There is a lot that can be said about training a dog to come when called, and I’ve written about it before, but in this article I am going to focus on something I just learned from Patricia McConnell’s excellent book, For the Love of a Dog, which I review here.
She writes quite a lot in this book about the many ways that dogs and humans can misunderstand each other. One example often takes place when people are calling their dogs to come to them — the recall is a term often used to describe this.
She says it so well, I will quote a bit:
When we call dogs to return to us, we humans tend to look straight at their faces and move slightly toward them. Why shouldn’t we? That’s the polite way to initiate social interaction with another human, and it is so ingrained in us that we don’t even think about it.
However, in dog language that direct stare and forward movement is a stopping signal, one that means the opposite of what we intend. Your dog is much more likely to come if you turn your body sideways and move backward a bit while you call, “Come!” (page 226)
My Embarrassing Disclosure
When I read the book, I thought about what a good point it was. (McConnell says she has gotten a lot of mail from people about it, some even saying that it saved their dogs’ lives.) But one day, my husband went out for a walk with Lola, our Rottweiler. I left my computer to have some fun with LarryDog, in our yard, with some tiny bits of hot dog from our freezer. (I mean tiny: each one is about 1/100 of a hot dog.) I asked him to do various things and tossed the bits of hot dog to him as reward.
In practicing the recall, several times I stared straight at him and took a step toward him. Once I even thought to myself, “This will encourage him.”
Well, duh, what about the quote above? Seems to me that our body language is so deeply ingrained in us that it may take a good bit of conscious attention to make changes. I’ll be working at it, and I suggest you do too!