Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called
Teaching your dog to come to you when you call her (also known as the recall) is the most important lesson you can teach her. A dog who responds quickly and consistently when you call her can enjoy freedoms that other dogs cannot. She can play in the dog park, hike with you in off-leash parks and keep out of trouble in most situations. Even if you never intend to have your dog off her leash, things happen. Collars break, leashes slip, gates or doors are inadvertently left open. When an accident happens, having a reliable recall could very well save your dog's life.
Teaching a dog to reliably come when she's called is not necessarily easy, though. Some dogs do seem more naturally inclined to come when called. Typically these are insecure dogs who never want to stray far from you, or they're dogs who are so motivated by your attention that they find coming to you quite rewarding. The vast majority of dogs, however, need to be taught to come when called. Although you might spend more time teaching this behavior than any other, the benefits make it well worth the investment.
No matter how much effort you put into training, no dog is ever going to be 100% reliable at coming when called. Dogs are not machines. They're like people in that they have their good days and their bad days. Sometimes they don't hear you call, sometimes they're paying attention to something else, sometimes they misunderstand what you want, and sometimes they simply decide that they would rather do something else. And, let's face it, sometimes our training is inconsistent or confusing.
There are breed differences in trainability when it comes to the recall. Hounds, for instance, are notoriously difficult to teach this behavior. Some sighthounds, such as whippets and greyhounds, are not highly motivated by the usual rewards, like dog treats and toys. They often need more creative incentives—furry toys that move quickly or wonderful treats like gorgonzola cheese. Scent hounds, like beagles and coonhounds, are often so distracted by the smells around them that they can be oblivious to your calls. This isn't to say that these breeds can't be trained to come when called. They certainly can—but you'll need to be more patient and persistent when training some individuals of these breeds. Regardless of the breed you have, the goal of training is to make sure that your dog understands what you want her to do when you call her and to establish a strong habit of coming when called so that she's less likely to choose to do something else.
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