National Train Your Dog Month


January is a month set aside to remind people the importance of training your dog.  In some ways I would prefer socialize, educate and help your dog assimilate into modern human life over “train”, but for ease of writing let’s just stick with train.

What does that mean to you and your dog?  Maybe you don’t have very high expectations of your companion and you are perfectly happy if they hang out and at least don’t pee in the house or chew your shoes. But you are really missing out on a life enriching experience if you don’t engage further with your dog in something.  Dogs like people need to have their minds and bodies stimulated with some type of activity in order to stay healthy and vibrate. But beyond that the relationship and understanding you will develop with your pal will forever change your perspective on dogs, other animals, and even life itself.  Our dog companions are very much reflections of our lives.  How committed are we to some goal or ideal, how serious we are ourselves, how generous, friendly, happy, healthy we are is indeed reflected  by the way we interact with the dog by our side.  So take a look and be honest with yourself (and your dog) just where do you really stand on all this.

If you want to get started and have not ever done anything too much with your dog before you should start out with simple things, like a regular walking time in different places every other day, or at the least once a week.  My guys can’t wait for this time and will yip with joy when its time to go.  You can take a toy to toss for those whose dogs are retrievers or take some treats and try tossing them for your dog to find with his keen sense of smell.


Many training centers offer trick training classes and you’d be surprised how many of the tricks learned in class can be turned into helpful things the dog can do around the house.  If you like, there are several ways you can earn titles even by doing the tricks.


If your dog likes to use his nose sniffing things out, sign up for a scent training class.tara head in box Almost all the training facilities are offering it now and I guarantee your dog will thank you.  Sniffing fun is for dogs of all ages and breeds and the one thing they all seem to enjoy immensely.    Its a natural act for them so you don’t need a lot of training skills in order to have fun with your dog.

Another thing a large number of dogs enjoy is dock diving. This is an activity where the owner tosses a favorite retrieve item in a pool and the dog jumps from the dock to get it. During competition they will measure the distance and titles can be earned but there are a lot of places that offer it for fun as well.  It is not difficult to get an eager retriever to jump after the toy and it is surprising the many different breeds you see that enjoy it too.

These are just a few ideas to get started, but certainly not the only things you can do.  The point is do something with your dog, get out there with your dog and engage. Your dog will benefit greatly from it and if you keep it up, his behavior will continue to improve.  Well mannered dogs just don’t happen, you have to work with them every day, interact in a meaningful way daily, and keep doing it all their lives.  You asked your dog into your life and I feel you owe it to him to make it a good life by giving him the most important thing possible-something to do with you.  Happy training!






Smart Phones, Smarter Dogs, and more Smart Technology

I would not call myself a techno-geek but for an old lady I do try to keep up with things as the world changes.  Technology can be wonderful in many ways to make our lives better and can even help with training our dogs, especially our service dogs.  While I find my greatest satisfaction comes from getting my hands dirty in my garden or stroking a furry critter, I do try to incorporate the technology in my dog training when I feel it is appropriate.  With this blog I would like to examine a few things in that area that can help with training you might not have tried yet.

Smart phones are a great invention and I am still learning some of the many incredible things my phone can do for me. One simple feature for people training their own service dogs can use, is the alarm feature.  Setting an alarm, a simple task, can help you stay on track with your training program.  Its easy to get distracted so just go to your calendar and set up appointments with yourself for training time with your dog and turn on the alarm reminders.  While you are on the calendar plug in all the dates your dog gets heartworm, flea prevention and when vaccines expire.  I was appalled recently when I learned a client had let heartworm and all the vaccines expire on their dog that they had brought for breeding to my stud.  There is no excuse for this if you have a smart phone.

The phone can also help with training, as it is a great source of sounds.  I use several apps to create noises to help socialize pups or desensitize older dogs. All the apps I found were free too. No reason you should have a noise sensitive dog if you have a smart phone. And while you are training you can also be taking videos from your phone that can be reviewed later by you or another trainer to help with any training situation that might come up.  This is one of the best features of smart phones in my book.

