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How to Teach a Dog to Come: Make a Vocab List

Cat and dog in yard

June’s 7-to-9-month hormone surge (blerg) and her small bouts of increased courage (yay!) are leading to a little defiance issue.

You know the one. I say, “June come!” a command I taught obsessively when she was a scared, squirmy puppy, one I used to show off to my friends. She was so cute when she would fly to me, huge ears flapping.

And now, I get a casual sniff of the air, a sudden interest in a tree… selective hearing. Maybe I’m not the most interesting thing in the world anymore.

Certainly not when our neighbor’s cool cat Zeke (pictured) is outside.

It’s time to regroup on this.

Teaching “Come” to Puppy June

When I first taught June “come,” at home, and in obedience, it was all about having treats with me, and surprising her with the “come game,” at all different times. I’d call her and treat her when she came to me in the house, in the yard on a long leash, in class, at work, anywhere.

So step one is using a variety of treats. She can’t be bored with me.

Teaching “Come” to Adolescent June

Step two, according to a dog trainer friend, is getting wordy.

Dogs can learn more than 150 words. Can you even think of 150 words to teach? This is a way to clearly communicate what you want. For a smart but high-strung dog like June it’s even more important.

This is a lot like what my shrink said about my own communication strategies when I was having unbearable anxiety. It’s important to be precise with yourself and others.

This makes it way easier to level set, to initiate the right changes, to connect, to bond.

So when my dog trainer friend said, “Put yourself in June’s shoes,” it wasn’t so hard.

“She hears “come” casually all the time:

  • ‘Come on,’ to hurry up
  • ‘Come in,’ to come inside
  • ‘Come here,’ could lead to a treat, or to a bath, or to getting in the car.

It’s confusing. And that tree she’s sniffing might seem like a better bet if she’s unsure what to expect.

Dogs, kids and the anxious thrive off predictable routine. It’s time to take advantage.

So in the last week, I tested out a few specific “come” alternatives, and I have seen a major difference in her reaction time. Here’s the beginning of our growing new vocab list.

  • Outside
  • Inside
  • Upstairs
  • Downstairs
  • In the Car
  • Find Daddy/Mommy/Boris/Zoe
  • Check it out (when I want her to “come close” to an object that’s freaking her out)
  • Up
  • Off
  • Quiet (I’m not claiming to have mastered this one yet. I say it a lot though.)

Any more suggestions? What are your dog’s vocab words?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I had an amazing agility instructor at one point. She taught me a lot of things but there was ONE thing that always stuck with me. She told me that “when it matters, DO NOT have a conversation with your dog.”

    Shakespeare knows many commands, different versions of the same command and most of them he knows in two languages. But he tends to sometimes day dream. There is a delayed reaction for him. He’ll come… but after he sniffs this fire hydrant.

    I have been using a stern “NOW” to emphasize a command. Your dog knows come, but, they figure you can wait. I snarl NOW and he knows I mean business.
    I do not overuse it. If we are just out for a walk, he can sniff the hydrant. If I am already a half an hour late to work because he was sniffing the previous 7 fire hydrants.. well….

    When he pulls at the leash to cross the street because he sees a cool dog on the other side when the light is not green, it is sit. NOW.

    When we are hiking off leash and he sees a chipmunk, it is Leave it, NOW.

    I guess he hears NOW and knows he has to drop whatever he is doing. I never rewarded him, other than verbally for obeying to “NOW” it just kind of happened.

    He knows the commands. That’s just an extra emphasis to let him know I REALLY mean it.

    August 22, 2013

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