Catch Me If You Can!
For many dog owners one of the biggest fears is losing their dog. A dog can slip out of the door, pull the leash out of your hand, jump or dig under a fence and many other things that can result in a dog running away.
If you have ever experienced a dog running away from you, you know how gut wrenching and heart stopping the feeling is. Will I get my dog back? Are they gone forever? Are they going to get hit by a car?
The best way to prevent these things from happening? Training! Teach your dog what proper door manners are, how to not pull on the leash and to come when called. You are your dog's leader and ambassador. You are solely responsible for teaching your dog what their boundaries are to keep them safe!
Too many people believe that dogs just "know" right from wrong and this is a big mistake. Some dogs have better instincts than others, but generally speaking, most dogs do not innately know what human-made "right and wrong" is.
When a dog is running free and not coming to their owner, they are not inherently bad - they are uneducated. Don't get me wrong, there are bad dogs out there, and I've met a few of them. I could go on a whole other blog post about why the saying "there's no such thing as a bad dog, just bad owners" is so wrong. But I digress…
Whether a dog has run away in fear or fun, you just want your dog back and what you do in the first few seconds of a dog running away is crucial. I will get into training and elaborate on these things later on, but first, here are some do's and don'ts when a dog runs away:
With all of that being said, the ultimate goal is to have a dog that won't run away! To obtain that goal, you have to train your dog and maintain that training. Dogs are not computers that you can program once and be done. Even the most highly trained dogs have to do regular maintenance training to keep their skills and knowledge sharp. But where do you even start? In this article I will be going over how to teach your dog a reliable “come” command.
Goal: Teach your dog what "come" means.
Step 1: Always start your training in a confined environment. Grab some of your dog's favorite food as a treat. This will motivate them to come to you as soon as you give the command.
Step 2: Put your dog on a minimum of a 6 foot leash, get your dog to stay and walk backwards while holding the leash. Once you are at the end of the leash, call your dog by saying “come.” Initially, your dog will probably be reluctant to come but keep repeating the command. If they even take one step towards you, praise them! As your dog approaches you, praise them very enthusiastically. When they get to you, reinforce them with a treat and even more praise! If they veer off course, tell them “no,” give them a correction with the leash and repeat the command. Do not pull the dog to you with the leash!
Important note: When I refer to correction, I am mainly referring to a verbal or leash correction. There are a number of factors that play into what is a fair correction, too. It depends on the individual dog’s temperament, breed, age, sensitivity, level of knowledge of the command and so many other things. So, when I write “correction,” we are assuming that it is a well timed and fair correction.
Alternate Step 2: Have someone hold your dog’s leash rather than telling the dog to stay. This way you are not making them break a stay in the beginning.
Step 3: While in a confined area, continue as in step two, but instead, drop your dog’s leash in front of them so the end of the leash is six feet away from your dog. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog. Take it slow and do not expect a 100 yard recall right away! If your dog does not come when called, go back to the end of the leash, give a leash correction and call them again while walking backwards, inviting them in to your space. Remember to enthusiastically praise them when they take that first step towards you!
Alternate Step 3: While in an unconfined area, use a long line (a 20+ foot leash) so you still have control of the dog. Again, if your dog does not come, correct them, then praise as soon as they make a move for you!
Step 4: In a confined area, put your dog in a stay or have someone hold your dog. Go hide from your dog and yell for them to “come.” When they find you, give them lots of praise and a treat! Repeat the exercise, hiding in more and more secluded locations. Your dog will think this is a fun game! If they do not come to you, go to your dog, grab their collar and walk backwards, inviting them in to your space and praise them as they continue moving with you.
Alternate Step 4: In an unconfined area, use a 50+ foot long line. Yell for the dog to “come.” When they get to you, give them lots of praise and a treat! If they don’t come, correct them, call them again. When they take that first step, praise them! Reward the dog with a treat when they get to you.
Never use the come command if you are incapable of making your dog obey it. If you do, you will only be teaching your dog that they do not really have to obey you. Example: Your dog is sprinting through your backyard, chasing a rabbit. It would be a mistake to use the come command in this situation, because they probably will not listen and you have no way to enforce the command. If you call them and they do not come, they will learn that nothing happens to them if they do not listen.
Do not call your dog to you every time you ask them to stay, or soon they will anticipate your come command and begin to break their stays.
If you practice this exercise outside while your dog is playing, call them and reward them for obeying. Let them go play again, and reinforce them. In this way they will learn that they can obey you and they will still be permitted to return to play. If you put them in the crate every time you call them, they'll stop wanting to obey. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!
When in doubt, use a long line. It is much better to err on the side of caution and have control over your dog than have your dog loose in an unconfined area.
Oh, and never chase your dog if they refuse to come to you. Try some of the other tips from above!