When Dogs Run Away

Does your dog run away? Perhaps he may be running “to.” Knowing one from the other will help you solve the problem so that he will come when called.

A dog that is running away will clearly be trying to avoid being caught. A dog that is running to something looks as though it is running with a purpose.

runaway

Running From — This is best described as “avoidance behavior.” The dog is trying to avoid or get away from something or someone. Picture a dog that is trying to get away from being reprimanded and you have a good idea of the body posture. He might have his ears and tail down, may appear somewhat crouched, and might look back over his shoulder as he runs.

Running To — Here we’re talking about “approach behavior.” His ears may be forward, his tail high, his back high, and might appear to be focused forward. (Here you can visualize a dog that is excited to be going somewhere that will please him.) It occurs when the dog is attracted by (or to) a something it likes or is aware that it might find something it likes. These stimuli (as they are called) could include such things as a female in heat, deer or other animals the dog has chased in the past, a neighbor that gives tasty treats, kids to play with in a nearby park, and so on.

Combination — Somewhere in between running from and running to, another cause might explain the situation: Dogs that are confined for long periods of time either by fences or tethers (such as stake-out chains) may want to get away from that situation and they may want to explore more-interesting areas.

Sage

Patsy’s friends watched as she played with Sage, her lively English setter. With no strangers in sight, Sage was romping off lead, playing a happy game of fetch.

Now, everyone likes to talk about their dogs once in a while, and Patsy was no different. As she answered her friends’ questions about her dog, Sage stood in the center of the freshly mowed field. He was enjoying every moment of his freedom. A sparrow swept across the field and Sage chased it skyward, pausing at the edge of the darkening woods. Evening was closing in fast.

Patsy decided to call it a day and show off her dog just a bit for her friends as a parting, dramatic gesture. She gave a sharp whistle through her teeth — a trick she had worked out at home with Sage — and called, “Sage Come.” Sensing the fun was about to end, Sage, instead, went. He hit the woods with abandon.

“Selective Deafness”

Sage had suddenly developed what we call “selective deafness.” Wives tell us husbands have it; husbands say it is a common malady among wives. Both agree that it is often found in children. As they sit glued to the TV set, you can scream, “Do your homework!” But they won’t hear you. However, go to the far corner of the kitchen and whisper, “Want a chocolate chip cookie?” and watch them respond. Conclusion? Cookies are interesting: Homework apparently is not. At least not at the moment. With Sage, birds were interesting: Patsy apparently was not. At least not at that moment.

When you do get your dog close enough to you to put him on lead, praise him and say “Good come.” Then loop the lead and slip it over the dog’s neck. Don’t even risk trying to attach it to his collar. He might turn and run off again. Speak pleasantly to him as you walk back to your vehicle.

Why Dogs Won’t Come

Many people have owned at least one dog that would not come when called, but most people say they never understood why. Yet, the reasons become obvious once they’re explained. If the dog senses that something unpleasant may happen when he gets back to you – whether punishment or just losing the chance to run free – he’s likely to avoid you.

Hondo

Not all dogs first learn to tune out “come” when they’re running free in the field, either. Some pick up the idea at home. Ask Harry. Whenever he saw a shredded magazine, a ripped shirt, or any other mess on the floor, he called “Hondo, Come.” The first few times Hondo rounded the corner, Harry’s body language and voice tones told the pup something was wrong. So, each time, Hondo would droop into a submissive posture.

Harry misunderstood the dog’s body language and concluded the posture meant the dog “looked guilty.” So whenever Hondo did something Harry didn’t like, Harry would pounce on the dog, shake him, shout at him, and sometimes stuff the dog’s nose in the mess. From the dog’s point of view, none of this made any sense. After all, he had already “surrendered.” So, after a few of these experiences, Hondo avoided Harry whenever he saw Harry’s threatening body language, heard his harsh voice tones, and saw a mess of any kind on the floor.

Corky

Sometimes the problem comes about in a more subtle way. Anne loves Corky. In fact, she talks about him a lot — especially when Corky is in the room. When Anne first got him, Corky would pop his head up or cock and ear and come to her whenever he would hear his name. Too busy telling people about her dog to pay much attention, Anne would send him back to lie down. In fact, she would see Corky get ready to come over and would say, “No, stay Corky. It’s all right.” So Corky became even more convinced that it was okay to tune out his name and continue what he was doing. As time went on, Corky responded to his name less and less.

Like all of us, Patsy, Harry and Anne each wanted a dog that would come reliably when called. But there were some things they should have avoided, and some things they should have done.

What to Avoid

* First, never use the dog’s name unless you want his attention.

* Second, never call his name in a harsh way. His name should be the sweetest sound in the whole world to him. That way, the command that follows will sound just as good.

* Next, never call out a command in an unfriendly way. And never speak more loudly than you absolutely must to make sure the dog can hear you. A dog’s hearing is far better than yours, and his ability to sort out friendly voice tones from angry ones may be even better.

* Never follow the word “come” with a reprimand or punishment of any kind when the dog gets to you. And never use “come” to end any pleasurable session.

What You Can Do

No dog is actually reliable off-leash unless the trainer has made him/her self a more-powerful stimulus than anything that might cause the dog to ignore the trainer’s command. What should you do to condition your dog to come to you? Here are three quick, and easy, ways to teach come.

* Whenever he is headed toward you, no matter where you are, say “Good come” in a friendly, praising, voice. Start in the house. Do this every time and after several days he will have associated his motion toward you with a certain word sound and praise.

In a few more days, you should be able to encourage your dog to come to you from a few feet away just by saying “come” in the same praising tone of voice. But start at three or four feet away and increase the distance gradually over days or even weeks.

