Come? Come! COME!!!!!!!
High on the list of those who seek training for their dogs is that they want their dogs to come when called. Yet, it is amazing how determined people are not to listen to how to make that happen. And always I encounter that ol' standby - He knows what I want him to do and is just being spiteful. That kind of thinking just about closes the door to ever achieving this highly desirable goal.
Maybe the first problem is using a word (any word) and believing that the dog really does understand that word. Words mean nothing to dogs. (How many of you are now saying - Oh, he knows what I want.....?) Words gain significance purely as a sound associated with a form of behavior that is repeated over and over. So, if one says the word Come! as the dog is sniffing the ground, heading away at a run, romping with his favorite buddy or any other activity you can name then - guess what? - the dog associates the word with that action if with anything. Of course, if you use the word "come" during all those activities the dog just learns to ignore the word.
Worst of all is the dog owner who uses "come" to get the dog to appear for something the dog does not want to do or have happen. So - one never uses the word "come" to call a dog for , a bath, nail clipping, something it does not want to do such as stop playing with a friend, etc. Why would he ever choose to come again with associations such as those?*
Come must ALWAYS be used in a pleasant way. No exceptions. (On that same note, the dog's name should also always be used in a positive and pleasant tone of voice. The name should signify a call to attention alerting the dog that something is about to happen.) Teaching puppies to come is easy and fun because they are so bonded and dependent on their owners. And, if the puppy is taught that come means a treat, a ball game, dinner or just some happy, feel-good, pats and scratches that is a pup on his way to good associations. Unfortunately, it will not hold up without challenge during adolescence!
At seven or eight months (it really depends on the dog) there is enough development that the dog will feel the need for some independence and then the fun begins. The owner usually makes the big mistake at that time of getting very cross because the pup always came before and now acts like he doesn't even know his name. So, the adolescent gets pushed away rather than getting the reinforcement needed to get through the stage well.
On the other hand, if the dog has been taught to sit, down and stay (both in the sit and down positions) regular "work-outs" of doggy discipline nudge the canine brain into respect mode and that helps with the problem of coming when called. The dog is not treated as though he just entered Marine boot camp! He is praised and given treats or allowed a toy as a reward for his wonderful cooperation which in turn encourages more of the same. But - he is definitely going to do those exercises! Sometimes it feels as if one is beginning all over again but all that info is in there – just needs a bit of a reminder to get it to resurface.
As for the off leash games - fine so long as you do not continue to call the dog and reinforce that coming is an option. But, better to curtail the off leash activities until the dog is showing attention once again. There are series of exercises to be performed with varying lengths of line so that the dog realizes that control extends to many different distances - dogs learn very quickly that your control doesn't extend beyond about 6 feet so that idea must be changed completely.
Allowing the dog to drag a long line so that he is periodically reeled in, if necessary, is another way to get the idea home that Come! means just that - and it means now. Regardless of whether the dog comes when called or needs some help with the line a treat or other reward is always given. This is supposed to be a pleasant experience, remember?
Do not go for an outing and only call the dog when the outing is to end. It would take a really stupid dog to not catch on that come means the fun is over. Instead, call the dog back regularly for treats and then release him again so that he doesn't know just when the romp has ended.
The last item of business with this cue (as with all others!) is to learn to give just one and make it happen. While I haven't a glimmer of hope that those of you reading this will give up hollering and repeating Sit, SIT, SIT!, or Come, COME! COME!!!! I am honor bound to continue to try teaching the proper way.
While the following phrase did not originate with me I surely wish it had because I love it: "Every handler gets the dog he deserves."
Think about it!
*When one needs to get the dog for things the dog considers unpleasant the trick is to go TO the dog – not use the wonderful Come! word for those occasions.