Some other technology that is really useful are the new age electronic collars that have built in lights and tracking devices.  I have a lot of black or dark colored dogs and at night when everyone goes out for the last potty walk the light on the collar really comes in handy for keeping track of dogs.  Here is a link to one of my favorite eCollars that lights up.

c92af701-dd27-4b83-83b1-d9ee92d24d35The tracking devices are super nice too, they run on an app on your smart phone. What a great invention for helping to keep track of dogs, especially in my situation where we are on a farm in the country.  They are very easy to use and very reliable too.

Perhaps the best new thing to be tested so far is a new device that the service dogs wear on their vests.  When something happens to their owner they can pull a tag and the device will repeat, “ My owner needs help” until someone comes to help the distressed person.  There are other electronic devices being tested for dogs to activate to help a person but most of those are still in testing phases.  Dogs might not be able to speak as we do but this is one step closer to allowing them to “call” for help when they sense distress for their person.

I’ve also been doing a little digging into some research on breeding smarter dogs.  There is actually more work being done in this area than I first suspected and I find it quite fascinating. One thing that some of the research supports is that dogs that excel at a job will produce puppies that have a better than average chance of excelling at the job also. This is what has been referred to as Instinctive Intelligence. So dogs bred for example to be great sniffing dogs for many generations do this behavior on their own and require a trainer to just put a few rules to this natural drive to make it work for the partnership.  Another thing that scientists look at is what they call Adaptive Intelligence which is a quality needed for medical alert dogs as they need to learn and adapt to the changes of their person’s medical condition and solve problems presented as a result.  This is something that can vary within a given breed with some dogs having better adaptive abilities than others. This is also different than the dog’s learning ability when instructed by humans, which the scientists called Working Intelligence.  I feel that all three need to be present in a very high degree to in order to make a good service dog, especially a medical alert dog.Morgan and Ranger pups

Most breeders do not train their breeding stock to be service dogs and thus are not able to know to what degree the dogs possess these different levels of intelligence. This makes getting a puppy a very tricky proposition for a person looking for a service dog prospect.   I know one group I was asked to help with their breeding program, experienced greater success with future litters when they finally trained all their breeding stock. They were better able once doing this, to determine how to improve the breeding of future litters.  Smarter dogs are possible and are becoming more available as professionals are learning how to apply what science is discovering, to the practical world of producing better service dog prospects.

I would like to end with a favorite quote and some food for thought:

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. – John Ruskin



Dog Manners Matter– 5 Tips to Improve Your Public Appearances

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

I am seeing more and more so called service dogs appearing in public with very poor manners and feel the image they are giving service dogs is not a positive one. So I felt for this month’s blog I would offer up 5 tips for making the image you portray in public a little more positive.

One issue for many dogs living in our urban culture is controlling the urge to rush over and greet another of their species when they pass on the street.  Dogs are sociable and they love to greet new dogs, sniff butts and get the latest scoop on where the other guy has been.  Humans often handle these urges in the wrong manner causing their dog to become more dog reactive in many cases.  For service dogs in particular, they need to stay focused on their job and must exhibit exemplary manners at all times so there can be no interaction with other dogs in public while “on the job”.   To teach your dog to be less reactive you need to practice around other dogs.

a group of service dogs prating manners in a store

Practicing in public with other dogs is important

The best way to do this is pick a dog friendly store, such as a pet shop, and find a few willing friends with dogs to help.  Everyone goes into the store at different times and mills around, passing each other often as they go up and down isles.  I have my students periodically sit their dogs while they pretend to shop and the other dog passes by.  The SD should not move or attempt to interact with the passing dog. If the SD tries to interact, the handler should try to preempt the move by asking the dog to “watch me”.   If the dog is properly trained to look up at the handler on this cue, then they should look up thus missing the dog walking by and maintaining the sit stay.  If your timing is not too good it might take a bit of practice on your part to get this down but it is one worth practicing.  Soon when your dog sees another dog approaching he will be looking at you and not the other dog.

Eating out with a dog can be a challenge too. When you go to a restaurant or bar try to find a table out of the way or in a corner so the dog can relax without being near a lot of foot traffic.  Some people carry mats so their dogs can have a “place” to stay on. This is great for several reasons; it reminds the dog not to move from the defined place but also keeps him clean from dirty floors. Training for this can be done then at home by putting the mat in various places in the house and practicing longer and longer stays on it.  If the dog moves off the mat, replace them there firmly but with no anger and no second command. Start out with short stays and work up to longer stays, always vary the amount of time when training.

service dog resting under table on place mat

showing a good stay on his place mat.

Shopping carts seem to be an issue with many dogs I witness in public. First off I don’t believe the dogs should be riding in the cart. Even my Chihuahua Boo when we go shopping at the nursery for plants does not ride in the cart. He maintains his position by me as we peruse the isle for new additions to the garden.  This is just an exercise you need to practice and that practice should be in public.  I find stores with cart collection spots outside in the parking area, go by and grab one and practice in the parking area as well as on the sidewalks outside the store.  It might take several weeks of practice before the dog gets comfortable walking with the cart but with repetition, praise and an occasional treat for a job well done they will soon get the idea.

Walking in crowds where people have shopping bags swinging about is a situation where I have seen dogs bolt, bark or worse snap at the offending shopper and their bags.  Training a dog to be non-reactive in this situation is a matter of conditioning.  I will start with many shopping bags on the ground spaced just far enough apart that we can walk through them. I will weave around while having the dog heel beside me but will also practice stops where the dog has to sit with the bag actually touching them.  When they are confident with this I will have friends come by and pick up the bags and now walk about the area as I weave with the dog between them.  As the dog becomes more confident I will add in the final test and that is to have all my friends and myself and the dog squeeze into a small space about the size of an elevator.  You can make that space with barriers if you don’t have an empty closet to practice in or an elevator handy.  The idea is the dog is just go with you and not be bothered by people and shopping bags.

brown dog sitting next to shopping cart

Learning to be clam around carts takes practice

The final tip for those seeking to polish their SD performance in public concerns jumping on people. I know everyone is proud of their dog and it is great that the public wants to pet your dog but once you allow this your dog will expect to be the center of attention in public. That is opposite of what we want and need from a SD. A well trained SD should be ignoring the public and focusing on their person. They have a job to do and cannot do it if they are greeting the public.  Be firm with people not petting your dog; explain he is working and needs to focus on his job.  During training I use every situation I can think of to set the dog up with people distractions.  This might include children at the playground, people calling the dog, people rushing up to the dog and speaking in an excited high pitched voice.  I ask my helpers that if the dog gets to them before I can divert him, they should turn around and ignore the dog as soon as he approaches. At that point I call the dog back to heel and ask for a “watch me”.  This is another point of manners training that just takes a lot of repetition to get the dog to ignore whatever the other people are doing while he is on duty.

Service dogs are allowed special access where other dogs cannot go and feel if that is the case they should have exemplary manners above and beyond the annoying untrained pet dog. I hope if you are training or have a SD you will continue to train all the time perfecting those manners so everyone admires your team and you set the example for others to follow.

Three Dangerous Threats to your Service Dog

By Debby Kay ©December 2014 all rights reserved

Some dangerous threats to your service dog are apparent: for example, a falling tree or speeding car. There are other threats however, that are not so obvious and it is those I want to focus on for this blog.

One danger I see repeatedly at my workshops is a lack of handler awareness. New handlers in particular are so concerned with what they are doing that they forget to watch their dogs. One eye should always be on what your dog is doing, looking for any clue from their body posture as to what they are thinking; in this manner you can anticipate and perhaps prevent a possible catastrophe. It takes practice to develop that watchful eye but it is an essential skill for keeping your dog safe. Dogs are like Hoovers, vacuuming up anything on the ground, whether it is be edible or not. This habit has led to many sick dogs ending up at the emergency vet’s office.

dog sniffing the walkway

Until trained many dogs will eat anything they find on a walk

Teaching the “leave it” command is useful for avoiding situations where your dog might be eyeing some tempting morsel of moldy spit tobacco wad on the sidewalk like it was a choice filet mignon. There are a couple of ways to teach this, the one I find most useful, however, starts when we are teaching the pups to walk on the lead. I will put a small bowl with a nice treat in it on the ground and walk the pup by it; at first a few feet away and gradually working in closer. As soon as I see the pup starting to look at the bowl I will tell them “leave it” and then ask them to look at me and when they do they get a very tasty morsel. With patience you can get a puppy in one lesson to learn to ignore the food in the dish. With repetition you can teach the puppy to ignore just about anything on the ground and instead look up to you.

When you stop to talk to someone, don’t forget to keep an eye on what your dog is doing. They should be sitting or lying by your side. If the person you are chatting with has a dog, you need to be especially careful of a potential conflict between the dogs if one of them offers threatening stares. All these things are related to training and handler experience, for sure, and are pretty straightforward.

Not so straightforward, however, at least when it comes to training the service dog, is the training of the body. Many programs lack any type of physical conditioning program that allows the dog to be more aware of their body, stretches, and develops muscles and tendons in ways that helps prevent injury and generally keeps the dog more fit. These things become important when a dog has to get into a tight seating space, ride in small quarters in a vehicle, remain for some time curled up in a small space on an airplane or under a table at a restaurant. When the dog gets up, if they are not taught how to stretch and get their body ready for work, there is a strong potential for injury. Sometimes the wear and tear on the body is not apparent with a young dog, but it is very apparent as the dogs get older when repeated bad habits will begin to manifest as restricted movement. I have had several working Labradors over the age of 17 who remained flexible and moving up to their passing. I attribute their good physical condition to breeding but in larger part to an excellent physical conditioning program.

The last threat to the service dog is that of hidden chemical dangers in the environment. As we move into winter, with ice and snow affecting many areas where the service dogs are working, it is really important to be aware of the chemicals used to treat these conditions on the sidewalks and parking lots where we will be walking our dog. Your dog absorbs all these chemicals through their feet, and if they are in a high enough concentration, they can be highly toxic. Sometimes, however, we may not see or realize the residue left on the pavement and this build-up on the dogs’ pads might in itself not be enough to make them sick until they lie down and start to clean their feet. You may want to carry a set of boots for your dog if you live in an area where this is a constant threat to your dog. Other threats in the environment are some types of chemicals that have been used to treat the common areas where we might be taking our dog for exercise or an airing. Most companies that apply chemicals will post flags or signs when it is done, but you can not always count on this, so it is best to stay with areas where you know how they are maintained.

Since dogs lie on the floor and are otherwise close to floor all other times, it is also important to pay attention to what is used to clean the floors; the same is true for carpeting. If you are buying new carpeting for your house or office, it would be best to choose a natural fiber and one that is not treated with stain protection. Constant exposure to these types of chemicals are not healthy. You can check on the status of anything you buy by doing an Internet search on the manufacturer’s website. Those few minutes of your time can help your dog live a healthier, longer life.

Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season and prosperous new year.

5 Things to Remember When Taking Your Dog to a Restaurant

You know it is summertime when all the restaurants pull out their tables and umbrellas to the patio area along side the busy town walks. What a great time to train your dog to have perfect manners when you are eating or socializing with friends around a table. We take full advantage of this situation to work especially with puppies that might not yet be ready for going inside a restaurant. Here is some restaurant training tips to get you started with that pup being raised to be a service dog.

Chocolate Lab pup laying down by table

This pup does not quite have the concept of sleeping under the table yet, he will need more work before he can go out in public.

Any dog in a restaurant will need to be out of the way of wait staff, so your first job is to teach “under” or some similar cue word that tells you dog you need him under the table. This is difficult in a perfect situation and is sometimes complicated by the configuration of the table. I always start at home with tiny pups teaching them to go into a kennel cage, and then when I am eating I give the same command to go under the table. With a 7 or 8 week puppy you may need to lure them with a bit of food, which is OK at first, but you want to get away from that habit as quickly as possible since you will be proofing against food temptations soon. With the young pups you don’t want to make them stay under the table in a down position, they are too young and can’t really concentrate long anyway. I am happy to begin with them just going under the table on command. For eating our meal we will take the lead shorten it up a bit and then sit on it, thus restricting the area the pup can wander. What happens is eventually the pup will be frustrated at not being able to get out from under the table and also from the fact that no one is paying attention to him and they will drop off to sleep. It does not take long to get them going under the table and dosing almost immediately.

To food proof them, I first teach this as a separate exercise in which I put a piece of food on the floor with my hand nearby to cover it up if I need to. If the dog goes for it I cover it; when they back away I uncover it. This goes on for some time until I can leave it uncovered for a long period and the dog will not do anything but sit there. I reward them with the food but only on a cue word such as OK, good dog. If I say nothing they don’t get the food and it goes away. Then we may play with a toy or they may get a belly rub for being good. Later, we try the game in the kitchen when I am cooking. I will drop something when the pup is watching me quietly from one corner of the kitchen. If they go for it I cover it with my foot, and just like before I work up to where I can leave it there and they won’t go for it. Finally after mastering this step I will try dropping food by the table. By the time we get to the table they are so use to the game they will just leave the food alone with no word on my part.

So here are the 5 things to remember when taking a dog in a restaurant:
1.Your dog has to be quiet, under the table and out of the way of the wait staff performing their job
2.Try to be polite when people ask you about the dog
3.Take your dog for a toilet break before you get inside the restaurant
4.Be sure your dog is “food” proofed before you go to the first restaurant
5.Remember the law says if your dog is disruptive to their business the business owner has the right to ask you to leave.

So just be sure you have a sparkling clean dog, that is well mannered and properly proofed before you go out to eat with your dog in public. Bon appétit

Evaluating Medical Alert Dogs

I recently hosted an intense hands-on workshop at my kennels for dog professionals that want to train dogs to help people with medical issues. Most of the trainers were there to learn more about the diabetes alert dog program but we also had trainers interested in seizure alerting (not to be confused with response dogs), Crones disease alerting, and allergen detection dogs. In order to make this workshop the most meaningful for these trainers I brought in a bunch of dogs at all different levels of training for these various detection jobs. A good part of the dogs came from a request I put out to those service dog users I knew. We would offer free training for their dogs, for the time of the workshop, to help anyone having problems. There was a great response and we got dogs at all levels of proficiency; half the dogs at the workshop ended up being owner trained.

Dog trainers usually have strong personalities; this comes from many years of taking charge of unruly dogs. But this group of trainers proved to be more than what you might think of a dog trainer in general, they were truly educators. It became very apparent early into the workshop that everyone was here because they cared passionately about the dogs and they truly wanted to use their skills and abilities as dog trainers to help educate people who were now asking the dogs in their lives to do more than sleep by the fireplace on a cold night. It was quite moving when people came to pick up the dogs how much time these trainers spent with the owners to help them understand the issues the dogs were having and what to do about it. The owners shared with us how very difficult it is to manage their conditions and train a dog at the same time. This sharing was valuable so trainers could devise exercises to fit a person’s life style and abilities, and show them things they could easily incorporate into their daily routine. The learning went both ways and was one of the best exchanges I have witnessed.

Overall the owners did a great job with the training of their dogs. As we worked the dogs both in the classroom and out on the streets however patterns appeared in the dog’s behavior that were clues to a few deficiencies in their training.

Pulling on the leash and lack of attention were near the top as two big problems. When we randomly passed off scent samples to the handlers to see if the dogs would alert in the new settings, the owner-trained dogs had more trouble focusing enough to find the scent sample when there were high distractions. Once the dogs were stopped and worked a little with the high distraction, they were able for the most part able to settle down enough to work a few repetitions of finding the scent sample.   The high distractions proved time and again to be the undoing of many of the dogs. It took work on the part of the trainers to get the dogs to settle down. I can understand this concept of working in public with some really strong distractions is something most people training their own dog would not think to do.

