anything you suggest!

Ellen (Wiley’s mom)

Dear Miss Ellen,

Sounds like Wiley is living up to his name — skilled and clever at getting what he wants. I’d be happy to offer some tips on how you can help your own inquisitive canine become part of the group, not left out in the cold.

Let’s talk about dogs and a few of the general behavior traits we possess: jumping to greet, having enormous amounts of energy (especially when we’re young or haven’t burned off the excess energy), using our mouths to explore the world, wanting attention (positive or negative), preferring to be around people than alone and always game for a good time.

Hmm, yep, sounds like Wiley is a full-blown canine extraordinaire! My first tip is to understand these characteristics and appreciate Wiley for who he is — a dog who loves people of all ages and wants to spend time with his family.

Continue Reading “Dog Training Basics to Prevent Fido From Being Left Out of the Group”

Resolve to Help Keep Dogs in Homes and out of Shelters

Dear Inquisitive Dog Parents,

The new year is officially here. For many, this means creating lists of resolutions with intentions of modifying one’s behavior. In honor of this tradition, my sidekick, Poncho, and I have decided to join in, talking about resolutions to help dogs stay in their homes and out of animal shelters. We encourage you to team up with us and add the dogs of your community — whether your own or someone else’s — to your list of personal achievements.

Solutions Start with Preparation

According to a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy on Reasons for Relinquishment of Companion Animals in U.S. Animal Shelters, the top reasons dogs are sent to shelters have to do with living situations, cost, time, owners having personal problems and behavioral concerns of the dogs themselves.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I can attest to this, as I commonly hear similar complaints. As for Poncho, he used to live in a shelter, so he knows firsthand the reasons he and his buddies landed there. Together, he and I have compiled the following tips to help dog lovers everywhere do what they can to reduce the shelter dog population: Continue Reading “Resolve to Help Keep Dogs in Homes and out of Shelters”