by Julia Levitt
Whenever I teach a dog class or have a dog I train in my home, the first and most important exercise I teach is "come." This is the one command that can save your dog's life.
When the command is taught in class it is import to prepare. The first thing I ask of students is to never chase your dog: chasing teaches your dog to run away from you, and once you start chasing your dog it is a very hard habit to break. The second thing I insist on is to always teach "come" while the dog is on a leash.
This exercise is very time-consuming to teach. First, "come" must be taught in a quiet, distraction-free environment. This means no kids and other pets running around. When the exercise is perfected on leash in the house, then you can experiment with the exercise off leash— but still inside. You can see where I am going with this. The exercise is taught in steps. As one step is completed, the next starts. The ultimate goal is to have your dog come every time it is outside off leash. But to get to that point, each earlier step must be completed.
The mistake everyone makes is taking their dog off leash too soon. What happens is that the dog comes a few times off leash and the owner is so happy that they stand farther way from their dog and ask it to come. (At this point their dog is not on leash.) The dog becomes distracted and does not come. The owner goes after the dog and is frustrated and upset the dog is not coming. So make sure you practice a lot with your dog on the leash!
This an exercise that is very rewarding when you dog comes on command. Who knows—one day it could save his/her life!
Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training and Ann Arbor Animal Hospital’s “Miss Harmony” for dogs! She is available to help your dog be a better canine citizen, and answers questions about Canine Behavior here on our blog from time to time.