I made a short list to help people remember when they are out training with their dogs to look for some of the following circumstances, then work your dog there until the dog is comfortable and reliable in alerting there.

  1. In the store in a narrow isle where people are going by with shopping carts.
  2. In a store with machinery operating, such a lumber yard with forklifts.
  3. On the streets near the fire station when the alarm sounds.
  4. At a train station.
  5. In a park where there are a lot of pigeons and squirrels. I throw out treats for the critters first and get them all around eating when I start training with the dog.
  6. At a ball game or other sports event.

Simple things like this are so valuable to the dog’s education. If the dog is not relaxed in a novel environment they are not going to have the focus to be able to do their job at detecting whatever smell they are trained to alert on. This type of training is something you need to practice at least 4 or 5 times a week with your young dog. If you are raising your own puppy, after a year of constant exposure to new places, sights, and sounds your dog would be exposed enough that he should do his job no matter where you take him.

The pulling on the leash problem is something that should be avoided while training the new puppy. They should learn from the beginning not to pull on the leash either by you stopping when they get to the end of the leash and not moving again until they return to your side, or by letting them hit the end of the leash while charging out away from you. Stopping short like this usually gets their attention and they will return to you, at which time you reward with a nice treat and kind words. Quickly, pups will learn where the best spot is for near you. Practicing loose leash walking with the younger pups in many new areas with loads of distractions ensures they do not get so excited when going places they pull on the leash. It takes a lot of daily practice.

A group of service dogs walking down a town street

Learning to loose leash walk in town with lots of distractions

If you are training your own dog you are going to have to make the time, even if that means you make an appointment with yourself. Later when you go back to these places with a scent sample for training your dog should have enough focus so as not to miss the presence of the sample.

We also saw the dogs coming in with a wide array of equipment some of which was very ineffective. I remember when I was a youngster in my father’s workshop. He had at least 8 different types of hammers. I could not understand why so many until he explained that each one is designed for a different job. The same is true of collars, leashes and harnesses. I would not expect an owner trainer to understand the differences any more than my father expected me to understand the different types of hammers. This might be an area though where an owner handler can benefit from working with a pro trainer; they will know the equipment that is best for your dog. Be prepared to change equipment too as the dog continues to grow and develop. For puppies a well fitting buckle collar, appropriately sized 6-foot leash, and a 20-foot light line are a good start. Having a treat bag that you can snap on when you pick up the leash to take your puppy out is also something to consider when you are buying equipment. My pouch has a separate area for my clicker and treats and another zippered place for keys and pick up bags.

Speaking of pick up bags, it is important that your dog know how to eliminate on command, on a leash, or on pavement. If you are training your own dog and starting with a puppy, make sure you walk your puppy on a leash when they go outside to potty. Put the act of them doing something to a cue word, praise and treat when they are done and clearly convey to the pup that you are very pleased with them. Teaching the pup to go on surfaces other than grass is simply a matter of taking them to a new area (gravel, sand, pavement) and giving your cue word, waiting patiently then praising profusely when they finally eliminate. This will be a lifesaver many times over when you are traveling or going places where grass may be off limits or non-existent. It is a simple element easy to forget to teach.

We all felt the workshop was successful, the trainers learned new techniques, the dogs benefited from experienced hands on their leash, the owners that generously shared their dogs with us got some terrific free advise and training, the trainers got priceless feedback and knowledge on the lives diabetics and others living with chronic diseases experience, and many new friendships were made. I feel very grateful to work with such a dedicated group of trainers who really care about helping people get the best from their relationship with their working dog and to know so many dedicated owner handler trainers as well. Many of the pro trainers are diabetics or have family members that are diabetic or suffer from some other disease that has drawn them to working and training with service dogs. All of them have decades of experience in training and living with dogs. Everyone had the same goal as I do, which is to share our knowledge of dogs with those who need help with their dog. Keep up the great work everyone!




