As cute as my new puppy Cassie is and as much as I want to spoil her rotten, it’s important that I’m not complacent by allowing undesirable behaviours to develop. Behaviours that may seem fine in a puppy can become real problems in an adult. Now is the perfect time to be working on some essential life skills such as retrieving and coming when called.
Without this basic skills training any form of dog sports becomes very difficult but most importantly, day to day events such as taking the puppy out for a walk and letting him off lead at the park can become a battle of wills making this time very unpleasant.
Puppies will generally start out being quite happy to come to you but as they start spending time with other dogs and enjoying all the reinforcement that comes from the environment, it becomes increasingly hard to convince them that coming back to you is as much fun as these other pursuits.
It’s easy to make the mistake of always calling your puppy away from these ‘fun’ things, putting them on lead and going home. It doesn’t take long for him to start associating you with the ender of all joy and to then avoid coming back to you so that he doesn’t have to stop what he is doing.
I found with Cassie that every time I needed to put her into her crate or puppy pen she would zoom off to avoid capture. Dogs learn by association so by making the mistake of only ever grabbing her at these times it didn’t take long for Cassie to figure out what my intentions were.
Stopping this problem is really quite easy once you think about it. We know that dogs will do what is most reinforcing to them. Therefore we need to make sure that being around us is as reinforcing as doing all the other things. The way to most dogs’ hearts is food. Whenever I’m home I intentionally wear pants that have pockets. This way I can always have a ready supply of Cassie’s favourite treats close at hand. Anytime she comes over I lean over, give her a pat or scratch around the collar area and then give her a treat. I then continue with whatever it was that I was doing. This regular and random reinforcement ensures that coming over to me and being with me stays at the top of her list of things that she wants to do. You can follow this same method using a toy instead of food as the reward.
Teaching Cassie to respond to her name is the first step in teaching her to come when called. This game is something I start at home in familiar surroundings where the distraction level is very low. To play the game with your dog, begin by simply sitting on your lounge at home and if your puppy wanders past call his name. If he turns his head towards you give him a reward. It won’t take long for him to figure out that if he looks at you when you say his name he will get a treat.
Once you’ve had success at a very basic level start to randomly call the puppy’s name while he is wandering around the house. Once again if he responds by coming over to you, reward with a favourite treat. If you do this even ten times a day you are setting yourself up to have a dog that will always respond when called because he will associate it with good things.
The golden rule to remember is to only ever say your dog’s name once and never get the treat out until your dog has responded otherwise you may find that his response becomes dependent on seeing the goodies first.