* As you practice that technique, there is a second one you can try: Hold a small treat that the dog really likes and get your dog’s attention by using his name in a friendly way. Show him the treat and crouch over slightly. Back away with a short, shuffle step as you clap your hands together lightly. He should follow you. As he does, keep repeating “Good Come” in a praising way.

Do this ten times in a row each time you try this technique, but only give him the treat three times, at random, out of every ten. This will keep him guessing and working to earn the reward. Whenever you do not give him the treat, pet him briefly on top of the head or on the side. Later you can phase out the treats and use just the petting to reinforce the correct behavior. Start at just a few feet away then, over several sessions, increase the distance.

* The third technique should follow the other two and should not be confused with a chokechain correction. You will not be using a chokechain and you will not be correcting your dog for refusal to obey a command. You may not even need this technique if you have been successful with the first two, but here it is.

You will need a long hallway, or if you are outdoors, stand near a long wall, fence or hedge. It would help to place some temporary fencing or boards against saw horses about three feet away from the wall. This will guide the dog toward you in a straight line.

Have a regular buckle collar on your dog and attach a six-foot leash to it. At one end of the hall or wall, crouch facing your dog and be prepared to walk backward down the entire length with your dog coming toward you. Say your dog’s name and the word “Come” then give the leash a light, but firm tug. Use wrist action only.

Your body language — thanks to the previous technique — should start the dog in motion toward you. The pressure helps to ensure that. The instant he begins to move, release the pressure. This lets the dog know he’s doing the right thing. Now, say “Good Come” and immediately follow it with another short tug and release. Continue this down the full length of the wall. Be sure to keep your voice tones friendly and praising.

This is similar to a horse trainer’s “pressure-on/pressure-off” technique for handling the reins and bit when teaching a horse to back up. To succeed, there must be no harshness whatsoever.

In time, using these positive techniques and avoiding the pitfalls discussed, you should have a dog that will come to you consistently. However, if he only learns “come” in the house or in the back yard, those are the only places where you can expect him to succeed.

To make certain he will come to you wherever you are, you will have to teach him this command in at least four different locations — first on lead, then off lead. Shopping centers, grassy areas near office buildings, and playgrounds offer good possibilities.

More Control

You can also teach control by the way you handle your dog on lead. From now on, never let your dog pull against the leash. Dogs that have no chance to “practice” straining their necks against their buckle collars are easier to phase out of leash handling later on. In your yardwork heeling sessions, each time your dog starts to range away while heeling, simply do an about turn, lure the dogs to follow you, and then quickly praise him for returning to the “Heel” position.

Then, when you move the training to other locations, place your dog on a 30-foot field lead and start walking. (A length of braided-nylon rope attached by a brass snap to the dog’s’ collar works best.) Your dog should continue to obey. If not, go back to the about-turns routine.

At first, control the (loose) lead with your hands. Then as the dog becomes better in responding, you can let him drag the lead. Next, switch to shorter and shorter leads When you can run him successfully with just a foot-long lead dragging, reduce this down to just attaching the snap. When that’s successful, simply pretend to attach the snap by clicking it near the dog’s collar. Then, finally, cease using the snap entirely. This gradual phase-out process enables you to keep control without the dog realizing he could run away.

Higher Levels of Training

When you and your dog are ready, move your training to other areas. Once you begin off-leash training of “come, call the dog to you several times at various places as you walk along. When he comes, praise him even if he doesn’t come all the way to you. At first, praise the dog for anything that even comes close to “come.” Demanding more, or punishing him for not coming all the way to you, could backfire.

If he ignores you altogether, just say, “All right. Get on.” in a neutral tone of voice and wave him off. This turns his idea into one of your own. Then, start walking away. After about a dozen steps, sneak a peek over your shoulder. Chances are he’s following you. Just say, “Good Come” with enthusiasm and keep on walking. Saying “Good Come” is better than saying “Good Dog” by the way, because “come” makes it clear to the dog what it did that you are praising – coming.

Now, before you take your dog back to your vehicle, call him to you one more time while you are still out in the field, or put the leash on him calmly when he is close to you. Then talk pleasantly to him as you both walk back to the vehicle.

Teaching your dog to come when called is perhaps the most important command he should know. A dog that comes reliably demonstrates a sound leader/follower relationship. Such a dog will generally learn to respond well to all other commands.

— end –

STEPHEN C. RAFE is the founder of Starfire, an organization that has specialized in the study and teaching of behavior-based communications in animals and humans since 1982. He has extensive practical background in the psychology of verbal and non-verbal communication, having studied this subject at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees, has completed approximately 2/3 of a doctoral program, and teaches related subjects at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

In canine behavior, his objective is to help dogs and their owners through the elimination of harsh training methods. Since 1982, he has received referrals from more than 200 veterinarians and has assisted thousands of owners of dogs with behavior problems. He also serves as an expert witness in courts of law and in legal proceedings for his knowledge of canine behavior.

Stephen has designed and conducted seminars on canine behavior and training throughout the United States, in Canada, and in South America — including a week-long program for the largest dog-training club in Caracas, Venezuela. He has also designed and conducted canine-behavior seminars for shelter personnel and volunteers, and for dog owners with children.

He has spoken at the American Boarding Kennels Association national conference (twice), the national conferences of the American Fisheries Society (twice), the Hunter-Safety Education Association, the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, the Governor’s Conference on Our Hunting Heritage (South Dakota), two national conventions of Quail Unlimited, and three national conferences of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). He has also delivered presentations at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers national conference and addressed PetExpo in Hershey, PA, SuperGroom in Las Vegas, and GroomExpo in Burbank, CA and Lansing, MI.

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