Come to me: building the reliable recall

I can’t say if having a dog come to you reliably under all conditions is one of the top things that all dog owners dream of, but I can tell you it is something I expect from all my dogs, most especially my puppies. Getting a reliable recall is not really all that difficult, particularly if you are starting off with a puppy.  Bailey and Sage at 10 months have already passed a huge milestone in their training concerning the recall. One sunny day when I let the dogs out to romp a bit, I turned to see Bailey and Sage trotting off down the driveway towards the busy road we live on.  I didn’t panic, in a calm voice I simply said, “Bailey, Sage, Come”.  Both dogs stopped immediately upon hearing their names, turned, and then came running back to me.  I stooped down, open my arms, and gave them both a big hug for doing such a wonderful thing! We played for a minute before I let them in our large fenced area with the other dogs.  Why was I so confident they would come?  Let’s look at what makes a successful recall learning experience for a puppy.

When you get your puppy at 8 weeks of age their eyes are still developing and they literally can’t see clearly too far away. They will naturally stay within an easy distance of you wherever you go.  I take advantage of this to start the pups off on the reliable recall.

labrador puppy running towards  person with camera

“I’m coming!”

First, I will take the pup out to a large grassy area and just walk slowly around while the pup explores all the smells and new things.  When they are not looking, I will move quietly away about 15 feet, stoop down then call the pup in a happy sweet voice. Most pups will look up quite surprised you have gotten so far away. All will come running to you. (If they don’t come running toward you there are other problems going on here maybe the subject of a different blog)   When the pup reaches you, greet them with the tone and feeling you are so happy they joined you. Be brief but convincing, and then move on.  Don’t repeat this scenario too often as it will lose its value.  What you are doing here is telling the puppy that “come” means “come join me this makes me happy” and right now the pup is delighted there is something that can make you happy. So capitalize on that and start right off from the beginning to make this a positive habit. You are also teaching the pup that they need to keep track of you and be aware where you are at all times. Placing a small degree of responsibility on the pup will also help to develop this good habit which comes into play later in more advanced training.  Everything here is happy and positive. You are also not doing so much of this sequence as to be a nag, which really turns dogs off quickly.

In a recent training session with several new handlers I noticed many people are constantly using the dog’s name while training. If you have this habit then you are nullifying the effect of the name when you really need it.  A good example was when I need to break the concentration of Bailey and Sage heading down the driveway and could do so by calling their names.  I rarely use the names of the dogs and they come to realize if I call their names it means “pay attention now, this is important”.  Its important to get your dog’s attention before you give a command, otherwise the command quickly loses its meaning; dogs will also learn if they don’t pay attention to you then they don’t have to listen to you.

Another thing you can do to reinforce the recall is to pay attention while you have your puppy out and about, watching for that moment when they turn and all on their own, start running towards you.  At that instant you see them coming towards you, say in your happy voice, “Bailey (or whatever your dog’s name is) Come”.   They are coming anyway, it was their thought, but you get the credit for the whole thing by giving it a command and rewarding the action.  This not only reinforces the lesson for the pup but in a manner that I have come to realize is much stronger than in other situations. Any time the dog does something on their own and they get rewarded for that they will remember better and will do it again with pleasure.

A few don’ts when dealing with dogs that will affect the reliability of the recall include:

  • Never call a dog to you when you are angry
  • Never call the dog to you if you are going to put the dog in a crate and then go away
  • Never call the dog to you to punish it for anything
  • Don’t call the dog just to make it come to you for nothing. I see this often and it is no wonder the dog just ignores its owners.

In developing a reliable recall under all circumstances make sure you have your puppy responding off lead in safe areas where you have some control over the circumstances and are not putting your pup’s safety in jeopardy.  Add in your distractions little by little, always building confidence in your puppy and never trying to intimidate them with the distractions. It really doesn’t take that long to develop the level of response with your puppy, just remember the key rule true for any obedience training is to be consistent.