Catch me if you can! Your dog is zooming around out of control while you helplessly call his name. He comes right up to you, but seems to duck away right at the last moment. It takes you 15 minutes to actually catch him, and the whole time people are watching. If you have ever been in this embarrassing scenario you are not alone. It happens to a lot of dogs, even some that are considered very well trained!
This is the most common problem with our dogs in training this month. It can be funny, but there are times where running wildly can put the dog in danger. Not only this, but not being caught will often develop into larger behavior issues like aggression toward strangers and even family members. You want to fix this immediately!
How can you solve this problem?
Very simple: we will set it up so he enjoys being caught. When your dog comes to you and lets you hold their collar good things will happen. Here is how we will start:
The first step in teaching your dog to enjoy being caught is to each him to enjoy hearing his name. As with all training, you want to start in a quiet, comfortable area. for best results, do this at home during a time of day when you and your dog are both relaxed. Say his name, and when he looks at you give him a tasty treat. (we will have a post on what makes a good treat or reward soon, so stay tuned!) Practice this step at least 12 times each day until your dog is very good at looking for his treat when he hears his name. You are teaching him that his name means good things are on the way so he should always be listening for it.
While you are teaching the dog to respond positively whenever you say his name, you should also be listening to yourself. How do you feel when you say his name? Do you ever say his name when you are upset with your dog? Because all mammals are hardwired to match the emotional state of those around them have brain cells dedicated to recognizing and copying the emotions of those around them, your dog will often match the way you feel. Humans actually have brain cells that detect emotions and copy them. So does your dog. This means that for him to feel good when you say his name, you need to feel good when you say it. If you are upset with your dog use words like "Hey" or "Stop That" to get his attention and then give him something else to do. And don't worry, if you are just having a bad day your dog will understand.
When your dog is very good at the first step, it is time to move on to the second step. Now when you say your dogs name, ask him to come a few steps toward you to get the treat Start simply, with just enough distance that he has to move his feet. When he is good at this, add a few more steps, then a few more. Congratulations, your dog now knows how to come when he is called! In dog sports this is called a "recall" and it is a very important skill.
Now that you have this basic recall, you can start the third step. Call your dog's name, have him walk to you, then gently take his collar in your hand. While you are holding his collar, give him his treat, immediately let go of the collar, and tell him he did good. If he chooses to stay close to you after you let him go, pet him or give him a belly rub as an additional reward. Now your dog knows how to be caught. You still have work to do. You will gradually add more distractions and more distance, but your basic exercise looks like this:
Here is what it looks like: