Swapping a bad old habit for a new one

How do you teach an older dog that has never come back to do so when off the lead in the park?

You would think our dogs would respect us and the fact they don't come back shows they are dominant and don't really care about us. But think of all the other commands that your dog does really well. Your dog does not jump up, stays quiet in the car, keeps off couches or beds unless invited, walks well, does not chase the cat or run out the front door ... so how is it that in all these areas we are in control - according to the dominance argument - but if your dog won't come back when off lead, it's because it's a dominant dog?

I would like to challenge this thinking and say that it is mostly your fault your dog does not come back. When you let your dog off the lead for the first time it would haveprobably come back, but eventually it started to focus on other things like a blade of grass blowing in the wind! Then you kept saying "come" and the dog eventually came back and despite the fact you'd called it many times, it still got a reward. So you have straight away started teaching your dog that "come" clearly means "at your leisure". Not a great start, and it doesn't take long for your dog to not come all that well.

I believe that if you have to say a command more than twice, the dog is not getting it or is not under control or we have taught it incorrectly. So if you have to call your dogs many times, listen up: create a new command. For example: "return to me" - works well. It's a new command that we can re-teach our dog now that it is slightly older.


1.       Only call the dog when it's looking at you. Say the name till it looks, then the new word you are using. My wife knows there's no point talking to me while watching rugby as I will just grunt in response without listening. Dogs are no different. Get their full attention first, then go from there

2.       In the first two weeks, only use the word when you can guarantee he is going to come back - then he starts to pick up that the actual command is "return to me" now, as opposed to a few minutes down the track

3.       Make sure you have something top shelf to get them thinking why it's worthwhile to come back to you. No use having a soft toy if they have a better toy.

Slowly over the next four to five weeks call your dog back every so often and reward it, but start phasing out the rewards. Within a few weeks you should be away laughing.

Simon Goodall is CEO of Dog Guru Ltd. See them on Facebook and Twitter

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